Ta Damtsik: Integrity

The Bhutanese concept of ta damtsik (མཐའ་དམ་ཚིག་) refers to personal integrity or moral rectitude and has an Indian Buddhist origin. In its religious application, the term translates the Sanskrit word samaya and refers to the precepts of Vajrayāna Buddhism. Etymologically, scholars describe damtsik (དམ་ཚིག་) as ‘an oath, which ought not be transgressed’ (འདའ་བར་བྱ་བ་མ་ཡིན་པའི་ཐ་ཚིག་). It denotes the many general (སྤྱི་), special (ཁྱད་པར་) and extraordinary (ལྷག་པ་) rules an initiate is required to observe after receiving tantric initiations. Thus, it is mostly used in connection with esoteric tantric Buddhism rather than with philosophical sūtra Buddhism, in which equivalent terms such as vows (སྡོམ་པ་) and precepts (བསླབ་པ་) are commonly used.


The damtsik of tantric practices include a great number of obligatory precepts ranging from obeying one’s guru and loving all fellow beings to performing ceremonies regularly. Tantras also vary in the number and type of damtsiks. The Kālacakra cycle, for instance, proclaims fourteen primary damtsik, such as the prohibition of deriding women, faulting one’s spiritual companions, and giving up love for sentient beings, among others, while other cycles such as the Guhyagarbha have five primary and many auxiliary damtsik. Damtsik, as a solemn oath and code of practice for the esoteric Vajrayāna form of Buddhism, is seen with much reverence and some trepidation. The proper observance of damtsik rewards the practitioner with swift enlightenment but an infringement of it is said to cause rebirth in the lowest level of hell. Hence, the tantric path with its solemn damtsik are often compared to trapping a snake in a bamboo shoot. There are only two exits, and they are polar opposites: to either go up or down. Damtsik is also seen as a binding force that keeps the community or line of practitioners spiritually pure and soteriologically effective. Persons who have violated damtsik, especially by opposing their guru, are considered to be spiritually corrupted, and often excommunicated from the community of practitioners.

 

This religious application of damtsik to tantric precepts has also been extended into several social and moral notions, attitudes, and behaviours in popular use. Supplied with the prefix ta (མཐའ་), denoting moral limitation or boundary, damtsik acquired a range of social meanings in Bhutan. To the Bhutanese, depending on the context, ta damtsik can refer to honesty, fidelity, moral integrity, rectitude, coherence, reciprocal affection, gratitude, and filial piety. To say a shopkeeper did not have ta damtsik because s/he charged more or manipulated the scales means the shopkeeper lacked honesty. A spouse with no ta damtsik refers to his/her lack of marital fidelity, while ta damtsik in connection with teacher-student and master-servant relationship usually references the exchange of kindness, respect, gratitude, and loyalty. Among family and friends, it denotes affection, feeling of kinship, and a sense of obligation and reciprocity. Lack of ta damtsik is equal to being unethical and socially irresponsible. An important social concept, ta damtsik thus has a wide range of referents and applications.

 

From this perspective, ta damtsik is necessary for a family, community, or even a nation to function smoothly. An individual must possess a pure sense of ta damtsik and act accordingly to be respected by others. For a team or social group to mutually thrive, members must espouse and uphold ta damtsik. As the traditional social fabric of Bhutan disintegrates through rapid urbanization, development of nuclear families, rising individualism, and penchant for private space, it is important to reflect on important traditional values such as ta damtsik and make it an integral part of one’s character.

 

Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel as part of a series called “Why We Do What We Do.”

Bhutan Cultural Library Manners Bhutan

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An overview of the roles and utility of Tha Damtshik, which refers to integrity.

Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)
Author Karma Phuntsho
Editor Ariana Maki
Year published 2017
Original year published 2016
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