Bhutan is a Buddhist country and people refer to it as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. The Indian Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava first introduced Buddhism in the 8th century. Till then people by and large worshipped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident even today in some remote villages in the country. The older form of religion was referred to as Bon and was accompanied by offerings of animal sacrifice and worshipped a host of deities invoking and propitiating them. They believed in invisible forces and considered them as the rightful owners of different elements of nature. Mountain peaks considered as abodes of Guardian deities (Yul lha), the lakes as inhabited by lake deities (Tsho mem), cliffs resided by cliff deities (Tsen), land belonging to the blockterranean deities (Lue), land inhabited by (Sabdag), water sources inhabited by water deities (Chu gi Lhamu), and dark places haunted by the demons (due) etc.
With the visit of Padmasambhava, Buddhism began to take firm roots and especially led to the propagation of the Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Buddhism.
The visit of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo’s from Ralung in Tibet to Bhutan in 1222 marks another milestone in the history of Bhutan and in Buddhism. He was instrumental in introducing yet another school of Buddhism – the Drukpa Kagyu that is today the state religion of the country. His sons and descendants were also instrumental in spreading it to many other parts in western Bhutan.
By far the greatest contributor was Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal. His arrival in 1616 from Tibet marks another landmark. He was not only able to bring under his domain the various Buddhist schools that had cropped up in many parts of western Bhutan but unify the country as a one whole nation-state and give it a distinct identity. Buddhism is still vibrant and alive. The Dzongs, monasteries, stupas, prayer flags, and prayer wheels punctuate the Bhutanese landscape. The chime of ritual bells, sound of gongs, people circumambulating temples and stupas, fluttering prayer flags, red robed monks conducting rituals, among many others are all living case in point to reveal that Buddhism is an essential ingredient of a Bhutanese life.