By Thanong Khanthong
His metaphoric message was subtle, capturing the spirit of the Monarchy and Buddhism that embody the Thai nation and its survival.
The Supreme Patriarch, who is the head of the order of Thai Buddhist monks, said the Thai nation has been keeping two things together throughout its history – that is, guarding Buddhism and having the King as head of state. This is also in accordance with the Buddhist precept, which expounds that “Dhamma protects those who practice Dhamma like a chatra (white tiered Royal umbrella) Royal decoration or an umbrella in the rainy season” and that “the King is the head of all human beings”.
The Supreme Patriarch went on to say that Dhamma is like a big umbrella in the rainy season for those who practise all the Dhamma.
Likewise, the Dhamma Raja represents a big umbrella for the people.
The Thai nation has been blessed all along with Kings who serve like a big umbrella. Each King is endowed with miraculous deeds, depending on the circumstances of the time because the King is born into the world to restore order and maintain happiness in the land.
“The Thai people have seen how His Majesty the King has practised his royal duty – major or minor – for their benefit and happiness. His Majesty the King adheres to the Dhamma of the King without any flaws, deserving gratitude and loyalty from all Thais,” the Supreme Patriarch said.
There is a 14-year gap between the 10th Supreme Patriarch of the Rattanakosin Era and the Ninth Reign. The Supreme Patriarch will turn 99 years old next year, while the King is 85 today. The Supreme Patriarch has gone through the eighth cycle of life, the King the seventh cycle of life. Both surpass their predecessors in longevity.
More significantly, both are higher beings, born into this Golden Land to share the same destiny during this momentous time. They follow their duty as guardians of the Thai spiritual and cultural heritage.
There is a hidden message in the Supreme Patriarch’s congratulatory speech to the King. Twice he used the word “rainy season” to signify the present danger, from within and from without, facing Thailand. And the King, the Supreme Patriarch stressed, represents the chatra that shields Thais from the rain.
The King has ruled Thailand as head of state since 1946 during the vicissitudes of the post-World War II era. He has navigated the country through the emergence of the Cold War, the expansion of communism, the internal political turmoil marked by military dictatorship and half-baked democracy, the forced opening up of Thailand through liberalisation and globalisation and the triumph and decline of global capitalism. The enduring Monarchy helps keep Thailand’s stability.
Now Thailand is hanging by a thread during this precarious time of the “rainy season”. From within, the war of colours has been going on for seven years in Thai politics. First, the yellow shirts emerged to claim that they aimed to protect the Monarchy. Then the red shirts, who are clearly not in favour of the Monarchy, came out as an antithesis to the yellow
shirts. In the interval, the white shirts camouflaged themselves as a broker of peace. The black shirts came out from nowhere to shoot and run, leaving behind a fractured Thailand and a huge scar that could not possibly be cured.
The social and political polarisation is unprecedented in modern Thai history, revolving around the shadowy figure of Thaksin Shinawatra. In fact, the genesis of this Hegelian dialectic goes far back to 1932, when the elite elements, tempted by a parliamentary form of government and power for themselves, brought down Absolute Monarchy.
There followed a periodic clash between pseudo-democracy and military dictatorship – a seemingly endless thesis vs antithesis force of Hegelian dialectic, invisibly manipulated from the outside by the colonial powers. As a result, the division within Thai society and politics is bitter and irreparable. But all this time, the King as the individual and the Monarchy as the institution have merged to represent the ultimate symbol of unity of Thailand.
From without, the superpowers have long been wishing to bring Thailand under their yoke. The geopolitical conflict between the waning United States and the emerging China threatens Thailand’s survival. The Yingluck government has decided to play the American card by giving away Thailand’s sovereignty through the 2012 joint statement on security between Thailand and US. The King, who follows the diplomatic prudence of his grandfather King Chulalongkorn, met separately on equal terms with US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao when the two superpowers visited Bangkok to seek Thailand as an ally last month. The King helped bring a sense of balance back to Thailand’s diplomacy.
What will become of Thailand as the Supreme Patriarch and the King are ageing? There are threats of a civil war from within and a highly possible spill-over from a regional, if not global, war in the South China Sea and other parts of the world. Will Thailand survive against all odds as the gentle and kind nation of the old days again?
Many Thais do believe that when worst comes to worst, Phra Siam Thevathiraj will come to Thailand’s rescue. Phra Siam Thevathiraj is the City Angel. King Mongkut, who faced the threat of colonialism, realised that whenever Siam was in peril, a god would constantly guard its stability and survival. He had a golden statute of Phra Siam Thevathiraj built and placed inside the Grand Palace.
Indeed, nobody knows what will become of Thailand’s uncertain future. The Thais are quarrelling over the colours of the shirts they should wear tomorrow. The government is barring the provincial governors from lighting fireworks to celebrate the King's birthday. And the politicians are set to rewrite the Constitution to undermine the role of the Monarchy. But most Thais know that they can morally and spiritually count on the King, the Supreme Patriarch as head of the Buddhist monks’ order, Phra Siam Thevathiraj and all the other sacred beings to protect Thailand during this time of great despair.