A Year of Mourning

A year has gone by since the passing away of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. For one year, millions of people have descended on Sanam Luang to pay their last respects to the late king. For one year, the country has dressed in black. For one year, the country has mourned the father of the nation. And now, on October 13th, 2017, with the cremation ceremonies soon to begin, there begins a sense of finality.

Since coming to the United States, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many people who are not familiar with Thailand and its culture. On many occasions, my friends who have previously visited Thailand will ask about King Bhumibol. His portrait was everywhere in Thailand, they would observe; why do Thais revere the late king so much? And what do Thais feel about his death? When I’m asked this question, I sometimes think of this verse from one song, ‘The King of Dharma’:

ถ้ามีใครถามทำไมคนไทยถึงรักพระองค์อย่างนี้

แค่ได้ชมพระบารมีก็ยิ้มทั้งน้ำตา

ถ้าหากให้อธิบายเหตุผลนานา

คงต้องใช้เวลาเท่าชีวิตนี้

If someone asked why Thais love their king

Just seeing his portrait is enough to put a smile on our face and tears in our eyes

If we had to explain this

Would it not take a lifetime?

I’ve written before about some of the reasons for why Thais love King Bhumibol (but, as noted, one post is hardly enough to describe all the reasons). Over the past year, however, I’ve also taken some time to reflect on what the transition of reigns means for Thailand. It has been a moment of remarkable national unity, as Thais have come together in their outpourings of grief. But what I’ve realised is also of great importance is the preservation of King Bhumibol’s legacy. Therefore, on the anniversary of His Majesty’s passing away, however, I want to take this time to write about something slightly different: moving forward with the king’s legacy in mind.

Firstly, it is of paramount importance that Thailand continues to move towards King Bhumibol’s ideals of sustainable development. In an era of increasing threats to the environment, greater inequality and difficulties in resource management, King Bhumibol’s Sufficiency Economy theory provides a guideline for Thailand’s continued sustainable economic development. The king dedicated his entire life to national development and helping the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. He used innovation and creativity to devise solutions to the country’s most pressing problems. Thus, it is not enough to simply pay lip-service to the king’s achievements. To honour his memory, there is nothing more important than to ensure that the king’s mission is continued: that we continue to develop Thailand sustainably, and that we continue to find creative solutions to lift more people out of acute poverty.

Secondly, we must not forget the lessons of leadership demonstrated by King Bhumibol’s personal character. He declared at the start of his reign that he will rule Thailand with righteousness for the benefit of the Thai people, and he did so for seventy years. The king was the embodiment of the Buddhist tenfold virtues of a good ruler: charity, morality, altruism, honesty, gentleness, self-control, non-anger, non-violence, forbearance and uprightness.These are all qualities to which all leaders can and should aspire to.

King Bhumibol may no longer be with us, but his achievements and the lessons of his life are still with us. Even as the month of October concludes the year of mourning, this is not the end, for his legacy is still here for us to preserve. As Thailand move forwards, let us build upon the foundations laid by the late king to take the country towards a better future.

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