[Vision2020] In Praise of Asian Monarchs: Past and Present
ngier006 at gmail.com
Thu Oct 27 10:04:12 PDT 2016
Good Morning Wild-Eyed Visionaries:
I will continue to boycott the national election until the Trump nightmare
is over. I'm following Michelle Obama's advise of going high when they are
*In Praise of Asian Monarchs: Past and Present*
Nick Gier, The Palouse Pundit
In late May, 1992, against the advice of the State Department, I travelled
to Thailand for a two-week visit. On May 17, an estimated 200,000 Thais
gathered in Bangkok to protest the rule of Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suchinda_Kraprayoon>. He called out his
troops, and thanks to U. S.-supplied M-16 rifles, 52 protesters were killed
and hundreds more wounded.
Just after I landed at the Bangkok airport, I learned that King Bhumibol
Adulyadej had met with Suchinda and opposition leader Chamlong Srimuang,
and the general agreed to give up power.
For 70 years the Thai people had adored King Bhumibol as a Bodhisattva, a
“Being of Enlightenment.” He died on October 1, and millions of Thais
openly grieved the loss of their great monarch.
Sitting above the tumult of Thai politics (12 successful military coups
since 1932), King Bhumibol had always been able to bring the various
factions together. Over the decades he gained the respect of his people by
traveling among them and seeing to their needs.
Sadly, the military has once again taken over, but this time the king made
the mistake of siding with one side in the power struggle. The Thais loved
him so much that they were willing to forgive him. Now their main concern
is that Crown Prince Maha Vajralongkorn, a playboy thrice married, is seen
by many unfit to rule.
The Shah dynasty of Nepal had ruled since 1768 and was highly respected.
When I visited there in 1992, I saw thousands of Nepalis standing in line
to receive a personal blessing from King Birendra.
On June 1, 2001, King Birendra and nine members of the royal family were
gunned down by Crown Prince Dipendra. Gyanendra, the surviving younger
brother, ascended to the throne, and his first act was to suspend the
Parliament and shut down the press. A massive Gandhi-style movement forced
Gyanendra to back down, and in 2008 the monarchy was abolished.
The small Himalayan state of Bhutan used to be ruled by a violent and
corrupt Buddhist ruler, a position equivalent to Tibet’s Dalai Lama. In
1907, at the urging of the British, Bhutan welcomed its first king, Ugyen
Wangchuck, and he founded one of history’s most enlightened monarchies.
When I traveled to Bhutan in 1999, Harvard educated Jigme Wangchuck was
celebrating his Silver Jubilee, confirming the tradition of righteous
The Bhutan is a poor country but its people have universal education and
health care. They like to say that their goal is not Gross National
Product, but Gross National Happiness, which I experienced first-hand as I
toured the country.
Acting as a beneficent philosopher king, Jigme Wangchuck banned plastic
bags and the import of highly polluting motorcycle taxis from India. He has
decreed that timber exports would cease, and the result is that, in
contrast to neighboring Nepal, the Bhutanese landscape is verdant and
unblemished. Taking seriously the Buddhist belief that the Himalayas are
mountain goddesses, the king banned mountaineering while allowing trekking
in the foothills.
For a thousand years Burmese kings successfully ruled the most ethnically
diverse country in Asia. In the late 19th Century the British took over the
country, and they brought in missionaries, Indian civil servants, and
Muslim immigrant workers. Centuries of religious harmony between Buddhist
and Muslims was undermined, and now militant Buddhist monks are leading
attacks on Muslims.
In 1706 the Sixth Dalai Lama resigned and died under mysterious
circumstances. One of the current Dalai Lama’s most amazing confessions is
that Tibet, from that time forward, would have been better governed by
kings rather than high lamas such as himself.
I’m left wondering if the Dalai Lama really means, even given the less than
stellar performance of his predecessors, that it was best not to have had
his enlightened leadership in the world.
Nick Gier taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understand-ing!—that is the motto of enlightenment.
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