Monday, December 19, 2011

Once Upon a King...

On November 11, 2009, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo turns 54. It’ll be what it always is whenever his birthday comes around- an emotional moment where you almost wish he’d been an immortal that would live for all times to come. But that is a selfish thought, for he would be the first one to veto such an idealistic notion; snub it out and probably say, “Being mortal is immortal” or something along those lines.

Be as it may, the bond is in essence, one of deep affection and gratitude, for if there ever lived a leader who displayed every noble and altruistic word or gesture with a “I say what I mean and I mean what I say” it is His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck for that and forever more, HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOUR MAJESTY.

I wrote that back in 2009, and now he is 56. Time may have moved its hands but the heart swells with each passing year. This is a moment of remembrance and of tribute; of gratitude and of appreciation; of pride of and humility and last but not the least, a spontaneous expression of love from a humble subject whose own life is enriched because he is His Majesty’s subject, and fortunate enough to be Bhutanese and to have and to live under and during His Reign. There is nothing more some one like me or people like me can add, to all that He has given and sacrificed, to all that He has achieved and shared amongst us and amidst us, with his body, speech and mind.

There are umpteen tributes written about our Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
The tributes, though just and well intentioned, still feels empty in that if one was to weigh the actions and the gratitude on a scale, it would be lopsided.

The average Bhutanese will say words are not enough to express the gratitude and love we feel for him and the sacrifices he’s made for us to make the proud Kingdom we live in today.
That said, the desire to demonstrate that thankfulness is ever present. And no tribute could be more appropriate than on the day of His Auspicious Birth. This then, is an unabashed tribute to My King and to My Lord. Like all heartfelt tributes, I’ve a feeling this is not going to shed or spark any new light or do justice to His Years of selfless service to His country and to His people. But it’s a tribute nonetheless- born out of love, appreciation and respect.

Its proper indeed, to show not only our thanks but also our remembrance to everything He embodies. Back in college I studied English literature. The course was the ancient Greek philosophers. Plato in “The Republic” about “Philosopher Kings” And “Guardians” and the ideal “City-State.” I thought philosopher kings were hypothetical rulers, or “Guardians,” as Plato put it, of his Utopian Kallipolis. If that ideal “City-State” ever does materialize, the old Greek thinker said, “Philosophers [must] become kings… or those now called kings [must]… genuinely and adequately philosophize.” Reading about it all seemed so strange at the time. My grasp of that ideal was just that, a feeble grasp that clutched a handful of confusion with some fancy words I never understood.

I was a student and that was about it. These lofty ideals appeared better suited in the dusty old books and libraries with exalted names such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle and their ilk.
Time goes by and you are out of the campus.

The reality of life beckons and with each stumbling experience, the astonishing realization sets in that those books you read were not just ideals but a probable wish fulfilling aspiration that could become feasible. That they are not just romantic designs recorded for rhetorical posterity but real valuable and workable ideas that can work out in the real world. We think Gautama Buddha came, taught the Dharma, and passed unto Parinirvana. We think Guru Rinpoche too did just that- flew in on the back of a tigress, made those ogres and ogresses protective deities and established Buddhism in Bhutan- leaving without much ado.

If you gaze carefully, you’d see that the teachings and wisdom of these great masters still live within and without us- in emanations such as accomplished Siddhas and Arhats that come as Rinpoches, Trulkus, Lamas, Yogins, and politically through personalities such as the Mahatma, Martin Luther King Jr. and in our own time, Nelson Mandela and without a whisper, our Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Though those books back in college were worthy of note, the feeling one got was that it was an “idyllic idea” recorded by well intentioned but “naïve impractical philosophers,” with no connection to the surrounding drudgery of daily life. There was a total ‘disconnect’ between what we were reading and what was unfolding around us. My generation and the generation before it perhaps carry a sense of sentimentality that goes beyond the shallow depth of the skin when it comes to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. It had to do with the simple fact that He was always there for us, with us, among us and amidst us. To see this being embodied to the hilt by our present Druk Gyalpo is such a joy to behold! His persona always brings to mind the persona of his own father.

It was not until we’d graduated and found the rigors of ‘real-life’ so utterly different to the college campus that we began to realize what we had for a king. I’d read about “Dharma-Kings” not only in the misconstrued naive veins of Plato but in Indian history too- through Emperor Ashoka and the golden reign of Buddhism in India. These were now not just mere historical recordings but real measurables one could touch, feel and go overwhelmingly numb! You travel to India, do the pilgrimage trails and as suddenly, realize the connection between the “Three Lions” and the “Ashoka Pillars” – they have always been the emblems of a proud India. The Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodh Gaya and Sarnath where the Wheel of the Dharma was spun is a timeless testimony to the compassion and vision of Emperor Ashoka. The “Pillars” still stand tall- sacred statement to all that he held sacred. The national flag of India carries the “Wheel of Dharma” and the “Roar of the Three Lions.”

Thus Philosopher Kings, as Plato put it, had the potential to become a reality then as it does today, in a small eastern Himalayan nation called the Land of the Thunder Dragon. In effect, what our successive Druk Gyalpos have done, beginning with the Great Gongsar to the Benevolent Khesar, was and is in transforming that “Utopian” model into a workable reality that is both doable and achievable. With the passage of time, the transformation has gotten only stronger. Never in history has a country come so close to realizing the ideals propounded in ancient Greece by “Philosophers” and elsewhere by other erstwhile thinkers such as Lao Tzu and Confucius. Today, Gross National Happiness is not just another fancy term- it’s a belief as massive as the mountains around us, as infinitely lucid as the sky above us and as malleable as the meandering brooks around us, all firmly rooted in Mother Earth.

Its an altruistic approach that we believe can change the way ‘development’ and ‘progress’ are viewed, interpreted and enacted. This has been one among the many gifts the Fourth Druk Gyalpo has bestowed upon us and one that finds increasing resonance in a world where cynicism is the call of the day and happiness, a byline for sarcasm. This begs the question, “Are we thankful enough for the positive circumstances we find ourselves in or are we becoming spoiled brats?”
This is the right time to contemplate questions of that nature. For if we cannot demonstrate the sort of qualities that He so unfailingly embodied through all channels and personas, then we will not be doing justice to His Vision- a country where happiness is measured not in Gross Domestic Product but rather in the day-to-day quality of life of its citizens.

A country that can be an example of “Equity and Justice” in every sense of the world without “Fear or Favor”- walking the talk from the way we treat our children to the way we treat our prisoners. A country where a citizen can look up-to and at the portraits of our kings and be proud of and feel fortunate that we have had such “Dharma Kings” and try to impart, a little bit of that persona, in ourselves and in our children, neighbors, the laws of the state and the country itself.
That persona should be reflected from every angle that makes a state work- whether it is the judiciary, the police, the elected government, the bureaucracy and every branch that makes a state an “Ideal-State” and not an “Idle State”.

Historically, in a way, being cynical was a form of ‘defense’ for us. It taught us to be first “suspicious” and then “trusting”. Perhaps the time has now come, particularly as we celebrate the day of Our Beloved Drukgyal Zhipa, to be “trusting” first and if necessary, positively skeptical.

For that is what we saw in his 42 years of selfless service. We saw a young man take charge of a kingdom in an environment of deep personal tragedy, yet he exhibited trust, strength honor and confidence. That image should be etched forever in our minds and be felt in our hearts, for that was how he saw us and lead us; and the least we can do is to follow that courageous and honorable path.

This is why I get the Goosebumps whenever I recall that image, and shed a quiet tear when those black and white footage come to the mind.

For He touched us all, and taught us to live fearlessly, as he did, with the world around us and with everything in it, as he did and continues to do- with a boldness that binds both compassion and wrath.
With Prayers and Gratitude, Blessed Be Your Majesty!