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The story of the Buddha amulet and the gold leaves

THE APPROACHING New Year brings with it a faint hope for miracles; that it will bring the country peace. It also brings to many the knowing despair that, as sunshine fades into dusk, prayers will go unanswered. In bewilderment, some look anxiously for a trustworthy hand to keep a grip on the taut line.

Social discontent, running as deep and powerful as it is real, has been exploited for quite some time. Politicians have a knack for making the downtrodden feel grateful even at their own expense. When the notorious 4,000 NGV buses metamorphoses from a scandalous misdeed into a straight-laced political accomplishment, as advertised on giant billboards along the expressways, we all have reason to be petrified.

Existing for real in our society are injustice, bias, double standards, inequitable social and economic development, unearned and undeserved honour, unwarranted demand for respect, and real economic hardship accompanied by an acute sense of dejection. These problems are not unique to Thailand; they are universal. Human nature breeds them while politicians conveniently turn them into tools to win votes and power.

The so-called "Caring Kindness" (Uua-A-thorn) projects initiated by Thai politicians (as in Caring Kindness housing developments and taxis) for the poor are nothing but a political scheme that kills two birds with one stone. On the one hand, they provide politicians with a well-disguised yet generous boulevard to make big bucks for themselves through overpricing, commissions and well-thought-out and well-organised fraud and corruption that skims the cream off the top. On the other, the poor are made to feel indebted towards the "champions" of their plight, even with the crumbs with which they are actually left.

It is usually called a populist policy, and it is a clever and effective way to legitimise corruption. It creates populist heroes, whose glorified status is as undeserving as the victory of termites over a ruined house.

We live at a time when instant gratification is the password. It numbs our senses and clouds our minds. After a while, dirty windows no longer look dirty, as we can no longer see the grime. After a while, it doesn't matter if we see cannot see anything through it. People are brainwashed to live happily in cocoons created by layers of lies and deception.

It wasn't always this bad. And it doesn't have to remain this ghastly if the wider public tries to change the way we think. This is going to be the hardest thing to do.

On one evening back in 1967 (2510 BE), a police lieutenant colonel was having an audience at the Chitralada Palace with His Majesty, who came down after dinner in a casual outfit. There were nine people in the audience. His Majesty had in his hands Buddha amulets that he had commissioned and which would later be named Phra Chitralada. He gave one to each of the people there.

 "Before the veneration," said His Majesty, "please put some gold leaves on the amulets." The next sentence came quite unexpectedly to the audience, and revealed the essence and core of His Majesty's philosophy and principles: "But put the gold leaves only on the back."

Several years passed, and the same police officer was granted another audience with His Majesty. By that time the officer had gone through hard times in his career and in carrying out his duty honestly. He decided to speak.

"May I ask one thing of you, Your Majesty? May I have your permission to put gold leaves on the front of the amulet?"

His Majesty asked the reason for his request. The officer explained that since he received the amulet from His Majesty, he had experienced nothing but dangerous assignments and hardship, and all the while, there was no promotion in rank or salary from his department.

His Majesty smiled before replying, "Keep putting gold leaves on the back of the Buddha, and one day they will spill over to the front."

If we want to make sense of what His Majesty said, take a look at the pictures of him traversing the land, far from the comfort of home, working hard to bring sustainable development and better living for his people. There are pictures of him half-submerged in rivers so he could find the right solution to the problem at hand. He knew water was key to agriculture, so he initiated dam and reservoir construction as well as proper water management and distribution.

From north to south, east to west, he has initiated and completed project after project that has never been short-lived or a flash in the pan; they and their usefulness last.

He did not work as an arm-chaired executive, but got down to the crux of the matter by going out and learning firsthand as a lay person. He has never given thoughtless and hollow promises like he can solve the traffic congestion within six months, but instead has studied the causes of back-ups in certain areas, and initiated construction of new roads and bridges. His work has always been painstaking, underlain by infinite patience and driven by one objective only - the real wellbeing of the people.

And we have never heard one single word from His Majesty touting his own good and important deeds for the people. He himself has been putting gold leaves on the back of the Buddha, in silent magnanimity.

These days, greed is easier to understand and satisfy than the real meaning of life and unselfish benevolence. We look but do not see, listen but do not hear; it would take too much effort. As such, we fail to discern the fake from the real. But if we want to change for the coming year, heed the silence; there is more room on the back of Buddha amulets to put gold leaves.

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