In the wake of the cave rescue, it’s important to keep alive memories of the sacrifices made
The venerable Thai expression pid thong lang phra translates as attaching gold leaf to the back of a Buddha statue and is commonly used in reference to doing a good deed with no expectation of a reward.
It is most appropriate in the context of the astonishing Chiang Rai rescue drama, in which scores of heroes who to the general public mostly remain nameless and
faceless saved 12 boys and a young adult from almost certain doom in a flooded limestone cavern.
It was an unprecedented effort with a magnificently happy ending, and memories of it must be
cherished and preserved.
The phrase pid thong lang phra may be well known, but doing good without expecting payment is
hardly a Thai tradition, and nor is it common anywhere else in the world.
People who do good usually expect a reward for their service and even demand one.
In a race against time, with the clock running out on the 13 people stranded hungry and at peril in the dark cave, all thoughts among the rescue party were of ensuring their survival.
When they boys and their
football coach were finally freed,
jubilation reined, but at the same time the news media rushed in, and politicians began to hover. They had their gold leaf ready for the front of the Buddha statue.
Pid thong lang phra gets its
utility from the fact that worshipers typically place gold leaf on the front of Buddha statues, which can be seen as an ostentatious and
boastful display of righteousness. Gilding the back of the statue would strike such people as pointless since the gold leaf can’t be seen there. The saying thus becomes chastisement for vanity, for the act of pretending to be noble when others are
His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej advocated pid thong lang phra, though some might dare scoff when his own actions always seemed to be in plain view and well publicised.
In fact, many of his good deeds went unnoticed, and even his most dedicated admirers learned about some of them only after he died in October 2016.
The heroism of the dangerous Tham Luang Cave rescue operation adhered to the pid thong lang phra principle, an inspiration to people around the world, who marvelled that so many strangers were willing to take grave risks to help others, without wanting or expecting
anything in return.
Vanity, ideology, politics – all these mundane matters – had no places in those frantic hours and days.
Now that the historic mission is completed, we must for everyone’s sake cling to the spirit that made it possible.
Pid thong lang phra has its Buddhist context, but its message reaches beyond religion to promote selflessness, the great enemy of vanity. This was the virtue seen in abundance during the cave rescue, and to people watching from afar, it was both refreshing and enlightening.
Because of the sheer scale of the operation, the event has had extensive consequences of varying levels of nobility.
The less admirable side of the ego is lurking, waiting to pounce. To hold it at bay, the spirit of pid thong lang phra that characterised the Tham Luang mission must be held in the highest regard – for as long as humanly possible.