A Multi-faceted Man
A Multi-faceted Man
From his earliest boyhood, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has shown himself to be resourceful, self-motivated, and independent. An early black and white film taken when he was around six years old shows him on the beach at Hua Hin. Children cavort in the low surf. To one side is a pensive boy completely absorbed in constructing an elaborate sand castle, oblivious to the flurry of activity surrounding him.
When still a boy, he constructed his own electric train, even winding the copper wire for motors by himself. Together with his elder brother His Majesty King Ananda, he built his own radio to listen to the music he loved. From constructing model gliders and boats as a boy, His Majesty progressed to designing and building, with his own hands, a number of sailboats in the OK Class, the Vega I, Vega II, and Vega III. In 1966-67, he built three innovative Moth Class boats of varying lengths, each displaying improvements over its predecessor: the "Mod" (Ant), "Super Mod", and "Micro Mod" (a mere seven feet nine inches long) are still sailed today. An accomplished sailor, he put them through their paces, refining them from the results obtained in racing trials in the Gulf of Thailand. As an adult, he has shown himself to be a talented painter, photographer, musician (and composer) on a number of instruments, linguist, and sportsman.
From an early age, His Majesty has shown an abiding interest in the visual arts. Essentially self-taught as a painter, he began painting in earnest in 1959. He initially focused on portraiture, his favorite subject being his wife, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. While favoring realist depictions, he soon moved to expressionism and abstract art, usually working in bright, bold colours. To involve others in his new passion, he formed an art studio for courtiers at Chitralada Villa and staged informal competitions. These led to an exhibition of several of his works at the 14 th National Art Exhibition in 1966. It culminated in a one-man show in 1982, when 47 of his paintings were shown at the National Art Gallery, an accomplish- ment thought to be unique among the world's reigning Monarchs.
The defining image of His Majesty is a portrait of him striding through the countryside or talking with villagers, a map in one hand and a camera slung around his neck. Seldom does he appear otherwise when photographed outside of Bangkok. He comes from a tradition of photographers: His Grandfather, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn, also had keen interest in this art. The large body of works-primarily portraits-that dates from the period suggests that nearly every Royal personage traveled with a camera in his or her hand.
It is likely that His Majesty's more immediate influence was his mother's interest in photography and cinematography. He embarked early on his own career, buying a black-speckled green Coronet Midget box camera when he was eight years old to record life around home. In an era before light meters, he learned to read the light and set the exposure according to how his eye read the subjects. Although he shot numerous portraits-again, of his favorite subject, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit-he was primarily interested in what artists term the "involvement style": focusing on a single object and exploring its inner life through the play of light and shadow. He also briefly explored cinematography, shooting movies on his many trips abroad.
In recent years, he has employed the camera as a tool of development in his upcountry travels, he has photographed terrain in order to study in his leisure time the best means of channeling water for irrigation. He also recorded nature's excesses-floods, droughts, and the likes-in order to devise remedies to these age-old problems.
From an early age, His Majesty's first love has been music. He was coaxing sounds from a saxophone even before he had reached his teens. His love of jazz-especially the blues-was nurtured from an early age, and developed to such a level of proficiency that, on a visit to New York in 1960, he was invited to sit in with jazz great, clarinetist Benny Goodman. That joyous occasion led to jam sessions with other jazz legends, many of whom visited the Kingdom in order to play with His Majesty. Not content with a single instrument, he also achieved admirable skill in playing the clarinet, trumpet, and guitar. A popular leisure activity for him was a trip into the countryside to picnic and relax. There are numerous photos of His Majesty taking a leisurely ride in a canal boat, playing his trumpet accompanied by members of his band.
From playing tunes, it was a natural progression to composing music, experimenting with phrases on the piano as he wrote. One photo depicts him deep in concentration, writing a score while a cat perches above him on the piano lid. He is the composer of 48 songs, his signature cadences immediately definable. One of his best-known works, "Blue Day", was adopted by Mike Todd in 1950 for "Peepshow", perhaps the only time a Monarch's composition has been showcased in a hit Broadway musical. He is also the only Thai composer listed in the latest edition of the prestigious Encyclopaedia of Jazz and was the first Thai composer inducted into Die Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (The Institute of Music and Arts) of Vienna. Local musicians still gather on Saturday nights at Klai Kangwol Palace in Hua Hin for a jam session. Calling itself the Aw Saw Wan Suk, the group is led by His Majesty on saxophone through a repertoire of Dixieland, New Orleans , and Big Band numbers-as well as a few compositions by His Majesty. The band is not as active as it once was when musicians as renowned as Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, Les Brown, Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, and James Moody sat in while on visits to the Kingdom. www.60thcelebrations.com
His Majesty is a talented linguist who has used his command of languages to communicate with foreign Heads of State and visitors to the Kingdom. Fluent in English, French, and German, he has employed his skills as part of the broad outreach of his education programme, translating into Thai foreign books he feels would benefit his people. Thus, among others, he has translated William Stevenson's inspirational "A Man Called Intrepid" and a biography of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito. He has also translated from Thai into English the Buddhist classic Mahajanaka, the story of one of the lives of the Buddha that is mentioned in the Tripitaka, a tale which illustrates the concept of perseverance.
His Majesty has always been as physically active as he has been mentally adroit. While living in Switzerland, he learned to ski, a sport which he pursued avidly. The lack of snow did not deter him when he returned to Thailand; he simply took up water skiing, and proved himself to be as skilled on the water as he was on the slopes. To relax at home, he played badminton, spending his evenings with friends, batting a shuttlecock back and forth across a net. But it was sailing that captured his lifelong interest. He learned to sail single-handed off Hua Hin and took part in competitions at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club near the beach resort of Pattaya. Interested in the engineering potential of fast boats, he began designing and building his own craft. When his teenage daughter, Princess Ubol Ratana showed an interest in the sport, he taught her the ropes, as it were, and she joined him as crew. The ultimate recognition of their sailing skill came in 1967 when the pair won the Gold Medal for sailing at the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games.
Buddhism in H.M.’s Life
Buddhism has been a defining force in His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's life, a bedrock faith that has guided him in his actions and enabled him to remain tranquil in times of stress. As a practicing Buddhist monarch, His Majesty adheres to the Theravada form of Buddhism observed by 94.2% of the Thai population. He endeavours to follow the Noble Eightfold Path defined as Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. These qualities are evident in his dedication to his people's welfare and the thoughtful way in which he listens to their needs and—in consultation with them and other officials—formulates, executes and follows up on his development programmes. When he was 29 (the same age at which Lord Buddha left his palace and embarked on his quest for Enlightenment), His Majesty sought to gain a more complete understanding of his faith by ordaining as a Buddhist monk. Prior to entering the monkhood, he spoke of his enthusiasm about his impending ordination:
"From the training which I have received, as well as out of my own personal belief, it is my view that Buddhism.is one of the great religions of the world. Buddhism comprises teachings to lead men to good conduct and is rich in veritable precepts which are logical, highly impressive, and inspiring. I have always entertained the idea of being ordained as a monk.in accordance with Royal custom. which would also be the traditional way of expressing gratitude to my August Ancestors."
In 1956, he donned the saffron robes and entered Bangkok's Wat Bovornives to study Buddhist principles under the tutelage of the Supreme Patriarch. Like other monks in the Kingdom, he rose before dawn each day and walked barefoot through the streets of Bangkok to receive alms (bintabaht) presented by the faithful lining the roads. As his Great-Grandfather, His Majesty King Mongkut, had discovered, this simple ritual of alms gathering put him in touch with ordinary people, something the seclusion of the palace did not provide. This, and his ground-breaking tour of the Northeast, brought him face to face with his people and exposed him to the tribulations they faced daily. The experience better prepared him for the task he had set for himself: to work to improve their lives. Since leaving the monkhood, he has devoted himself to the realisation of those teachings in his daily life. As the supreme patron of Buddhism, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej presides at numerous Buddhist ceremonies including the changing of the robes of the Emerald Buddha to mark the progression of the three seasons of the year. In special years, he travels down the Chao Phraya River in a Royal Barge to present robes to monks at Wat Arun.
Buddhist Guiding Principles for a Ruler
In addition, he is guided by the 12 principles laid down by the Lord Buddha in his Cakkavatti-vatta, or "Duties of a Great Ruler":
To these are added the Raja-sangahavatthu, the kingly virtues that bind the nation together:
Devoted Husband and Father
In 2006, Their Majesties celebrated their 56th Wedding Anniversary. Since their marriage, they have traveled to every province in Thailand — a first for a Thai Royal couple-primarily to oversee their various projects. Her Majesty Queen Sirikit aids His Majesty the King in his development work and in addition administers or counsels on numerous projects of her own. Their Majesties have four children: Princess Ubol Ratana, H.R.H. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, H.R.H. Princess Chulabhorn, all of whom are actively involved in academic and development projects.
Patron of All Faiths
Section 9 of the Thai Constitution states that "The King is a Buddhist and Upholder of all Religions." This concept of supporting the 5.8% of the population which does not profess Buddhism, extends far back into Thai history, a principle that has always been upheld by Thai onarchs. It explains why missionaries and proselytisers of a wide variety of faiths were tolerated and converts accepted. Moreover, the predominantly Buddhist government has never attempted to convert those of other faiths nor to impose the majority's religion on them. This deeply-ingrained belief in religious freedom helps explain why the nation has never experienced religious war or sectarian conflict.
As the protector of all religions, His Majesty is aware of the importance of religion in his people's lives. In a talk on the eve of his Birthday on 4 December 1969, he commented on the role of faith in his people's lives:
"One needs a faith.as the principle governing one's actions, and one needs education, for knowledge, spiritual and material, so that life can be sustained. Faith and education are both important, and cannot be separated."
That responsibility to protect and promote religions is also evidenced by the existence of a fund within the Department of Religious Affairs for the preservation and renovation of all places of worship and monuments, regardless of religion. Schools founded by various faiths operate openly throughout the Kingdom. In support of the second largest religion in the Kingdom, Islam, His Majesty has financed the translation of Al Qur'an into Thai. Chularajamontri (Sheikul Islam), the head of Islamic affairs, is consulted on matters of importance to the Muslim community.