A God in Disguise

A personal account – a small homage, on the Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth King.

When I was a todler, probably 3 or 4 years and growing up in Tongling, Radhi, I remember my grandfather taking me to Tashigang for the first time. In the big “town”, we went into a shop where the first thing my grandpa did was to point to a picture on the wall. “That’s our King” he said. It was the Third King back then. I looked at the picture mesmerised to the core. “What do the kings do?” I remember asking – innocently. “Well, He is the King. He rules over the kingdom. He takes care of all the semchen thamchen (great sentient beings/minds)”, my grandpa, a hereditary lama, replied.

love foundation of family
His Majesty as the crown prince (in the middle). (From L to R – HRH Ashi Sonam, Her Majesty Ashi Kesang, HM, The Third King, HRH Ashi Dechen (Photo – Ashi Choki)

Wow! I thought. How cool! “Can anyone become a King?” I asked him again. My grandpa burst out laughing but he saw me bit dazzled – and confused. He loved me more this life. So he composed himself and went, “You see, our Kings are not like us. They come from the lhayul (realms of Gods) because I told you that he has to rule over, not just the people but also, all sentient beings in his kingdom. So when there is a need for a King in miyul (human world), the gods will have a zomdu (meeting) and then decide to send one of them in guise of a human being. That’s why we say our King is a truelpa (god in disguise)”.

That story remained stuck with me ever since.

Our Kings are not like us (ordinary people). They are sent from lhayul (realms of Gods)

Few years later in 1974, my father took me to Thimphu to witness the Coronation of the Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk. And there I saw our King for the first time. But what was overwhelming was the number of people in Changlimithang stadium. The huge crowd simply frightened me. It was tough job to be a King of so many people, not even counting the semchen, I thought. The King had to be a truelpa. My grandpa was right.

Fast forward to 2003. Some thirty years later, I was leading the Bhutan Broadcasting Service team covering the consecration of Punakha Dzong. Tens of thousands of people had gathered there. The final part of the ceremony included all those present to file and move around the Dzong. The filming continued. But I wasn’t too happy with the camera angles and shots that we were getting. Then  a brilliant idea stuck me. I called out to my crew. “Can anyone climb on the roof and get a top view of the procession? We are not getting the whole picture here.” Everyone said it was a great idea but no one dared to climb on the roof. Not even the cameramen who were half my age. Punakha Dzong is at least a couple of hundreds of feet high. “You guys are chicken! Give me the camera!” I shouted. And I zoomed off, getting a monk on the way to show me the passage to the roof. From there I got the most beautiful and a complete view of the procession. Thousands and thousands of people were solemnly walking behind His Holiness the Je Khenpo, tossing colored rice in the air. Sounds of horns, cymbals filled the whole valley. Little behind His Holiness was His Majesty and the members of the royal family.

The main entrance of Punakha Dzong. (Photo – Yellow.bt)

I had my camera pointed in that direction and was rolling when suddenly His Majesty suddenly looked up towards me. From among the thousands of people, no one noticed me up there – only the King. As I lowered my head and my camera and stepped backwards, I saw His Majesty calling for an officer and sending him off towards me. “Ah! I am caught.” I thought. “Now I am dead.” I climbed down from the roof and headed back to the controls. Few minutes later the officer came running to me. We knew each other. “Dorji!” he shouted, trying to catch his breath, “HM wants you to be careful.” “OK, OK, Aue (brother), Sorry. I just wanted one shot of the procession from the roof.” I replied justifying my stunt. “No! No! You don’t have to say sorry. Zhab is concerned about your safety. He said on big occasions, big tragedies happen.” Suddenly, my hair rose from behind my neck. My stomach folded. My face turned pale. I nearly threw up. I took me few minutes to get back to work.

“Wow! I thought.”Truly a truelpa – a god in disguise, to catch me up there and then to be concerned of MY safety – among thousands of semchen thamchen who are gathered here.”

For days and months after that incident, I went around – brimming with a big smile.

A note for more discerning readers. As a junior scholar, I must clarify one issue about God in Buddhism. Excuse my academic bent. You can blame it on my professors who hammered me with, "You have to explain everything". 

Anyway, the point is: strictly speaking, there is no such thing as “God” in Buddhism – not at least, as it is understood in the Christian world of an Almighty Creator. However, it is also not true to claim that Buddhism is an atheistic religion. Buddhism believe in samsaric existence of birth and rebirth in the six realms of Buddhist cosmology: gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hells. Now I don’t want to go beyond this as it is neither my area of expertise nor the intent of the above article. I am just clarifying that in our belief we have these six realms - one of which is the realm of gods.
The Coronation of the Fifth King, 2008, – two years after His Majesty the Fourth (left) abdicated.
His Majesty the King as a young prince with the Third King with a fishing rod (Photo – HRH Ashi Choki)

4 thoughts on “A God in Disguise

  1. Tshechu.

    Yes I do agree with the above story, coz our kings are not an ordinary people like us. Our beloved king really cares for his citizen amd not only his citizen but for the entire world. That’s why everyone loves our majesty and prayers for his long life… We all are soo lucky to have a leader like him and we all loves our “Majesty”… First of all we all are lucky to born as a human being and on top of that we Bhutanese are all soo lucky to have a leader like him…So let us all put our hands together and pray for our Wangchuk dinesty long life… Thank you for your love and care for all the living beings la… OUR KING ARE GOD AND GOD’S ARE LOVED BY EVERYONE…. we all loves you… LONG LIVE OUR KING (Jigme Singye Wangchuk)…


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