Devotion or Welfare?-Monks in Thailand


Monks in Thailand live pretty well. In a country that still has huge poverty and very low standards of living the monks seem to live comfortably. Small troops of them can usually be seen taking a leisurely stroll up the road in the cool of the morning. It’s a little after sunrise, the orange streaks in the sky reflecting the hues of the monks robes, the low sun glinting off the brass bowls carried. Each also sports a bag slung over their shoulder, more space for the bounty they seek. These little troops stop at every house to collect the daily offerings. Food, drink, money, and cigarettes, yes, cigarettes, are all a part of their bounty. It seems that a large percentage of monks in Thailand smoke and they do so, openly, as they meander the streets.

Smoking Monk Picture by Paul Cowell

Smoking Monk Picture by Paul Cowell

Monks in Thailand tend to corpulence and it gives ones pause for thought to see them outside the home in which the extended families live. You need to imagine these homes not as brick and tile dwellings resting in an oasis of green. Picture in that oasis of green instead a collection of cobbled together bits of wood, corrugated iron and an assortment of tarps in all colours of the rainbow. Outside sits a table and a group of seats, perhaps a few faded plastic chairs and stools, some wooden benches and one or two perches made from the trunks of felled trees. A large tree might be the source of the shade in which they nestle, or perhaps it’s another tarp made from discarded advertising banners stitched together with recycled twine that provides respite from the sun.

By the side of the road outside this shack stands a painfully thin woman. The weak smile adding extra creases to the topography of a well-worn face and revealing a gummy void that tells the story of teeth that were lost years ago, probably from poor diet and inadequate funds for dental care. She is just forty and has born 6 children, three of whom still live. They all reside in the shack along with her parents, an elderly aunt and uncle and a sister and her children. Dads to both her own and her sister’s children are never seen or mentioned. Grandma is often seen. She spends a portion of her time everyday rummaging through the large blue plastic drums that serve as rubbish bins and sit across the road from their dwelling. She seeks things that can be recycled, clothing, containers, old pillows and cushions, anything that can be hauled home and put to use.


From these humble people the monks collect daily. Sometimes it’s just a bowl of rice and a glass of tea, other days the bounty is more plentiful. In return they chant a few well-worn prays. This is the umpteenth stop of what has already been a good day. Their bags are stuffed, the contents of the bowls now being added to plastic bags provided by other humble folk along their trail. I wonder if they ever consider offering some of their nourishing bounty to those so obviously more in need of the sustenance than they. Their stout appearance suggests that they keep the treasures they collect for themselves.

An interesting article from June 2013 and the lavish life of some Thai monks;

THAILAND’S national Buddhism body said Monday it is monitoring monks nationwide for any inappropriate behaviour following complaints ignited by a video showing Buddhist monks flying on a private jet.

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