Monks – Not Always What They Appear To Be
Many, many things in Thailand are not as they appear to be on the surface. There can be no country better at distorting reality with smoke and mirrors, pretending something is one thing when it is another, disguising what is going on, what is real, either to save face or to exploit a weakness. Transparency is an alien concept in Thailand, and the inability of most visitors to understand the language only helps in the deception. The most common experience of many readers of the Stick Chronicles occurs in the bars of course, when a young lady pretends you are the most handsome man she has ever met while offering a stream of insults about you in Thai (or Lao if she suspects you understand Thai) to her friends sitting beside you. All done with the famous Thai smile of course.
Now, monks represent one of the finest images that Thailand offers to the world, and indeed they are quite rightly revered for their wisdom and their teachings and the help they give to the community. But like many religions the world over their influence is in decline, and many young people seem to have no time for or interest in such things. My own thought is that Thais are really little more Buddhist than my native Brits, not any more. Despite them being cardinal sins in the eyes of the Buddhist faith, stealing and killing are common here, more so than in many other countries. Thailand has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and we know how ‘honest’ many Thais are, ready to rip off anyone for an extra Baht.
But what about the monks themselves? As I said, most are rightly respected and admired. But they are not all like that, not all as portrayed in magazines and on TV. My first experience of monks came not long after I had moved to Thailand. The brother of the girl who introduced me to my wife was killed. It was in a way that I was to discover is so typical of Thailand. He died for absolutely no reason, in a way that simply wouldn’t happen in a more disciplined society. He was riding one of those converted pick-up trucks which was pretending to be a bus, and he was hanging on the back because it was full. That would have been forbidden of course in a politically correct country where health and safety, although sometimes overdone, does often have a reason and a useful purpose. But in Thailand anything goes. No one gives a damn or considers the consequence of anything they do. Nor did the motorcyclist who pulled out in front of the pretend-bus, forcing him to brake heavily, which led to the brother falling from the back and breaking his head open on the curb. As I said, a young life lost for absolutely no reason at all.
So, we went to the temple, my wife and I, and it is then I got up close to monks for the first time. And the first thing I noticed was their tattoos and that they were smoking. That isn’t quite what I expected to see, but anyway. Okay. No big deal. Tattoos are often an indication of people who are, shall we say, less refined than some. I know I could get flamed for saying that, and I have been after a previous sub, but it’s my opinion and that of many others. I’m not saying that all people who sport tattoos are hooligans looking for a fight, or hardened bargirls. But many are. And it isn’t what I expected to see on a monk.
Then I started to read of monks who didn’t act as, well, monks should. First I read of a group of 10 novices and three monks who initiated a machete-wielding brawl because of a rivalry over a girl. They attacked each other with samurai swords. Not quite the image most people have of monks. Then there was the case of a well-known abbot who was found to have been indulging in unlawful sex acts. Not only did they discover over 60 photos involving what appeared to be an under-age girl, but there was a photo of the monk having sexual intercourse with a dog. Hmm! Then there has sometimes been publicity about young ladies in skimpy costumes performing at fairs held in temple grounds. I suppose some of the monks might have averted their eyes. What do you think?
Now there has recently been a comment piece in the Bangkok Post in which gay monks are discussed. Sadly, some of their ‘partners’ aren’t always even of a legal age. One case in Nakhon Si Thammarat, it is reported, turned to violence (isn’t that also against the Buddhist faith?). The story says there has been a big increase recently of katoey monks, who use cosmetics and feminine gestures, and who even adjust their robes to look more ‘fashionable’. The mind boggles. There’s another problem. Many man who have committed offences believe that if they then spend a bit of time in a temple and become a temporary monk then all is forgiven. Perhaps that explains the rough-looking monks I first encountered. Maybe they were doing ‘time’.
Let’s also not forget that temples can be very big business. When they come over to bless a new house or for a wedding or any other occasion, they don’t do it for free. There’s a charge, and it can be quite hefty. There have been plenty of stories of some monks living in luxury, and the most influential monks draw in many millions of baht from devoted followers. Hopefully all of that is used for a good purpose. I do wonder sometimes about the monks I see looking around Pantip Plaza at the computers though, every time I go there. Do they buy, and if so for what purpose? I don’t know.
Anyway, just to let you know that, like nearly everything else in Thailand, there is sometimes more to monks than meets the eye.
In fairness to monks, this sort of thing seems to be going on all over the world with religious figures of all religions. No wonder I am agnostic…