Thai boys rescued from cave ordain as Buddhist monks

Update: 14/08/2018
After being trapped in a flooded cave for more than two weeks, the boys have ordained as monks in memory of the rescue worker who died trying to save them.

Thai boys rescued from cave ordain as Buddhist monks


Eleven of the boys who were recently rescued from a flooded cave system in Thailand ordained as Buddhist monks on Wednesday. After a week in the hospital, the boys and their coach spoke at a press conference on July 18th about their experience in the cave and their plans for temporary ordination. It is not unusual for boys in Thailand to become ordained as novices or samanera, meaning “little contemplatives,” for a short time. The soccer team’s monasticism will be a tribute to Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy Seal who died during their rescue operation. One member of the team is not entering novice monkhood as he is a Christian.

The boys, members of the Wild Boars soccer team, are between the ages of 11 and 16. They were exploring a cave when they became trapped by floodwaters. They were rescued more than two weeks later.

On Tuesday, the boys shaved their heads in a ceremony at the Buddhist temple of Wat Phra That Doi Wao in Chiang Rai. The full ordination ceremony was held on Wednesday. Now, the boys will spend nine days in Wat Phra Thait Doi Wao meditating and praying.

In Theravada Buddhism, ordaining as a monk is a holy act. Those who ordain are believed to acquire a great deal of merit because they are devoting themselves to studying the teachings of the Buddha. In Buddhism, merit is understood as the value created by performing a wholesome activity. Many Buddhists practice “dedicating merit” to others (see an explanation and instruction from Lama Palden Drolma). The boys will donate their gained merit to Kunan’s memory.

Becoming a novice monk is a longstanding tradition in Thailand and it is common for young men to spend time at a temple. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, an American Buddhist monk belonging to the Thai Forest tradition and co-founder of Metta Forest Monastery in California, tells Lion’s Roar that “for some kids, this [temporary ordination] is like summer camp.” He says the rigor of their stay depends largely on the monastery. The length of monkhood also varies greatly.

“Some kids might ordain for a day and dedicate the merit to their parents”, says Thanissaro Bikkhu.

During their temporary ordination, the boys will take the following ten precepts, Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains:

No killing

No stealing

No sex

No lying

No intoxicants

No eating after noon or before dawn

No ornamenting of the body and no using of scents

No going to shows or listening to music

No using high, luxurious beds or seats

No accepting money

Their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, joined them in ordination as a full-fledged monk for the same period of time. He has spent time as a novice monk previously and is credited with teaching the boys meditation in order to keep them calm and retain energy.


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