Category Archives: Temple Life

Monk Chat in Chiang Mai

The Monk Chats in Chiang Mai have been going on for quite a few years. I took this picture at Wat Chedi Luang, but the monk chats take place in other temples these days. Basically, this is an opportunity for novice monks and young monks to practice their English with foreign tourists. At the same time, foreigners can learn a little about life in a Thai temple and what it’s like to be a Buddhist. If you go, please dress respectfully and maybe leave a donation in the box afterwards. For ladies, you shouldn’t touch or be alone with a monk.

An Interview with “Phra Farang”

One of the best books about Buddhism in Thailand is undoubtedly “Phra Farang: An English Monk in Thailand” by Phra Peter Pannapadipo. Even if you are not interested in becoming a monk yourself, his vivid description of his ten years as a foreign monk in Thailand will give you an insight into Thai life and culture that would be difficult to find elsewhere. It is certainly one of my favourite books about Thailand and I was really happy when I was finally able to catch up with “Phra Farang” at home in Nakhon Sawan.

Since the events described in his book, he has now disrobed and resorted back to his previous name of Peter Robinson. He now works full time for The SET Foundation (SET), which awards scholarships to needy students. In this first interview, I talk to Peter about his time as a monk in Thailand. Next week, I will be asking him about what he has been up to since he left the monkhood. Peter now has three books published about Buddhism. “Little Angels: Real Life Stories of Thai Novice Monks” is also one of my favourites. His third book, “One Step at a Time”, about meditation techniques, has just been published by Bamboo Sinfonia.

Q. Before you became a monk in Thailand, how much were you prepared for the experience?

I was well prepared because I trained at the Thai monastery in the UK for three years before actually ordaining in Thailand. I had a fairly involved business and social life in London and I needed time anyway to withdraw from all that. For me, it was a gradual process.

Q. Was Thailand monasteries up to your expectations?

Not quite, because I had been trained by very senior and very disciplined Thai monks in the UK, so I naively expected to find the same level of discipline, understanding and commitment in Thailand. Almost immediately after ordaining at a monastery in Bangkok, I realized that many monks were not at all disciplined, some even knew very little about Buddhism and very few knew even the basics of meditation.

Q. If you had the time again, what would you have done differently to prepare yourself for life as a monk in Thailand?

Nothing. I think my way was the best way, to ease into it, but that was because of my particular circumstances in the UK. Although my studies and meditation practice were often difficult in the UK, at least I didn’t have the added difficulty of living in a strange environment at the same time. I have since met Westerners who have decided to ordain and who have come straight to Thailand, without any real preparation at all. Sometimes they don’t last very long in the robes.

Q. How would you describe the differences between a Thai temple in the West to one in Thailand?

I have no experience of Thai monasteries in the West, except in the UK. There, if it’s an official Thai monastery, the monks will usually have been chosen carefully by the Thai Sangha (Order of Monks) before being sent abroad. The monks will also often speak English and will have at least a basic understanding of British culture. They will also usually be able to teach pure Buddhism – which is what Europeans want – rather than the sort of hybrid Buddhism/Animism that is so common in Thailand.

Q. What kind of duties do the monks undertake for the lay people which is not strictly Buddhism?

I think the majority of Thai monks give the people what the people want, which is mostly blessings, charms and the like. If that helps the people then I suppose it’s not too bad, but it’s not exactly Buddhism. Unfortunately, many monks come from little country villages and are not well educated either in a secular or religious sense – which isn’t their fault – so they believe that the non-Buddhist practices they undertake actually are Buddhist.

Q. When there are no lay people around, do some monks just act like normal people by joking around and teasing each other?

Of course, but the point is that they are normal people. Lay people seem to think that the moment a man puts on the robes, he instantly becomes something special, but it can takes years to fully develop as a monk. Many young monks in Thailand are ‘short-time’ monks; they’ve ordained with the idea of staying in the robes for a couple of years, or for one Pansa (the 3-months Rains Retreat) or even just a couple of weeks. Of course they act like ’normal’ people. But there are also many long-term monks with 10, 20, 40 – even 60 – years spent in the robes and their behavior tends to be quite different.

Q. Over the years the Thai monkhood has received some bad publicity due to the antics of a small minority of monks. For example, sexual relations, drug use and other inappropriate behaviour. Is this only the tip of the iceberg and will things just get worse?

There have been and still are some very bad Thai monks, but I think the majority do the best they can, depending on their level of understanding of the Buddha’s teaching and their commitment to the teaching and way of life. But I think – or at least hope – that there are also some extremely good monks, maybe even arahants (saints) living in isolated caves and forests. We never see them, we never hear about them, but I believe they are there.

Q. Some abbots seem to be spending more money constructing bigger temple buildings or Buddha images rather than using the money to help people who really need it. Why is this?

This is a thorny issue, even within the Sangha. The monks only duty towards lay people is to practice well, thus becoming good examples to the lay people, and to teach the Dhamma to them. They have no mandate to be actively socially-involved. There are monks who are socially-involved – in helping the poor, protecting forests from illegal logging, in environmental issues and even in one case by setting up an AIDS hospice in the monastery – but they come under great criticism, both from other monks and from lay people, who claim that is simply not the monks’ job and that, anyway, monks are not trained in these issues.

Additionally, abbots must make a periodic report to the Sangha to say what they have achieved at their monastery. Their advancement up the monastic ladder, and the gaining of monastic titles, may be based on what they have done or are seen to have done. It is easier to show some new temple building, or another installed Buddha image, than it is to show Compassion in a solid and quantifiable form.

Q. You once said that you were expected to act more like a monk than a Thai person. That any indiscretion by a Thai monk is more forgiveable than if you had done it yourself. Why do you think that is?

Simply because there are so many Thai monks that they become part of the background for Thai people. But a Phra Farang (foreign monk) will always stand out in a crowd, so he must be more vigilant about his behavior than a Thai monk.

Q. At what stage did things change that made you feel that you were as good a monk as any Thai person?

From my first day!

This is continuing my interview with Peter Robinson, who is probably better known in Thailand as “Phra Farang”, the foreign monk. Peter spent ten years as a monk before finally disrobing in order to spend more time with his student charity,The SET Foundation (SET). I will be talking more with Peter about SET in a later interview and how you can help needy Thai students get a scholarship.

Q. In Thailand there are two Buddhist sects. Can you briefly explain what these are and the main differences?

The biggest sect is called Mahanikaya and the smaller sect is Dhammayuttika. Both follow exactly the same teaching and rules, but Dhammayuttika monks have traditionally been more strict in their practice. They tend to live in isolated monasteries without as much contact with the lay people and spend more time in meditation. Mahanikaya monks are often teacher or scholar monks, so they live in larger cities and towns where the people are.

Q. Sometimes you see monks wearing different coloured robes. Is there any significance in this?

Not really. Dhammayuttika monks usually wear a dark brown robe and city-based Mahanikaya monks often wear orange. Some monks may wear a deep red robe. It often depends on the choice of the abbot. In my ten years as a monk, I wore all three colors at various times.

Q. Some Western people see the alms round as monks going around the community begging for food. Do the lay people see this differently?

Definitely. Monks anyway do not beg and the rules forbid them from asking for anything. They simply walk in the streets with their alms bowls and if people want to offer food, the monks accept it. If the people don’t offer food, then the monk must go hungry.

Q. Do you still remember your first alms round? What were your main concerns when you were doing this?

I will never forget my first alms round because it was such an extraordinary spiritual experience. At first there were practical difficulties, like keeping my robe from falling off, or dropping my alms bowl, or being careful not to step bare-footed in dog crap. But I got use to these practicalities in a very short time.

Q. Did you ever feel embarrassed when you went on the alms rounds? Did you ever feel like you were a fraud or that people would treat you as a joke?

Not at all. What was to be embarrassed about? I was doing exactly what the Buddha did everyday and his monks have been doing the same thing for more than 2,500 years. Thai people never treated me as a joke – though my appearance seemed to give some foreigners a good laugh.

Q. I have seen some monks go out on their alms round on the back of a motorcycle taxi or standing outside a 7-Eleven convenience store. I have also seen some defending their “turf” from rival temples. Are there many Thai monks out there who are just there for an “easy life” or for the money that they collect?

Sometimes the monks you see standing around at 7-Elevens or wherever and asking for food or money are not actually monks at all. They are ‘false monks’ and the Sangha is very aware of the problem. It has its own investigator monks who go out with police looking for them and the police immediately arrest them, though they are not too harsh on them.

It is true that there are men who ordain just for an easy life, for free food and accommodation, and to make a little money by chanting blessings, but there are lazy people to be found in every walk of life.

Q. Why do Thai people prefer to give food and money to monks rather than to a charity or a poor family down the road?

Simply because they believe they make more merit by giving to the monks. One day, when I returned from alms round with enough food to feed six people, I found a lady waiting for me at my kuti, wanting to offer yet more food. I explained that I already had more than enough and suggested she take her food to the nearby orphanage. She looked at me as though I was crazy, and said “but there are no monks there”.

Q. I know monks are not supposed to handle money, but what expenses do they have that calls for money. I am thinking here of electricity bills?

Monks have no real expenses. The bills for water and electricity are paid for by the monastery from funds given by lay people, and monks don’t have to pay for their accommodation in the monastery. But even monks may need a little money sometimes. Thai lay people are very generous when it comes to giving food on alms round, but they may not think to give things like toothpaste, soap or other toiletries. I often had to buy these things myself when I was a monk.

Q. I sometimes see monks on buses or in taxis. Is this free for them?

The back seat of public buses is (or was?) for monks and they could travel free. Taxis or private transport are not free.

Q. These days many foreigners seem to want to become monks for a short period of time. Do you have any advice on how they can go about doing this?

For several years I ran a course for Westerners who wanted to ordain short-time as monks or novices. Most of the men responded very well but that was because there was no language or cultural barrier between us. I was also able to teach a more pure form of Buddhism than is generally taught or understood by Thai monks.

To really get the most out of it, any Westerner wanting to become a monk should ordain at a monastery with a senior English-speaking monk; someone who can really explain not only the rules but also the why of being a monk. Otherwise, it can be a total waste of time. Probably the best place for a Westerner to ordain is at the international forest monastery – Wat Pa Nanachat – in the northeast.

Q. You have lived in temples in both towns and rural countryside. Which do you prefer?

In my early days as a monk I needed the peace of a rural monastery because I had to practice very intensive meditation. Years later, I was needed to teach meditation to others, so I had to move to a city monastery. As a monk, I felt I should go where I was most needed, or where I could do the most good. But – country or city – it’s all the same really. Your personal space and your reaction to your immediate environment is all in the mind. Personal preference doesn’t really enter into the decision after a while.

Q. Life in temples can be quite challenging for Westerners used to soft beds and sitting down to three meals a day. What can they do to prepare themselves mentally and physically for life as a monk?

Unless they are in the same position as me and able to prepare over a long period, there is very little that can be done. But if the Westerner is truly committed to the Buddha’s teaching and the life of a monk, he shouldn’t be at all concerned about losing some home comforts. The benefits to be gained far outweigh any disadvantages.

Q. Even with all these preparations, will it still be a shock to the system?

Oh yes!

Novice Monks at Wat Chaimongkhol

Many Thai children spent their summer holidays either at summer school or, if they were a boy, ordained as novice monks at their local temple. In Samut Prakan, a number of our temples offered the youngsters a chance to ordain for about a month. I took the pictures on this page at Wat Chai Mongkhol over a period of several weeks this month. This is the oldest temple in our province dating back to 1350 A.D. As this is a prestigious temple, it also saw the highest number of students signing up to ordain at just over 250. This was the biggest ordination of novice monks that I have ever attended.

For the Thai boys, the first event for them was the haircutting ceremony. This wasn’t just a simple task of cutting off all their hair. The ceremony started with prayers and chanting. Then the abbot and a local politician, went around the room to cut a symbolic lock of hair. Then the elders in the family also took turns to cut a piece of hair. None of this is allowed to touch the floor and is collected in a lotus leaf. The rest of the hair is then cut completley off including the eyebrows. There were a couple of students from my school here and I can tell you it is hard to recognize someone when they don’t have eyebrows.

Wat Chai Mongkhol is one of my favourite temples and I often go there to photograph various events. In fact, Phra Ajarn is keen on me taking pictures and always asks for copies. He is vary good at his job and is very technology minded. This is him in this picture. The day after the hair cutting ceremony came the actual ordination. In the run up to the ceremony, Phra Ajarn gave an interesting talk about the important role of their mothers in their lives by using pictures and music to good affect. The highlight were video clips of a woman giving birth showing the pain that she went through. He then asked the mothers to sit with their sons for the last time before they were ordained. Some of the boys were overcome and started to cry.

I have written several times before the details of the ordination ceremony so I won’t go into details here. If you want more information then please visit our www.thaibuddhist.com web site. The first half of the ceremony for novices and monks are exactly the same. However, the monks have to face tougher questioning in front of a group of monks in a sacred building. Novices can ordain in a normal hall like this one. In the middle of the ceremony they have to leave in order to change from their white clothes to the orange robes of the monkhood. That wasn’t an easy task for them to help 250 young boys get changed into a complicated set of robes that didn’t have any buttons or zippers.

The novices spent a lot of the four week period studying Dhamma, meditating and also having valuable lessons in ethics. As novices, they had only 10 precepts to keep unlike the 227 that the monks have to obey. The novices weren’t allowed to kill, steal, lie or even sing. They also weren’t allowed to have sex or become intoxicated which hopefully wasn’t too hard for them. These ten precepts are the same that lay people try to keep on important Buddhist holidays and during the Rains Retreat. In addition to the precepts, the novices had to learn the 75 training rules which dictated how they should behave in the temple and when they go out on alms round.

The young novice monks didn’t go out on the alms round every day, nor did they all go at the same time. Imagine 250 novices walking down the narrow lanes surrounding this temple. The local people would be completely overwhelmed. It was also a very tiring event for them. I know I was exhausted after we came back. I took my first pictures at 6.15 a.m. and didn’t come back from our long walk until 8.40 a.m. I am glad I was wearing shoes. These poor novices had to go barefoot. But, they did a good job and acted appropriately as a novice monk. Although four weeks is not very long, I am sure what they learned during this short time will last them a lifetime.

Monks on their Alms Round

In the early hours of every morning, even before the break of dawn, monks can be seen walking along roads on their alms round. They do this throughout the year whatever the weather. No matter if there is torrential rain or it is bitterly cold. Officially, they are only allowed to leave the temple once they can see the hairs on the back of their hand. But many leave long before sunrise in order to avoid the affects of the scorching sun. It is not easy being a monk. They have to walk barefoot along public roads and down unpaved lanes strewn with sharp stones and other unnatural objects. When they leave the temple, the monks have to wear their full robes with both shoulders covered. Only the novice monks, whether they be children or adults, go on the alms round with one shoulder bear.

Some Westerners look at the monks as going begging when they are out on their alms round. But, they are not. They are only showing humility and detachment from worldly goods. A good monk never goes seeking for alms. He walks slowly and with purpose and only stops if he is beckoned or called. Then he stands there quietly, with the lid of his bowl open, while the local Buddhists give him rice. Small plastic bags of curries and desserts are often put in a shoulder bag. Sometimes they are given flowers or a plain envelope containing some money. The Buddhist community are happy to do all of this so that the monks don’t need to support themselves. In return, the monks bless them and wish them a long and fruitful life.

The procedure for a lay person to give alms is always much the same. They will call the monk softly to ask them to receive an offering. They then spoon the rice into the alms bowl and give them curries. These should never be leftovers and should have been prepared or bought specifically for the monks. Next, they will then crouch down, with their hands together in a prayer like gesture, in order to receive the blessing from the monk. As the monks are walking barefoot, it is very important that lay people also remove their shoes when giving alms. However, you will often see them standing on top of their shoes if they don’t want to get their feet dirty.

Sometimes monks go out alone and other times there might be two or three of them. At some temples in areas with few neighbours, the monks will all follow the same route in one long line. If they do this, then the most senior monk, though not necessarily the oldest, will take the lead. The novices will take up the rear. Seniority is calculated by how many times you have been a monk during the annual Rains Retreat, sometimes referred to as the Buddhist Lent. A monk who has broken a precept or was caught playing with himself, is often sent to the back of the line. The locals know this and often snicker if they see an adult at the back.

I have seen monks go out alone, though often they go accompanied by a “dek wat” which is a temple boy. One of the most famous temple boys was Chuan Leekpai who was once prime minister of Thailand. Temple boys often come from poor families. They help out at the temple early in the morning before school. In return they can eat the food left over by the monks. If they don’t have a home or any family, they are often allowed to sleep at the temple. Sometimes you will see an older teenager or a man walking with the monk. This person is his “luksit” which can be translated as a “disciple”. I like to see them as their “executive secretary”. There are many things the monks are not allowed to do, like handle money matters, so their “luksit” often deals with this.

Not all monks are diligent of course though they all should go on the morning alms round. If they need to be absent then they need permission from the abbot. Either because they are ill or they need to attend a function at a the house of a layman. The lazy monks go out on their alms round on a samlor or a motorcycle taxi. Instead of walking a beat, they will seek out favourite spots and wait for lay people to come to them. Popular locations include outside convenience stores like 7-Eleven and at the market. Some monks have their own turf which they can be seen protecting rigoursly if a monk from a neighbouring temple trespasses. Lay people from certain areas are more likely to give a sizable donation in an envelope on their birthdays.

It may seem greedy for the monk not to return back to his temple as soon as his bowl is full. After all, they are only allowed two meals per day and the last once has to start before noon. However, a monk can never refuse a lay person if they wish to make merit. They have to accept everything that is given to them even if it makes them uncomfortable to carry such heavy weights on their shoulders. On popular routes, the dek wat can often be seen pushing a cart to help carry all the extra food. Hardly any of this is wasted. On their return, the monk will choose particular items for himself and the rest is left in the communal kitchen. The food here is then for monks who weren’t able to go on alms rounds and also the nuns and other temple staff. Many temples also allow local poor people to come to the temple to eat a meal. Any food left over is then given to the cats and stray dogs in the temple compound.

I have been out on at least half a dozen alms rounds over the years. I have even acted as a “dek wat” and helped carried some of the spoils of the alms round. If you want to go with a monk on his alms round then this is often possible to do. However, you should make friends with him beforehand. Visit a temple near where you are staying and make conversation with the young monks. Often they might want to practice their English with you. Then ask if it would be alright to go with them on their alms round. They will probably say yes. However, you will most likely need to be at the temple before six when it is still dark. But, in Thailand, like many sub tropical countries, it does suddenly become light around 6.30 a.m. Certainly light enough to take pictures if you so wish.

If you don’t want to go on an alms round, but want to take some pictures, then you should go to the local market before 6.30 a.m. You will find many monks around here. Try and use a long lens so that you don’t disturb them or turn their morning duties into a circus show. This is what has happened now in Luang Prabang in Laos. If you are walking around, you can usually spot places where monks will go. Householders often set up a small table outside their house if they intend to give alms. If you see this, then you can safely be assured that if you wait there, then a monk will come soon. The householders often don’t mind as long as you are respectful to both them and the monks.

Wan Phra at a Thai Temple

If you are a Christian, then you would know that your sabbath day is every Sunday. It is the day that you should rest and go to church with your family. Many shops and businesses are either closed or have limited opening. Buddhism also has a sabbath day called “wan phra” in Thai. You could translate this as “monk day” or maybe “holy day”. However, as Buddhism is based on the lunar calendar, you will find that “wan phra” is on different days of the week each time. This is because it is based on the phases of the moon. The two most important days are full moon and new moon. These are the days that monks shave off their hair though at some temples they will only do so on the full moon. The other “wan phra” days are on the quarter phases of the moon. So, it is about every 8 days or so. These are the 4 days a month when the monks don’t go out on their alms round and the local people instead come to the temple. To make it easier to know which day is “wan phra” you will find that many calendars have a little figure of a Buddha image on these dates.

Obviously it is more convenient when “wan phra” falls on a weekend. But, a lot of people still go to their temple early in the morning before they go to work. I know a few of my students who go to the temple with their parents on “wan phra” before school. The pictures on this page were taken at the weekend. I had arrived at the temple just before 7 a.m. and it was already crowded. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t only elderly people making merit. They were also quite a few children with their parents as well as some youths that had come alone. To make proper merit you need to prepare the food specifically for the monks. You cannot use leftovers. These days people are so busy that you will find that at most temples there are stalls set up selling food specifically for the monks. You buy the food in bowls which belong to the temple. However, you might need to bring your own bowl for the rice and also a tray to make the offering. Once you have the food, you should crouch on the ground and raise the tray above your head in quiet contemplation. If there is a group of you, the way you can all gain merit from this act is to touch the person in front of you who has direct contact with the food tray.

On “wan phra” and some of Buddhist festival days, the monks are not lined up to receive alms as the lay people come at different times. Instead, their alms bowls are placed on a long row of tables. People go along this line and place rice into each of the bowls. If they have Thai desserts or curries in plastic bags, they then might place these in the lid of the alms bowl. Other curries in bowls can also be placed on the table. It shouldn’t be mixed in with the rice. You will notice that if there are several people from one family, junior members will follow behind holding the elbow of the person serving the food. Thai Buddhists believe that this kind of merit making passes through the body to other people. At the other end of the table, junior monks were taking the bowls of curry and tipping them into bigger pots. Similar to the pots at the food stalls in the first picture above. This food is then taken to the kitchen to be shared among the monks later in the morning. After the lay people have presented their offerings of food, they next paid homage to the Buddha image.

At about 7.30 a.m., earlier in other temples, a monk started to ring the temple bell by beating it with a stick. This was the call to prayer. After the lay people had finished making merit, they made their way towards the community hall where all of the monks were already sitting on a low platform. For about an hour, the monks took part in chanting for which the lay people also joined in at times. During this session, a senior monk also gives a sermon, and asks the lay people present to recite the eight precepts. For normal Buddhists, there are only five precepts. However, on “wan phra” days, many Buddhists like to keep the eight precepts. For many this also means not eating meat on these days. The eight precepts that they have to recite out loud are as follows:

“I undertake the training precepts…

1) to abstain from taking life.
2) to abstain from taking what is not given.
3) to abstain from unchastity.
4) to abstain from false speech.
5) to abstain from intoxicants causing heedlessness.
6) to abstain from untimely eating.
7) to abstain from dancing, singing, music and unseemly shows, from wearing garlands, smartening with scents, and beautifying with perfumes.
8) to abstain from the use of high and large luxurious couches.”

Novice monks and nuns have ten precepts. Monks have 227 precepts. They have to recite all 227 on the full and new moons every month. I will be writing more blogs about life in a Thai temple as well as ordinations of both novice monks and full monks.

Leaving the Monkhood

Yesterday I went to visit Phra Nattawud at the temple again. He rang to say that the abbot had set an auspicious day and time for him to leave the monkhood. Actually, the day was set for Wednesday but the time could have been anytime between noon and midnight. Originally they were going to do the ceremony at 9.59 p.m. but I asked him if they could move it to the afternoon as it would be easier to take pictures. So, they made it 1.49 p.m. instead. Notice the “9″ in the time? It is an auspicious number.

You may be wondering why an auspicious day had to be set for leaving but he could ordain on any day. Well, this is because when you leave the monkhood it is like being born again. If your original birth date was deemed to be unlucky, then you are allowed to use this new time as your birthday. I suppose it is a bit like the Queen of England who has two birthdays. Phra Nattawud’s second birthday is now 11th May at 1.49 p.m.

The ceremony and chanting started with the passing of the sacred ball of white string to the end of the row. This is a kind of way of connecting everyone together and to the alms bowl you can see in the picture. Notice that the candle is lit and is dripping candle wax into the water. The monks are chanting and the energy from this passes down the white string and into the bowl. This water then becomes sacred. The chanting went on for about 20 minutes.

Next Phra Nattawud had to take off his outer robes. This included his belt and so he was only left with his shower robe. You can image he was doing his best to keep this up as he left the kuti to go outside. Don’t forget, monks are not allowed to wear underwear.

Outside, the monk signaled the others to start chanting and then he slowly poured the sacred water over Phra Nattawud’s head. In the bottom of the bowl were some coins worth exactly 99 baht. As these fell out and dropped to the ground, some local kids quickly ran to pick them up. As before, these coins are considered lucky but I guess these kids would be just spending the money on sweets! I suppose by this time I should stop calling him Phra Nattawud. He would now be just Nai Panrit. The old Nattawud would remain as a spirit in the temple and hopefully the new Panrit will have a prosperous future. Back inside the kuti, Panrit offered candles and a garland to each of the monks. And of course a white envelope containing some money.

The monks then started chanting again while Panrit poured water from one bowl to the other. As I mentioned before, this is to pass the merit he has made onto people who are not present. The family monk then gave Panrit a short and stern lecture. He told him that he had been a bad boy in the past and now he must give up that kind of life and look to the future. He must be more supportive of his parents and family and concentrate on his studies. He then banged Panrit on the head, I suppose just to make sure he was listening.

That was about it. After clearing up, he went back to his grandmother’s house to pay respects to his elders. This time they didn’t have to wai him back. That night he had to sleep in the kuti with Phra Daeng. Then in the morning he had to go on the alms round with him as a temple boy to carry his food. Panrit asked me if I wanted to go as well to take some pictures. I smiled and said maybe. He knew what that meant.