Thailand’s Buddhist temples join COVID-19 fight with masks, mantras

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, May 5 (efe-epa).- Traditional Buddhist temples in Thailand have adopted innovative measures such as setting up sanitizing tunnels, making masks and writing protective mantras to join the fight against COVID-19.

Those visiting the Wat Chak Daeng temple near Bangkok have to pass through a tunnel where they are sprayed with disinfectant, and monks equipped with masks and visors check their temperature before allowing them to enter.

Not only have the monks added an orange mask to their attire – which has remained largely unchanged since the times of Buddha 2,500 years ago – but they also make their own sanitizers and distribute food among those who have lost their income due to the crisis.

Last year Wat Chak Daeng began producing orange robes with thread made out of Polyethylene terephthalate from plastic bottles sorted on the premises and later sent to a recycling plant.

Subsequently they also began making air pollution masks which have now been adapted to provide protection amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We are running short of masks,” said Pranom Dhammalangkaro, the abbot of the wat (temple) situated on an island with large green spaces and plantations on the Chao Phraya River in Samut Prakan province, close to Bangkok.

“We are making them for our monks, for those who reside in our temple, for the communities nearby, and for other temples. Some were sent to the hospitals as well,” the 54-year-old monk told EFE.

Under a shed, Pranom was inspecting the work of women stitching the orange and white masks on machines, while others took measurements to make water-resistant outfits meant to offer protection from the novel coronavirus.

The team sews around 500 masks per day and each unit requires the threads made from one 600 milliliter plastic bottle.

Pranom said that they had taken measures to maintain social distancing in the classes held at the temple, where currently about 70 monks from Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries are being taught.

The monks also produce around 1,000 liters of sanitizers from sodium hypochlorite for their own use, as well as supplying to devotees, hospitals and other temples.

In spiritual efforts, the monks of the temple pray to bless the water they send to COVID-19 patients, and a monk well-versed in esoteric practices called Chamnanvet inscribes mantras on some of the masks, supposedly converting them into protective amulets.

After bowing to the Buddha, the monk writes on the mask in Khom, the ancient Khmer script now used in rituals and in tattoos known as “sak yant.”

Chamnanvet, 35, said that the words are from a Buddhist chant used to drive away spirits, demons and diseases.

“The masks can protect you from the infection. The inscription on them also reflects the belief and serves to remind people (who wear them) not to live a careless life,” said the monk, who once worked as a tattoo artist.

A situation where monks find it tough to maintain social distancing is when they go out early in the morning to collect alms (food donations) from their neighbors, even though most of them have been wearing masks and visors.

Social distancing measures have been implemented in other temples as well, especially institutions that train young monks.

One such example is Bangkok’s Wat Molilokayaram, where the novices sit at a distance of more than one meter apart, wearing masks and visors to prevent infection.

While the Thai authorities have been able to somewhat contain the spread of the novel coronavirus – with more than 2,900 cases and 54 deaths so far – the partial lockdown has left around 7 million people, around 20 percent of the workforce, unemployed.

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