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Thai monks asked to pray to keep pandemic at bay

Monks at more than 40,000 Buddhist temples to perform the ritual daily as a disease-mitigating measure

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: May 13, 2021 05:07 AM GMT

Updated: May 13, 2021 05:12 AM GMT

Thai monks asked to pray to keep pandemic at bay

A medical staff member prepares a dose of the CoronaVac vaccine at a newly opened vaccine clinic in Central Ladprao shopping mall in Bangkok on May 12. (Photo: AFP)

Thailand’s government has asked Buddhist temples around the country to hold prayer sessions every evening starting from May 12 in a bid to keep Covid-19 infections at bay.

A daily prayer will boost morale during the pandemic and bring luck to the nation, according to a newly issued directive by the National Office of Buddhism.

During the current third outbreak of Covid-19, Thailand has had around 2,000 new documented cases of Covid-19 each day for weeks and more than 200 locals have died of the disease.

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That rate is low by international standards but has caused alarm in the Southeast Asian nation, which for most of last year had recorded cases of infection in single digits. 

To kick off the daily ritual, Supreme Patriarch Ariyavongsagatanana joined 18 other Buddhist monks on May 11 at Wat Ratchabophit, a temple near the Grand Palace in Bangkok’s historic heart, to lead by example in chanting prayers in the hope of causing the pandemic to subside.

Monks around Thailand have been instructed to chant an ancient prayer believed to have been written by one of the closest disciples of the Buddha for the purpose of warding off plagues and diseases.

We also had chanting [in the past] because we believed it would cast away sickness and other bad things from the country

In March last year, the government resorted to the same prayer against the spread of the novel coronavirus, with a chanting of the sacred invocation broadcast live on national television.

Then as now, monks around the country’s more than 40,000 Buddhist temples were asked to perform the ritual daily as a disease-mitigating measure.

“Ever since ancient times, countries have encountered plagues such as cholera [outbreaks],” Tewan Liptapanlop, head of the Prime Minister’s Office, explained.

“We also had chanting [in the past] because we believed it would cast away sickness and other bad things from the country.” 

However, resorting to prayer to keep Covid-19 at bay has been ridiculed by scientifically minded Thais who see the initiative as nothing but superstition.

“This is ridiculous,” Chariya Boontong, a woman in Bangkok who has a master’s degree in chemistry, told UCA News.

“What’s next? Are they going to ask us to wear [protective] amulets so that we won’t catch Covid-19?”

Other local Buddhists have defended the use of prayer against Covid-19.

“We have to use every method at our arsenal right now, both scientific and supernatural,” said Thepthai Senpong, a member of parliament for the government-allied Democrat Party.

“Although people might criticize it as superstitious or unscientific, according to Buddhist principles, we [can] treat mental health problems with prayer chants and meditation.” 

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