During this Asalha Puja, one monk takes off his saffron and wears a PPE suit in search of Covid-19 patients in blocks and corners of the capital of Bangkok to deliver help at his best following the first Sermon delivered thousands of years by the Lord Buddha. As he said, Dharma is not just in words, but in action
In normal times, Phramaha Phromphong Kainno, an assistant abbot of Wat Sutthi Wararam in Sathorn district, would prepare himself to attend one of the most important Buddhist Days, Asalha Puja, as it is the day on which Lord Buddha delivered his first Sermon or Dhammachakkappavattanasutr which revealed the four noble truths of life leading to the Nirvana, the Tri Gem, and the birth of the first disciple. Rituals and sermons would be performed under candlelights lit around the temple from dusk till late of the night to commemorate the day, but this year is very different.
Instead of chanting the sermons back and forth at the temple, the senior monk just equipped himself with a PPE suit_and alcohol, venturing out into communities nearby to try to locate Covid-19 patients, hopefully, to deliver initial assistance to those patients and their families, and if possible, to get them to a community isolation centre set up inside the temple.
Phramaha Phromphong said it’s the duty of the Lord Buddha’s disciples to help get people out of suffering, bringing the four noble truths to real lives.
“In normal times, we would perform Buddhist rituals and chant sermons to lead people the way, but during this suffering time, we can do this by action too,” said the assistant abbot.
Bangkok has been the epicentre of the epidemic since the third wave of the outbreak that began in late March. The situation is dampened by the Delta variant, which has triggered a widespread outbreak in the city and nationwide due to its fast-spreading nature. So far, over 110,000 patients alone are in Bangkok_many of them are left strained in their communities due to their poor social settings and environment.
Phramaha Phromphong recalled how suffering one Covid-19 infected family had endured. Despite being sick, their landlord tried to chase them out of the tenured land and residence because of fear of Covid-19 infection. As a monk in the community, the assistant abbot got in between to help settle the dispute. While he managed to help settle this case, the monk said there were a lot more that he couldn’t.
“As human beings, we must share the suffering and take care of one another to help one another get through a hard time. If I can’t do anything better for them, what I usually do at least is finding and delivering them food and other necessities. At least they can feel they have someone to count on. In Buddhism, this is called compassion that would help soothe human’s souls and get on with the truth of life,” said the monk.
During this merit-making period of time, Phramaha Phromphong often wears the PPE instead of saffron and leads his assistants as well as community rescue teams to venture into communities to try to reach Covid-19 patients and their families to help them at their best before the state’s help arrives.
Instructed by his abbot, Phra Sutheerattanabundit, the monk has also turned a Buddhism learning building in the temple into a community isolation centre to receive those who cannot isolate or quarantine themselves at home due to their social settings and environment. Having received support from the Thai Red Cross Society and nearby Charoenkrung Pracharak Hospital. the building can provide over 100 beds for them. The monk calls the temple’s initiative; “Phra Mai Ting Yom” (Monks won’t leave you (in suffering)).
So far, concerned authorities have been in contact with community leaders like temples to try to get their support for the state’s programs to fight with Covid-19. Several more temples have agreed to provide similar facilities to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to support the state’s community isolation program too.
According to the BMA, it will try to set up one community isolation centre per district in the capital by the end of this month or early August, and several of them would be in temples in communities. These could help double the number of current beds in such centres, which are around 3,400_hopefully, to help ease the pain and suffering of many residents of Bangkok, who are left strained and waiting for someone to guide the way in some blocks and corners of this capital during this epidemic of Covid-19.
Phramaha Phromphong Kainno, Wat Sutthi Wararam’s assistant abbot, wears a PPE suit sophisticatedly before he ventures into communities nearby, where some residents are infected with Covid-19 and need help. Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
A documentary photographer residing in Bangkok, Thailand. Diverse and vibrant, his images capture everyday people living alongside the challenges of development, climate change and social changes in the Mekong region.