Cybermonks? OMG!


Screenshot from the short film "Robed in Merit"

Visitors to Thailand are often shocked to see saffron-robed young monks whip out mobile phones and start mashing out text messages in public. Shouldn't someone who's sworn off earthly trappings have to ditch the Blackberry?

Of course. But Thailand's leading Buddhist authorities have decided that young monks need a reminder. After receiving complaints from the Thai public, the Sangha Supreme Council warned abbots to stop their young followers from using mobile phones in public, according to Bangkok's The Nation newspaper. (Never mind that texting with a 44-letter, Sanskrit-derived alphabet is pretty divine.)

Monks are conferred extreme respect in Thai society. And once you've ordained, you've given up touching women (you can't even hug your mom), eating meals after mid-day and most all earthly luxuries.

But considering that most Thai males ordain at some point during their lives, often for only two weeks and during less-mature teenage years, is it all that surprising that some monks bend the rules? There are acts that no self-respecting Buddhist monk would cross: kissing a woman or drinking booze in public, for example. But little slip-ups, namely using smart phones and smoking, are commonly seen on the street.

But the Buddhist rule-making Sangha Council and hyper-conservative institutions, such as Thailand's culture ministry, interpret any public transgressions as a loss of face to nation and religion. Several years ago, the government actually banned a lauded Thai indie director's acclaimed film, "Syndromes and a Century", for depicting monks strumming an acoustic guitar.

For an excellent primer on a Thai teenager's ordainment, watch this short video by multimedia journalist Nacho Corbella. (The image shown here is a screenshot from the film.)