In Thailand more than the 90 percent of the population is following Buddhism, but the Buddhist monks are facing health concerns. Thailand’s National Health Commission Office says that almost 349 thousand monks in Thailand and almost half are over weighted or even obese. The Buddhist monks in Thailand have a different lifestyle than the regular citizens of Thailand. Many factors of the lifestyle of a monk which is learned a young age is affecting their health.
The morning routine of a monk begins in the same order each day. From ranking to the youngest to the oldest monk each day they go to collect offerings. They appear on bear feet in a colourful saffron. In their metal pails, which they keep close to their hips they collect food, drinks and one occasion cash as a donation to the temple. Together with the person who offers them this, they pray and then go home to prepare the meal they have received. That is why monks can’t control their diet and eat a lot of calorie-rich foods either processed or homemade. There are also restrictions on certain foods such as the flesh of humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions. Tigers, bears and Hyenas. Another eating habit is the time the monks are allowed to eat. It is forbidden for them to eat something after 12 p.m. and they can have one or two meals a day between 6 a.m. and noon. From the afternoon they can only rely on a drink or beverage. At the moment often this drink or beverage is a soda, soft drink or sweetened beverage. This is often done on an empty stomach which makes the sugar in the liquid absorb faster.
All the eating habits are making the monks overweighed and facing bad health conditions. The main issue is that the monks are not aware of these issues and know little about them. A few of the conditions are diabetes, high blood pressure, eye issues and osteoarthritis in knees. A pharmacist and dietician named Jongjit Angkatavanich has seen monks with amputated toes and feet, because of diabetes. He says that the obesity in the monks is like a ticking time bomb. The damage of the osteoarthritis can be managed by maintaining healthy weight and an active lifestyle. This is difficult, because the monks are not allowed to exercise. All the rules are written in the Patimokkha the number and timing of daily meals, rules that prohibit from eating certain foods and restrictions on travelling. As the Buddha himself explains, the rules principal monastic conduct was made with the following ten aims in mind:
”The excellence of the Community, the comfort of the Community, the restriction of the impolite, the comfort of well-behaved bhikkhus, the restraint of effluents related to the present life, the prevention of effluents related to the next life, the arousing of faith in the faithless, the increase of the faithful, the establishment of the true Dhamma, and the fostering of discipline.’
Together with the Thai government and religious authorities Jongjit manages the Healthy Monh-Healthy Nutrition Project. This is funded by the Thai Helath Promotion Foundation with the goal to improve monks’ lifestyle through education about nutrition and physical exercise. In 2016 the started the pilot program with 82 monks at temples and a monastic college. The results showed weight loss and lower cholesterol levels. Monks told researches involved in the project that they often even didn’t realize they were gaining weight. The monks say the reason for this is that they are wearing loose-fitting robes. The team also came u whit a belt with knots that indicate what the monks think is a healthy waistline. They also provide monks with measuring tape divided into four colours, to indicate various belly sizes. The monks themselves are also focussing on a healthier lifestyle for example a 17 year old novice monk called Phupha Srichalerm from a province in southern Thialand is studying at Yannawa temple for almost 5 years. Now this Buddhist education also includes nutrition classes. Phupha Srichalerm says he is becoming more aware about his diet and has switched has afternoon sugary drink for water. He now understands the risks of obesity and the diseases that come with it are serious.
The Thai Monk council issued its first politics recommendations in 2017 about monastic health, including diet and exercise advice for monks. There are also guidelines for the people who feed and care for them. In the council they also advised the monks to take charge of their own nutrition and to promote a healthier living for their Buddhist pears. Phra Maha Boonchuay Doojai, former director of the Chiang Mai Buddhist College in northern Thailand says that monks should be more mindful of what they eat and the amount as well the kind of food. It is one of the Buddha’s teachings,” says Phra Maha Boonchuay Doojai and he also adds that “When we are healthy, we can serve the people better.”
In conclusion the monks’ should be more mindful about what they are eating or drinking and the amount. This should go in line with some physical exercise and controlling their weights with different kind of tools. There are projects who are beginning to make the monks’ more aware about nutrition’s and the health benefits it will give them. The younger generation monks are learning about nutrition’s and following healthier life decisions. In the end hopefully this will narrow the number of obese monks’ in Thailand, so that the monks can continue to maintain their community healthy.
By Barbara Saric & Majbritt Timmermans
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