Home Living

Alms-Starved Thailand Temples Struggling to Keep Lights On

Thailand Temple Chiang Mai Wat Buddha Buddhist Church

With monks refraining from collecting alms and Buddhist holiday events canceled, Thailand’s temples are having problems keeping the lights on.

Sunthon Rattanapirom, dean of monks for Chonburi Province’s Nong Plalai Subdistrict and abbot of Wat Khao Maikaew, said Aug 4 that, despite the hurdles posed by the coronavirus third wave, Buddhists continue to make merit. But, these days, it’s food for the needy, not cash for the temple coffer, that is being given.

That has forced temples to dig into savings accounts to pay basic utility bills, Sunthorn said.

At Khao Maikaew Temple, the monthly electricity bill is about 20,000 baht, the abbot said. For large temple, power could cost twice that much. And, unlike the private sector, religious institutions can’t collect government pandemic compensation.

In normal times, Buddhist temples host numerous festivals and ceremonies, usually centered on the Buddhist calendar’s five major holidays. There are also seasonal festivals and “robe donation” campaigns. Such events are as much about raking in cash as they are about offering the religious opportunities to display their reverence.

All those events have been canceled for most of the year. And, while some monks in Bangkok have grabbed headlines by donning personal protective gear over their saffron robes to solicit alms each morning, most Pattaya-area clerics remained inside the temple even before the start of Buddhist Lent, when monks usually stay inside the temple for three months.

Sunthorn said the devout continue to make merit. But, amid the current economic and health crisis, people are donating either cooked meals or raw materials to be cooked at temples for the unemployed or those confined to their homes due to coronavirus exposure.

Sunthorn said the Sangha Council has proposed that temples, some of whom are months behind on their electric bills, be given a 50 percent discount or have power bills waived. Neither the Cabinet or utilities such as the Provincial Waterworks Authority have debated the idea yet, however.

The PWA has, however, given qualifying institutions up to six months to pay off past-due balances.

A version of htis story appeare din the Pattaya Mail, a Bangkok Herald partner.