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from the November 2016 issue

An Essay on Prayers

Chart Korbjitti’s monks in training haven’t a prayer.

I was a child of poor folks. My father therefore entrusted me to the temple, where I would be able to go to school as well.

Initially, I missed home dearly. But as I stayed on, I became acclimated and began to find it fun because I had a lot of playmates. I met a number of fellow temple boys, who probably came from poor families like mine. We were all friends and happily played together.

But there was one thing my friends and I did not like one bit: it was that we had to recite prayers. Everyone had to be able to chant like a monk. We all had to memorize prayers and be able to chant like monks. We had to commit each and every word of the prayers to memory. When we had one chant mastered, we had to move on to the next one, and then the next.

One venerable elder was in charge of overseeing the temple boys. Every shaving day, all the boys would be convened. The Venerable Elder was the one who quizzed each boy on the prayers assigned to him. Whoever failed would have to lie prostrate as the Elder flogged him with a bamboo cane.

Whenever shaving day came around, everybody got nervous. Each person would try to cram. Those who stumbled got lashed. Some even got thrashed until their flesh split. I have been caned myself as well, and I can still remember the taste of it. I recall how I would curse the Venerable Elder in my head as I was getting flogged.

I deeply pitied one friend, whom we called “Pong” or “Bulge” after the shape of his belly. He was mentally slow. No matter how many times he repeated the prayers, he could not quite retain them, so he got lashed on a regular basis. Even on the occasions when he had the prayers learned, when he went before the Venerable Elder, he would end up forgetting the lines and turn into a stutterer. The Elder would beat him, but he would not cry like some of the others.

The prayer recitation was hence something we all greatly despised. But we did not know what to do, because we feared the cane. Therefore, we had to try to learn the prayers by heart as to save our own skin.

After I finished seventh grade, I left the temple, as did my friends who also graduated. We each went separate ways. Most of the boys returned to help out on rice paddies or orchards back home.

Nowadays I have completely forgotten all those prayers. After my departure from the temple, I never repeated them again because I did not know what use they were to my everyday life. I suppose my fellow classmates from the temple have all forgotten the prayers that we used to recite by now, probably for the same reason I have.

© Chart Korbjitti. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2016 Mui Poopoksakul. All rights reserved.

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