The 12 Thai boys and their football coach who were rescued after being trapped in a cave in Thailand for 18 days, will likely take temporary ordination as Buddhist monks* as a tribute to Saman Kunan, the former Thai Navy SEAL who lost his life during the rescue mission as he was bringing essential supplies to the team and their coach.
Banphot Konkum, father of one of the rescued boys—13-year-old Duangpetch Promthep, better known as Dom—explained: “We are planning the date [for temporary ordination] and will do it whenever all the families are all ready.” (Associated Press)
The 12 boys and their coach are, at present, still under observation in a hospital in northern Thailand, but are expected to be released later today. According to doctors, they are all basically healthy, aside from some minor infections. The psychiatrists attending the boys and their coach noted that their mental state seems stable, but have advised that they spend the next month with family and friends and avoid encounters with the press that might trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Last week, millions of observers around the world breathed a collective sigh of relief as the last group of boys emerged from their 18-day ordeal of being trapped deep within a flooded cave system in northern Thailand.
The agonizing plight of the 12 boys, aged 11–16, and their coach, 25, who found themselves trapped by monsoon floodwaters while exploring the Tham Luang Cave complex in Chiang Rai on 23 June, captivated the attention and hearts of people around the world. The masterfully planned rescue operation, led by an international team of divers and Thai Navy SEALs, was closely monitored via media outlets and online social platforms, which shared every tortuous step as the mission played out over hours and days.**
Former Thai navy SEAL Petty Officer Saman Gunan, 38, died during a pivotal moment of the complicated rescue mission as the teams increased their efforts amid forecasts of monsoonal rain and dropping oxygen levels in the cave. Saman Gunan had volunteered his services and was part of a team responsible for replacing the oxygen canister along the exit route, to make the hours-long passage possible. On 6 July, he collapsed while diving. According to officials, his own oxygen supply had run out. Saman Gunan is honored as a national hero and Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun has granted him a posthumous promotion to lieutenant commander and the royal decoration of Knight Grand Cross (first class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant.
Last week, doctors asked the boys’ relatives to tell them about Saman Gunan’s passing. Psychiatrists were present to monitor their situation. The boys wrote messages of thanks on a portrait of the formal Navy SEAL and promised to be “good boys.”
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, with 94.5 per cent of the nation’s population identifying as Theravada Buddhists. As of 2004, the country was home to 40,717 Buddhist temples, of which 33,902 were in use, housing some 300,000 monks and 60,000 novices.
Ordaining as a monk is a way of making merit in the Thai Buddhist tradition. Ordination as a full monk is only possible for men over 20, but the boys will ordain as novices or nen. The merit that is gained via ordination is one of the greatest tributes that a person can give to someone. Temporary ordination is a common occurrence in Thailand and the generated merit is often given to parents as a sign of gratitude for their sacrifices. By offering merit, the boys and their coach are seeking to ensure a better rebirth for Saman Gunan in his next life.
Anthropologist Andrew Alan Johnson describes the significance of the ordination in his article for The Conversation news website. He refers to the Thai concept of krengjai, or “the feeling of obligation toward someone who has given a gift too great to repay . . . a heavy feeling.” By ordaining as monks, the boys and their coach are seeking to repay Saman’s sacrifice with the greatest tribute they can offer: their merit.
* One of the boys is Christian and will likely not be ordained.
Waters rose, turning hour-long cave trip into 18-day ordeal (Associated Press)
Thai Cave Boys and Coach to Enter Monkhood as Tribute to Fallen Navy SEAL (ozarksfirst.com)
Rescued Thai soccer boys to go home from hospital this week (Herald Sun)
Thai boys trapped in a cave mourn Navy SEAL who died during rescue (CNN)
Thai soccer players crave food, wait to go home next week (Associated Press)
The rescued Thai boys are considering becoming monks — here’s why (The Conversation)