Thai Monks and Orange Buckets!

This short piece examines the relevance of the orange buckets given to monks.

Thai monks and the Relevance of Orange Buckets

Monks receiving food and toileteries in Orange Buckets.
Monks receiving food and toiletries in Orange Buckets.

You will always find rows of orange buckets, filled with gifts, in the supermarkets. Rice, soap, toothpaste, soft drinks, and some snacks. People buy them to give to the monks in the sang katan ceremony.

Technically, they are not gifts; they are to show your merit. Men give their “gifts” first, followed by the women. The man can pass directly to a monk; a woman must place it on a cloth that the monk can draw towards him. A monk cannot touch a woman.

While those present are kneeling, with their hands in the wai position, the monk reads a blessing and sometimes sprinkles holy water, nam mon, over the people. He will also usually tie a white cord, the sai sin, around each person’s wrist as part of the blessing.

A monk tying the sai sin around a child’s wrist.
A monk tying the sai sin around a child’s wrist.

Today, I saw a monk perform the sai sin by tying the cord around a woman’s wrist. To comply with the “no touch” rule, that function is normally given to a layman, who ties the sai sin on the monk’s behalf.

Buddhist rites and traditions can sometimes appear a little flexible. There is no standard form or procedure observed throughout Thailand.

Thai women will avoid even brushing against a monk when walking. They keep a respectful distance. Monks will sit in the front of a sawngtaew, (a truck used as a taxi) and not in the back with the other passengers. If the front seat is not available and they have to sit inside, they will select a seat next to a man. A woman will typically move to the opposite side of the sawngtaew to make sure he can do that.

Monks riding in a sawngtaew.
Monks riding in a sawngtaew.

Having said that, I did, on one occasion, witness a monk sitting next to a woman in a crowded sawngtaew. That was most unusual and irregular, and I have never observed it since.

The monks can use the contents of the buckets. I understand that. But I have often wondered what they do with the actual buckets when they are empty. They can’t possibly make use of them all.

One day, I’ll pluck up courage to discreetly ask.

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