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Monday, January 30, 2023

I dream of watching Manchester United but know I never will

Phra Prasert Panyawaro has dreamed of watching Manchester United at Old Trafford ever since he saw them playing on TV as a boy.

He only watched 30 minutes of a match while he was visiting a friend’s house, but it was enough to have him hooked.

But shortly afterwards, at the age of 12, he moved into a monastery in Thailand to start living as a Theravada Buddhist monk.

It was to be the start of a disciplined way of life where he must follow 227 rules – also called precepts.

He does not celebrate his birthday. He cannot watch TV, go to the cinema, ride a bike, run, drive a car, eat food after noon – or visit a football stadium.

Peter Schmeichel

Reuters

Now aged 37 and living as the head monk in an Edinburgh Buddhist temple, he has spoken to BBC Scotland in a rare interview about his life.

“When I was a child I saw Manchester United playing on a TV and I still remember the goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel,” he says.

“I dream of going to Old Trafford to watch them play, but I know I never will because we are not allowed to go there as monks.

“As a human being we have the same feelings as everyone else, but we know how to control ourselves and our minds.”

His strict way of living means he has rarely seen his parents or siblings since he was a young boy.

Muang Prommala

Phra Prasert Panyawaro

Phra Prasert is the middle child of seven siblings.

He was brought up on his parents’ rice and buffalo farm in Sri Sa Kat Province in Thailand.

When his older siblings left home, he worked around the farm and helped take care of his younger brothers and sisters.

“I felt I should be playing football with friends and other things like that, but because I was the eldest of the remaining children I had to do many things such as cooking and cleaning,” he recalls.

At the age of 11 he told his parents he wanted to join a monastery and train as a monk to make them proud.

When he was 12, he was sent away to study in another province hundreds of miles away from home.

Phra Prasert Panyawaro with his mother and father in Thailand

Phra Prasert Panyawaro

“I didn’t speak to or see my family for three years. I didn’t know the way back to the farm,” he said.

“In my room I thought I am not going to cry and wrote on a piece of paper ‘I can do it’, which I pinned to my wall and read every day.

“I wanted my parents to be proud of me.”

He started his training while still living with his parents a year before he moved into the monastery.

His Buddhist master told him then that one of the rules he would have to follow was that he was not allowed to touch women.

Phra Prasert Panyawaro

As a result, he and his mother, Muang Prommala, kept a respectful distance between them at their home.

But it was not until many years later that he realised that this rule did not completely apply to his mother.

“I realised I had misunderstood and that as Buddhist monks we can touch our mums in certain circumstances.

“When she is ill or in a dangerous situation I am allowed to touch her so I can help her.”

But 25 years later he still has not touched, embraced or even brushed past his mother.

Phra Prasert with his grandmother, mother, sister-in-law, father and older brother

Phra Prasert Panyawaro

Phra Prasert is now the head monk of the Dhammapadipa Temple in the Slateford area of Edinburgh.

He walks at the nearby Water of Leith and spends time being mindful, touching tree bark and leaves.

“Nature helps with my strength of mind.

“We are from nature so it is good to go back to nature,” he says.

But despite living such a disciplined life, he says he is happy and enjoys serving his local community in Scotland.

Phra Prasert was invited to live in Scotland by the head monk at the Slateford temple after hearing he had a very good reputation.

Phra Prasert agreed to come for two years on a trial. He then decided to stay on in Scotland – becoming head monk when the previous one was promoted to a temple in Leeds.

Phra Prasert Panyawaro

He has lived in Edinburgh for the last seven years. He sleeps on the floor with no bed or mat and is not allowed to watch television.

But he has found a modern way to feel close to his frail mother – by having CCTV cameras fitted throughout her farmhouse in Thailand. His father, Chey Prommala, died 10 years ago from diabetes.

“I don’t feel homesick because I’m used to it and technology really helps,” added Phra Prasert.

“I speak to my mum every day now and can see her from a mobile phone which is linked up to cameras in her house.

“She is unwell so it makes me feel better that I can keep an eye on her when I live so far away.”

Related Internet Links

  • The Dhammapadipa Temple

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