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Thai boys rescued from cave become Buddhist novices

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Eleven rescued Thai boys and members of the Wild Boars football team and coach Ekkapol Chantawong (left) were ordained Wednesday as novice Buddhist monks at the Wat Phra That Doi Tung temple in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai. The Thai boys were rescued from deep inside a flooded cave in a dramatic mission on July 10. (Panumas Sanguanwong/AFP/Getty Images)

Eleven of the 12 boys rescued from a cave in Thailand on July 10 have joined a Buddhist monastery as novices. The remaining boy is a Christian, and will not be participating.

What happened to the boys?

The boys disappeared along with their soccer coach on June 23 while exploring a cave system in northern Thailand. Rising water levels trapped them, with no way to contact the outside world for help. With no food, they survived by drinking drops of water from the cave walls. It took until July 2 for British divers to reach their position.

Even then, the route out of the cave was so difficult that it took more than a week get them to safety. During this time, former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan drowned while aiding in the rescue attempt.

They're technically novices, not monks

The boys, who range in age between 7 and 16, won't be able to become full Buddhist monks, if they choose to do so, until they turn 20.

For now, they're novices. With their heads shaved and dressed in saffron robes, the boys will spend the next nine days at the temple. After this brief period, they will return to their families.

Their coach, 25-year-old Ekaphol Chantawong, used to be a monk, but left to care for his grandmother. Now he has re-entered monastic life.

It's not uncommon for men and boys to join a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. In fact, most men in that country are expected to do so, at least for a while.

Why are they joining a monastery?

While the boys were trapped inside the cave, their families were praying for their safety. These families made a promise that if the boys were returned to them safely, they would be ordained.

After the rescue, the boys themselves pledged to join the monastery to honor Kunan, who had died trying to save them. It is considered one of the highest forms of tribute in Theravada Buddhism (the most common school of Buddhism in Thailand) to be ordained in honor of someone else.

What else?

Entering a monastery could also be seen as a way to make things right after the cave debacle, and to earn good karma. Edoardo Siani, an anthropologist at Kyoto University who specializes in Buddhism, told The New York Times:

Ordination for them is a ritual of passage, which purifies them after having spent a long period in an underworld that is populated by dangerous spirits, and after having caused trouble to others.
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