Simplicity is of the essence: you live a property-less existence in a monastery, wearing one piece of orange cloth as your robe, walking around barefoot and doing a lot of chanting.

The trouble with this ideal Buddhist monks’ lifestyle is that it leaves the way open for some very serious health problems. In particular the bare feet can become infected in a number of ways. When the sole of the foot comes into contact with bare soil, parasites too small to see can penetrate the skin and spread through the body to other organs such as the lungs and the gut. Such infections are common in the rural populations of South East Asia (and northern Australia), and are most often the result of poverty. Monks expose themselves unnecessarily to such risks of infection because of a misguided sense of religious devotion.

The 3 commonest infections they are likely to acquire are :

Cutaneous larva migrans (CLM)
This is a kind of hookworm that lives in the dermis of the skin. It burrows along just under the surface at up to 2 inches per day leaving a red trail as it goes. It got into the soil from dog faeces and can cause intense itching. Scratching can lead to secondary infection. Symptoms may last for up to a year.

This is a threadworm which enters the ground from human faeces. After it has penetrated the next victim’s foot it spreads throughout the body to the lungs, whence it may be coughed up and  swallowed into the gut.
Symptoms include dermatitis, swelling and itching. There is a burning sensation in the chest accompanied by wheezing and coughing and other pneumonia-like symptoms. The gut is subject to ulcers and diarrhoea.

This bacterium produces TB-like symptoms  which may last for months. It is picked up from paddy fields, soil, mud and flooded areas.
There is pain in the chest, bones and joints, as well as a fever, cough, skin infection and lung nodules.

These conditions are all well known and treatment for all 3 parasites is straightforward and as long as the monk seeks medical help promptly he should make a speedy recovery.

I was glad to notice on my most recent visit to S.E.Asia this year that more and more monks are choosing to wear sandals or flip flops as they walk around the place.

I think the Lord Buddha would be very happy with that.


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