If any group of people were to have faith in the ability of full-grown tigers to live amicably with human beings, it would be Buddhist monks. The saffron-robed ascetics of Thailand's Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery, colloquially known as the Tiger Temple, live with 17 of the beastsrendered no less fearsome by the cuddly names (Sunshine, Morning Sky, Rainbow) the monks have bestowed on them. The tigers spend most of the day caged, but are allowed out for an unleashed afternoon strollat which time visitors to the temple, about 200 km west of Bangkok, have the opportunity to pet them.
Confronting a monster that has the perfect freedom to disembowel you with a single swipe of its paw probably requires faith in some kind of higher poweror at the very least in the affable head abbot Phra Acharn Phoosit Chan, who founded the temple in 1994 as a sanctuary for orphaned and injured animals. The tigers, visitors will be relieved to hear, are raised in accordance with Buddhist proscriptions on violence. Feisty behavior, such as growling or cuffing, is punished with squirts of water from plastic bottles, and provocations are minimizedwhen an appetizing goat or cow strolls by, monks shield the tigers' eyes. It's probably just as well that the tigers are not allowed near the small coterie of horses and deer that the temple also maintains.
The temple is in the process of expanding the current tiger habitat, an expensive project that relies entirely on donations from visitors. The hope is that this added space will dispense with the need for cages altogether. That development, however, will give greater urgency to the waivers that every visitor must sign, releasing the temple from any liability in the event of a mauling. The monks may believe in the power of compassion to calm the savage beastbut they're not stupid.