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All About Buddhism: Alcohol, drugs and recovery

One day, a man was interviewing the Dalai Lama. He asked him, “What is your biggest concern about man?” The Dalai Lama wisely replied with but a word. “Man,” he said.


By Jason Jellison

Wednesday 8 March 2017, 03:00PM


The Dalai Lama went on to explain that he was speaking of misplaced priorities. He observed that man goes about life in a rather fruitless pattern.

First, he sacrifices his health in the pursuit of money. Then, he spends money in the effort to repair his ruined health.

Next, he worries about the future so much that he ignores the present. As a result, he never really lives in either the present or the future.

He simply treads water adrift a river of chaos, all the while totally oblivious to the fact that he will someday die. Finally, he dies – never having really lived at all.

These words from the Dalai Lama are succinct and wise. However, I would observe that man tends to facilitate this tautology through the vice of alcohol or, more recently, drugs.

We use it to distract ourselves from the truth observed by the Dalai Lama. Intoxicants make us forget about all of our problems... at least for a while.

Our biggest vice is probably alcohol. We glorify it. We joke about it. We write songs about it. Yet, we hardly ever confront it. We gloss over it rather than dress it down.

There even is a publication entitled The Alcoholmanac that is circulated in my hometown. I was recently reading a copy of it when I stumbled upon an advertisement for a featured bar that is called the Karma Bar & Grill.

Yes, most of us know that Buddhist Karma refers to the sum of a person’s experiences as it totals in the measure of the suffering in their current life but, alas, most Westerners are oblivious to the fact that the Fifth Precept of Buddha says “Do not use intoxicants.”

Sadly, this tavern unwittingly insults Buddhism by leading people down the wrong road. America has not historically been a Buddhist country, so I am rather forgiving when it comes to their ignorance of Buddhist matters.

However, these insults to the Teachings of Buddha do more than simply injure the religion. They also facilitate people into using alcohol and drugs and, as one my readers recently observed, many of those people readily fall into addiction. 

Last month, one of my readers wrote me to find out what could be done to help Thai people who fell into drugs and alcohol. I thought that was an intriguing question and I, too, wanted to find out more.

Thanks to my translators, I was able to find some very good answers for the vexing addictions that inevitably follow failure to recognise the value of Buddha’s Fifth Precept.

There is a monastery up in Lopburi called Wat Tham Krabok and it is open to not just Thai addicts, but also Westerners. While I have never personally been there, I found many pictures on the Internet of both Thai and Westerners who were in recovery.

Wat Tham Krabok is often called Thailand’s “Buddhist Detox Centre” and many celebrities have been there such as musicians Tim Arnold and Pete Doherty.

Over 100,000 addicts have walked through the temple doors since it began treating alcohol and drug problems some 60 years ago.

The temple is famous nowadays for treating yaba addiction, which is more commonly known in the West as speed, or more technically, methamphetamine.

Its healing monks have even won awards such as the esteemed Magsaysay Award for Public Service. 

People from every walk of life have found peace at the temple. Ancient words are chanted and a secret herbal purgative, yaa dtat, is given in the shadow of two dozen stone Buddha figures.

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Surrounded by the warmth of sun-drenched mountain-stone and the dignity of soaring trees, healing wafts through the steam that emanates from the daily afternoon steam baths that addicts take.

Golden Buddhas and oil lanterns are perched near important buildings, and the healing steam baths are created from a local grass, yaa kah, as well as morning glory, castor leaves and citronella.

Amid quieter times, men can be seen tending to chores underneath golden Buddha statues that easily stand six-times their own height.

Unlike many Buddhist temples, Wat Tham Krabok does not seem to be making much of an effort to remain out of the sight of non-Buddhists.

The temple has an English-language website that has been translated into five additional languages and its Abbot, Phra Atikarn Gitiwanno, has several decades of service.

Although there is no charge and any drug addict can come, the temple has a charitable foundation which is called the Tham Krabok Foundation.

Sajja teaching principals are used. Patients and monks wear dark brown robes at this temple and you must be willing to stay at least two weeks.

Patients take sacred vows before a monk whereupon they vow to give-up smoking, injecting drugs and drinking alcohol forever.

Many patients have found even more peace by tending to the temple’s garden and chopping wood. One can find the spirit of teamwork as men use simple tools to acquire new skills.

Many of the bricks have actually been made on the land and many men learn ceramics. Patients often play sports once they start to recover and others get involved in music during their off time.

However, the experience will be somewhat different for most foreigners in one key aspect. Westerners usually don’t know the teachings of Buddha, which is called the Dharma.

Even though most Thai people will attend more intense Dharma sessions, Dharma instruction is only once a week for Westerners so there is no pressure there.

Meditation, however, is every morning and so is evening chanting. Some patients even have recovered so much that they became monks themselves.

If you or someone that you know is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, Wat Tham Krabok is could offer them path to recovery.

For more information on Wat Tham Krabok, see this video at: www.wat-thamkrabok.org 

Thai speakers can call: +66 036 266 292.


All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email editor1@classactmedia.co.th, and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.

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vincentcullen | 09 March 2017 - 14:08:37

The correct website address is www.wat-thamkrabok.org 

For those individuals wishing to support their recovery following detoxification treatment there is the possibility of spending a period of rehabilitation at the international mindfulness community in Chiang Rai called New Life Foundation ( see www.newlifethaifoundation.org for more details ).  

ED: Thank you Vincent, the link has been c...

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