Drug addicts vomit out their ills in Thailand monastery

By Ed Cropley, Reuters, May 24, 2007

THAM KRABOK, Thailand -- An obscure Buddhist monastery in central Thailand that advocates a secret herbal potion and ritual vomiting for drug addicts has become a final source of hope for thousands of Thais and Westerners.

Since its foundation in 1959, Wat Tham Krabok, 140 km (85 miles) north of Bangkok, has put nearly 100,000 addicts through its "cold turkey" detox program and given them a grounding in meditation to help them keep on the straight and narrow. The treatment -- a far cry from the picture postcard beaches, jungle trekking and wild nightlife that draw millions of visitors to Thailand each year -- is not for the faint-hearted.

Dressed in red hospital-style overalls, patients have to stay for a minimum of 10 days, during which they are subject to a strict regimen of leaf-sweeping, steam baths, herbal medication and group vomiting.

"Invariably, the people who end up here come as a last resort," said Phra Hans, a Swiss psychologist who became a Buddhist monk -- with the title "Phra" -- after visiting Tham Krabok seven years ago.

"Everybody who comes here must come as a warrior, ready to fight for their life."

Sitting in the shadow of an imposing limestone crag, the monastery was founded in the late 1950s by a group of monks who decided to renounce all earthly pleasures and live out the rest of their days in a cave.

However, the military rulers of the day, keen to rid the capital of its opium dens, encouraged them to accept a large plot of land in return for taking care of the drug addicts the army was booting out of Bangkok.

Using a complex herbal medicine whose ingredients were revealed to the aunt of one of the monks in a dream, the monastery started treating its first opium addicts in 1959.

To this day, the 100-odd ingredients of the thick, dark potion that lies at the center of the detox program remain a secret known only to Tham Krabok's abbot and medicine monk.

"I've no idea what's in it. There must be some sort of active ingredient, but the only thing I know for sure is it's disgusting," said Patrick, a British health worker who has spent three months at the wat overcoming alcohol and cocaine addiction.

According to Phra Hans, the potion draws toxins out of the patient's body and into the stomach. The quickest way to get the toxins out of the stomach is for the patient to drink large quantities of water and then vomit.

In what is now a well-choreographed ceremony, patients sit cross legged and side-by-side in front of a long open drain. Accompanied by drums and chanting they then try to drink a bucket of water before sticking their fingers down their throats.

Along with the myths surrounding its foundation and herbal cocktail are varying accounts of the long-term success rates of the treatment.

However, Prah Hans said reports of relapse rates as lows as 30 percent -- levels unheard of in Western drug addiction therapy -- are unverifiable.

"We really can't say. Full recovery takes five years or more, and we just don't have the resources to keep track of patients. We can't follow them," he said. "Cleaning out the body is only five percent; the other 95 percent is in the mind."

Regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds -- 80 percent of patients are Thai Buddhists, the rest foreigners of all denominations from across the globe -- are given a Buddhist "sacca", or vow, in which they swear never to touch drugs or alcohol again.

For some former addicts, the six-word Thai phrase does work in warding off temptation.

"Every time I get that little voice in my head and think I'm getting into trouble, I just close my eyes and say the words in Thai, and I'm OK," said Adam, a Londoner who turned to Tham Krabok after 17 years of trying and failing to beat heroin and crack addiction in Western rehab clinics.

"My mind used to race at 1,000 mph and I couldn't slow down. I couldn't work, couldn't read books. But then I tried the meditation and felt really calm," he said. "It's very different to Western rehab."

The wat has its detractors, not least British rock star and celebrity junkie Pete Doherty, whose departure after only three days led to tabloid newspapers depicting the wat as a prison camp in which patients were beaten with bamboo poles.

Phra Hans denied any such claims.

"Pete Doherty ran away because he wasn't ready. It was a dreadful episode. We can't lock people away or hold them against their will because that is a violation of human rights," he said.

"We only want people who are ready and who are serious about getting clean."

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv