© Simon de Lancey
For a great majority of British people a clear line can be drawn between the functions of a priest and those of a doctor. To generalise these differences we might say that the former deals with spiritual matters and offers spiritual comfort and advice, whereas the latter, the man of medicine, offers practical advice and dispenses prophylactic or recuperative medication. Almost never does the function of the one combine the function of the other. Yet in today’s society, where a majority of the population is only nominally religious, the over-dependence upon the person who dispenses practical help and the pills, potions and drugs to deal with our bodily symptoms of ill-health, i.e. the doctor, is marked; whilst the function and value of the spiritual counsellor has been largely ignored in favour of other, more secular counsellors such as psychiatrists, social workers, teachers or even family members and close friends, many of whom may not only ill-equipped to deal with the problem - often through no fault of their own - but also not remotely interested in or knowledgeable about matters spiritual, nor devout advocates of the power of Christianity, for example, as a genuine and valuable source of help for those who seek to resolve problems which cannot be cured by conventional medical means or clinical treatment programmes.
I wonder, for example, how many clinical psychiatrists ever discuss the topic of “faith healing”? Very few, I suspect! Similarly, I wonder how many doctors today recommend that their patients visit the priest for his or her guidance? Again, very few, I should imagine, in the increasingly secularised and sceptical society in which we live! And even if doctors or psychiatrists and the like were to do so - how many of their patients would follow their advice? And worse, perhaps, how many priests would be able to provide the help they need?
For the divide between the practical and the spiritual physician, like the divorce between the scientist and the engineer, or the philosopher and the businessman has grown wider, not narrower in our increasingly materialistic society of real or so-called “specialists”. Yet , sadly, too many of those people working in the pressure-world of commerce and marketing, for example, simply aim to provide what is generally called “customer satisfaction”, but largely a euphemistic cover for the maximising of profits for the enrichment of themselves and/or the companies for whom they work.
Thailand, in general, is not like that; Buddhism is certainly not like that; and for the person who is addicted to dangerous drugs, whether legally prescribed by doctors or illegally purchased on street corners or in discos, he or she could do worse than investigate the treatment programme which is available to them at the Temple of Thamkrabok in Thailand where this huge divide have, and which certainly exacerbates the problems and stresses which bedevil our society, is almost no divide at all! Certainly that has been my experience both as a long term semi-resident of the country and as a frequent visitor to Thamkrabok since I first visited it in October 1997
For many people; whether they be priests, doctors, academics, policemen, politicians or simply patients, (and for a majority of Westerners, I suspect,), the notion a successful drug and alcohol detoxification treatment programme, considerably more successful than our own, and conducted within the confines of a Buddhist temple in a foreign land is inconceivable. Yet the fact remains that Thamkrabok is at present, by far the most successful treatment centre anywhere in the world! For the principles which underlie and, indeed, form an integral part of the detoxification programme for those who commit themselves to undertake the course of treatment impeccable, and very rapidly realised by those whose misfortune has led them to this extraordinary place of healing, a sanatorium-cum-sanctuary which is both unique and remarkably successful in its treatment and rehabilitation - short term, at least - of patients who genuinely seek to rid themselves of their addiction.
For, with over 40 years devoted to the development and integration of a programme of treatment which is uniquely, at one and the same time, both practical and spiritual - that is to say truly holistic in the fullest sense of the word - no wonder it has proved to be, over such a long period of time, an outstanding success!
The prime initiators of Thamkrabok’s treatment programme were the late Abbot, Phra Chamroon Parnchand, (who, until his death on 4th of May 1999 was its Director,) his younger brother Charoen and their late aunt, Mian. Together they carefully developed their treatment strategy, and during the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s (when drug addiction in Britain was barely perceived as a rapidly growing problem) their principal aim was to cure and rehabilitate the growing number of opium and heroin addicts who came in desperation for help, and who believed implicitly in the total integrity of Thamkrabok’s spiritual lead not, in the earliest years, in the effectiveness of its treatment programme. Within a short period of time, however, confidence in the efficacy of its purely holistic and naturopathic methods grew, and began to attract a wider variety of patients with a greater range of addictive problems - and latterly, from a number of different countries and cultures, primarily Australian— with an intensive but relatively brief period of detoxification over a 28-day period of residence at the temple. .This process involves the administering daily, usually for about five days, of a medicinal cocktail of 120 Chinese herbs grown locally all its patients, together with herbal saunas which help to purge and cleanse the system of every patient of the addictive substances.
Over this period of 40 years, the long-term success rate in the curing of its patients has been between 70-80%, an extraordinarily high rate of success! Elsewhere in the world, the success rate falls usually to somewhere between 10-30%, and many of those “successes” return to their former addictive habits, or spend the rest of their post-recuperative lives wholly or partially dependent upon substitute drugs such as methadone, chemicals which have no place in the Thamkrabok treatment programme. As you can see, therefore) from these percentages, Thamkrabok’s figures suggest a percentage of (long-term) treatment which is between 40-70% more effective than any other known treatment centre in the world, though I would be more than happy to learn that my deductions do a gross disservice to other drug treatment programmes which do not rely upon substitution drugs in the publication of their success-rate figures and whose success rate matches or exceeds theirs.
So, what gives Thamkrabok such a major advantage? First of all we have to acknowledge the fact that the misuse and abuse of dangerous drugs in the U.K. has only appeared to be a major problem in need of attention comparatively recently, in part because we do not or cannot grow opium or coca, for example from which most of the major illegal drugs, setting aside amphetamines, are processed: this probably gives the programme of treatment developed at Thamkrabok a 15-20 year head start; secondly, the integrity and the skills of the authors and developers of this unorthodox programme cannot be questioned, for their dedication to the task in hand is total; thirdly, the degree of trust of ordinary and often poor peoples of the Buddhist faith which is so integral to the lives of the Thai people inclines them to seek help from their Buddhist priests whom they regard as the spiritual leaders: in Western countries, they would be largely ignored or unknown, and certainly sparse in numbers; fourthly, sophisticated and often expensive medical facilities and hospitals were and are not known in many areas of Thailand, even fewer exist in the predominantly Buddhist countries which adjoin the country or form part of the South-East Asian landmass; and finally, I believe, the traditions of holistic medicine and the deep knowledge of the properties of herbs, many of which grow in abundance in Thailand and throughout China and South-East Asia, command far greater respect amongst ordinary peoples than does our own relatively recent revival of interest in the power of naturally occurring and unprocessed herbs to cure ailments, long-term illness and conditions.
Thus, the daily detoxification ritual for each and every patient, allied to the compulsory Herbal saunas - more akin to the Turkish bath than to the Scandinavian model with which we are most familiar — speeds the process of detoxification without recourse to artificial substances (promoted and used extensively in Western medicine,) like methadone; effectively, this means that the patient is not encouraged to throw away one pair of crutches for another. And all this takes place under the careful watch of spiritual physicians who have accumulated a vast amount of experience of medical problems like drug addiction and with which we are still struggling! Should such persons apply for membership of organisations like the B.M.A., for example, they would probably be ridiculed out of court; indeed, I suspect many of these extraordinary and skilful healers might even incur a degree of indifference or anger from some members of the medical establishment, often a transparent cloak for disdain or envy!
No doubt the success rate of Thamkrabok’s detoxification programme leaves many people sceptical of the reliability of its figures; but in a recent experiment upon 300 Australian addicts attended for treatment, Australian authorities claim that 65% of them have been clear of their addictions for a period of one year (1997) when this follow-up study was compiled, which brings it very close to the figures which Thamkrabok claims for it’s treatment of some 100,000 or more patients successfully treated since 1964, when the programme really got under way. Despite these figures, I suspect that the scepticism of those who could have a major input into the recognition and/or funding of the Thamkrabok detoxification programme will remain if they continue to show their disregard for anything labelled “spiritual”, or “unorthodox, alternative or holistic”.
Perhaps we in the West believe too much in the efficacy of conventional medicine, too little in the efficacy of spiritual “medicine”, whilst remaining almost wholly ignorant o people elsewhere who might have the ability to dispense medicine and find cures for a number of medical conditions, simple or complex, who do not possess what some doctors might term “the appropriate medical qualifications”.
But it may be a gross error to dismiss the philosophical integrity and the medical skills of Thamkrabok’s devout and learned faith healers who dispense medical treatment within the confines of their Buddhist temple rather than within the walls of a more conventional hospital or medical centre. The simple answer to the sceptics and the cynics is to either visit Thamkrabok or at least to talk about it with people who are or have been involved in the Thamkrabok experience. Though in a society like our own, full of non—Christians and people without any substantial alternative faith, (some of them, perhaps, doctors working in the medical profession,) it is probably much harder to persuade people that such an extraordinary place of healing exists; but Thamkrabok is a community where, in the very best sense of the term, “science and religion come together as one”.
It seems clear to me, and to many other regular or long-term visitors to Thamkrabok, that the integrity of the Buddhist philosophy which underlies and is integrated with the treatment of its detox patients cannot be questioned; nor is it to be dismissed merely as “a faith healing process”; though it is true to say that Thamkrabok offers a health-restoring of medical treatment in which faith-healing plays a significant part, particularly important to the mainly Buddhist community of addicts who congregate there. Now, although there are many so-called “committed Christians” whose boundaries of faith are limited by the dogmas of their particular orthodoxy, there are equally devout but more open- minded Christians - like, say, the Quakers in our own country - who might more easily understand and appreciate this dual approach to healing; though what Thai and many other Buddhist societies possess, and which the Western world has for the most part lost or forgotten, is a trust in the power of love, prayer and perseverance to overcome even the most complex of problems, given the right environment, the right helpers and the right attitude.
If you like, the miraculous healing powers of God work alongside the refined skills of the devout practitioner of his or her art, are there for mankind’s benefit, for his or her better grace and health, within this but powerful microcosm of Thai Buddhist society, and available to contemplate and to experience at first hand. Indeed, the miraculous healing powers have been there for our taking for almost 2,000 years - and for over 2,500 years if you are a Buddhist - after the birth, life and teachings of their respective progenitors, Jesus Christ and the Lord Buddha respectively; and, in essence, the fundamental principles on which both religions were founded, Christianity and Buddhism, are one and the same.
But, perhaps because our society and our world view have been more noticeably or more permanently scarred and contaminated by war, by ambition, by greed for money and material commodities than those citizens of Buddhist countries who have never gone to war in the name of their religion, we are, perhaps, more cynical, more sceptical, more dismissive of the wondrous miracles that can be brought about through an intrinsic and unshakeable faith and trust in the powers of spiritual leaders like those at Thamkrabok: leaders untrammelled by worldly, material concerns who can guide unenlightened people through unhappiness, poverty, despair and sickness towards healthier and more meaningful lives.
Thus the addicts who come to Thamkrabok, sometimes in almost total despair at the extent or the intractability of their addiction, even though some of them may be wholly aware of the degree of suffering it may cause to friends and close family members, find something which almost nowhere else provides; the possibility of a cure without substance substitution, and the opportunity for total rehabilitation. For the despair and suffering are exacerbated each and every time the addict takes “just one more fix”, believing there to be no way in which his or her condition can ever be eliminated, and these are issues which many doctors do not feel it is their duty, or within their competence, to address. But unless or until we can rediscover the importance of spiritual balance to our lives, we will hardly be able to deal with those problems which science alone is unable to solve!
So, what else might we Westerners learn from the Thamkrabok experience? Well, perhaps if more of our medical practitioners believed in and/or were allowed to practise alternative, prescription-drug-free medicine, without incurring the wrath of their peers, their patients or parliamentarians, that is to say holistic medicine, or encouraged more people - including their own families and children - to follow this path, (as some people may have already done,) then that would be a positive step forward. If at the same time, some of these doctors could try to persuade government health and police departments to review their strategies and reconsider their financial priorities, we might, at least, have one respected sector of the community trying to find a way towards a healthier society in and for generations to come! For we all have a responsibility to become more aware of the often extreme pressures put upon doctors to dispense an ever-increasing number of sometimes under-tested, inefficacious drugs promoted by drugs companies with profit motives too high on their agendas ahead of health concerns with regard to the people for whom they are prescribed. Methadone is surely a prime example in the treatment strategy for heroin addicts whose so called “successful” treatment is often at the expense of their becoming less able to deal with the side effects of depression and more reliant upon the prescribed drug on which they continue their dependence. This kind of treatment strategy all but reduces those doctors prescribing methadone to the role of “aiders and abetters”, or accomplices in crime - metaphorically speaking - to those patients who come for their help, and it is a cul-de-sac into which no medical practitioner of integrity should consign him or herself, nor, indeed, his or her patient!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the day came when surgeons were able to harmlessly remove our addictive glands or cells! Then, perhaps, the inherent dangers of particular substances or plants could be eliminated, or at least drastically reduced! But that does not, as yet, seem to be a realistic hope; and even if it were, there might always be the counter-effect of removing the pleasure as well as the addiction, and that certainly wouldn’t please most people!
Finally, from my experience of the Thamkrabok treatment programme, I feel it is incumbent upon all of us who are familiar with and supportive of its detoxification methods to try to persuade the Government and, indeed, all members of Parliament, as well as doctors, to encourage more people to enter the field of alternative medicine based on holistic principles with only organically produced treatment recipes, and to foster a greater understanding and practice of such alternative therapies amongst, for example, Health and Welfare workers. But in the short term, at least, let us vehemently urge all groups and departments concerned by the alarming growth in drug use in our own country to pay greater attention to places such as Thamkrabok as important centres of healing, offering fundamentally healthier methods of combating and curing drug addiction.
Thamkrabok’s pioneering programme, refined over a period of 40 years is one such place, and perhaps the only place which has been successfully curing patients in such large numbers over such a long period of time; and, indeed, the drugs issue is the one to which the late Abbot of Thamkrabok, Phra Chamroon Parnchand, devoted his life when he decided to resign his career as a police officer in Bangkok in favour of monkhood and, within two years of his coming to the temple, the treatment of drug addicts. It is such a pity that he died before his methods were known to and given recognition by Western nations and indeed, the fight to continue his excellent work and to gain funding from Western governments, not least our own British government, goes on, primarily through the unceasing efforts of East-West Detox.
In essence, the journey to Thamkrabok, to see at first hand or to experience the treatment methods of this truly exceptional place of healing is a journey not simply to a somewhat unorthodox, remote and unsophisticated medical centre, Thai style, but to a very special holy city which equips the weary, desperate traveller to overcome his or her addictive dependency and despair, and to begin life again with a wholly new, refreshed and enlightened sense of self-worth and a totally different perspective upon the meaning and importance of his or her life and, indeed, life as a whole.
Simon de Lancey
|[Home] [Invitation] [In the Ring] [Library] [Five Precepts] [Directions] [Treatment] [Information] [Monastery Rules] [Tudong]|