Wednesday May 23, 2018

Fighting Cocaine Addiction! Buddhist Monastery in Thailand known for its Drug Rehabilitation Program

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Turkish-German patient Cengiz takes a steam bath two days before his ordination as a Buddhist monk, at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 28, 2017. VOA
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THAILAND, May 23, 2017: Cengiz seemed to have it all.

A high-paying job in Germany’s tech sector gave him money and prestige, but his life was spiraling out of control. A cocaine addiction had pushed him to the brink of suicide.

Desperate for escape after waking up one morning in a pool of his own blood, he found salvation half a world away at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand known for its drug rehabilitation program.

“Wat Thamkrabok absolutely changed my life,” said the 38-year-old Turkish German — now known as Monk Atalo — who came to the monastery 14 years ago and has returned several times to pray and meditate.

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“My job was really stressful and I was a slave of Western high-performance society,” said Atalo, who hopes to write a book about his experiences. Like others interviewed for this story, he declined to provide his surname.

Turkish-German patient Cengiz, centern attends his ordination ceremony at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 30, 2017. VOA

Program started in 1959

Wat Thamkrabok, 140 km (87 miles) north of Bangkok, has treated more than 110,000 people since it started its program in 1959, the monastery says.

“Here we have a particular way to practice Buddhism, and it fits very well into the treatment of drug addiction,” said Monk Jeremy, a 37-year-old Australian who underwent treatment at the monastery three years ago for heroin addiction.

Treatment begins with a “Sajja” ceremony in which patients take a sacred vow never to use drugs again.

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Patients then drink, for at least five days in a row, a strong herbal medicine that induces vomiting.

Vomiting is followed by a daily herbal steam bath to aid the detoxification process.

No contact with the outside world is permitted during the first five days of treatment. Patients pass the time by meditating, playing table tennis and weightlifting, and manual work such as painting and making Buddha statues.

A Buddhist monk and a patient sweep the yard at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, Feb.3, 2017, VOA

Effectiveness questioned

Some experts have questioned the effectiveness of Wat Thamkrabok’s methods.

“I cannot advocate for that type of treatment because there is absolutely no sound evidence nor research behind it,” said Brian Russman, clinical director of The Cabin, a drug rehabilitation center in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Patients were vulnerable to relapse without follow-up therapy or peer support, he added.

Jeremy, a Buddhist monk from Australia, inspects a Buddha statue at a workshop at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand.

Afraid to leave temple

Nat, in her fourth week of treatment, said she was afraid to leave the temple for fear of a relapse. The 24-year-old from northeast Thailand started using methamphetamines two years ago to stay awake during her night job as a go-go dancer in Bangkok.

“I can’t leave until I recover my self-confidence. The only job I have is at the bar and I need to go back to it,” said Nat, whose 7-year-old daughter lives in the countryside with her grandmother.

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Henry, a 37-year-old heroin addict from Britain, came to Wat Thamkrabok after trying several traditional rehab clinics.

“For many of us here, this is our last chance,” he said. (VOA)

Patients play ping-pong at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, Feb. 8, 2017.
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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)