Drug addiction is a prime curse of modern urban life. Congested and accelerated living generates psychic pressures that are intensified by mass media often purveying fads. These circumstances have conspired to involve growing numbers of people with drugs: some profiteer, building the criminal networks for pushing drugs, while many more become the miserable victims.
This tragedy is compounded in Thailand as it is the chief export route for opium grown in the hilly “golden triangle” in the north where Thailand, Burma and Laos adjoin. Much of the harvest from this major world center of opium production is processed clandestinely in Thailand, ten kilos of opium becoming one kilo of heroin. Although legalized opium smoking was banned in Thailand over two decades ago, known drug addicts have increased from 72,000 to an estimated 400,000. Instead of opium smoking being principally a vice of middle-aged and older men, derivatives, chiefly heroin, are increasingly an addiction of the young, faddishly made captive of the habit. Opportunity to buy for the equivalent of US$5 a quantity of heroin sold in North America for US$5,000, encourages the underworld of dealers and smugglers.
Phra CHAMROON PARNCHAND became aware of the drug traffic as a policeman. After the end of World War II, disillusioned with the tasks assigned to him, he resigned to become a Buddhist monk, shaving his head, donning the saffron robe and begging and foraging for his sustenance. He and his companions were twice arrested while on tudong (pilgrimage); their walking around the country and discussing with people the Buddhist law, the dharma, was misunderstood as troublemaking. Release followed quickly when authorities became convinced of their sincerity and government help came when his treatment of opium addicts later became known.
Phra CHAMROON’s mentor in this work was his aunt Mian, a revered Buddhist lay nun, who because of her devotion and wisdom was treated as a senior monk. Together near Saraburi, 132 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, they founded in caves of the limestone mountains an interim shelter for tudong monks known as Wat Tham Krabok. At this “Temple of the Bamboo Cave” Abbot CHAMROON 17 years ago began perfecting the treatment for drug addiction he and his aunt devised. Addicts volunteering for treatment at the monastery, which now has some 100 monks in residence, take sajja, a sacred vow, never to touch drugs again and commit themselves to a new life. Oral treatment with a decoction from a selection of 100 fresh and dried emetic and purgative herbs and barks for five days is accompanied by daily herbal steam baths and frequent regular bathing. Another five days of recuperation—with plentiful good food and light work—follow, under guidance of the abbot and 12 monks who take turns with their fellow monks caring for patients.
While some Western-oriented doctors still dismiss the value of the treatment at Wat Tham Krabok, about 1,250 Laotians—sent by their government—plus some 56,000 Thais have been treated. No one pays; the nominal cost calculated by the abbot at US$10 per person for 10 days is covered entirely by donations. There have been reversions, a few deaths in terminal cases, smuggled drugs, violation of the treatment regimen, and suicides of those overcome by the prospect of coping without an escape from life’s realities. Yet for the great majority of his addicted countrymen, and some foreigners both of Buddhist and other faiths who will accept the vow of restraint, Phra CHAMROON offers release from drug enslavement.
In electing Phra CHAMROON PARNCHAND to receive the 1975 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his curing thousands of drug addicts with unorthodox yet efficacious herbal and spiritual treatment in his monastery.