- Phra CHAMROON PARNCHAND became aware of the drug traffic as a policeman and WAS disillusioned with the lack of response from government. He resigned to become a Buddhist monk, and thus led his fellow monks to be engaged the people, walking around the country and discussing with people the Buddhist law, the dharma, and ills of drug addiction.
- Phra CHAMROON worked with his aunt Mian, a revered buddhist nun, and set up Wat Tham Krabok or “Temple of the Bamboo Cave”. He began perfecting the treatment for drug addiction at the monastery, which includes a 5-day Oral treatment with a decoction from a selection of 100 fresh and dried emetic and purgative herbs and barks, accompanied by daily herbal steam baths and frequent regular bathing. Another five days of recuperation—with plentiful good food and light work—follow, under strict guidance of the abbot and twelve monks who take turns with their fellow monks caring for patients.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his curing thousands of drug addicts with unorthodox yet efficacious herbal and spiritual treatment in his monastery .”
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 middleaged 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.
It is my honor to deliver the response of Phra CHAMROON PARNCHAND to the recognition he has received from the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation as follows:
Some 20 years ago I committed myself to a religious vow not to use any vehicular transportation. This vow prevents me from being present at the Award Presentation Ceremonies on the 68th birth anniversary of the late President Ramon Magsaysay.
I want you to know, however, that the Magsaysay Award for Public Service has brought to prominent public attention the problem of drug addiction, and particularly the treatment service available at our monastery, Wat Tham Krabok. During this past week since the announcement was carried in our mass media, addicts voluntarily coming to our monastery seeking liberation from the cursed enslavement to drugs has sharply increased to more than twice the usual number. This means that more and more victims who have been lost to drug addiction will have the opportunity to return to respected, useful new lives in the community. The monetary portion of the Award will serve a very important purpose for it is sufficient to care for about 1,000 addicts. The fortunate 1,000 who will benefit from the Ramon Magsaysay Award shall be the aged—over 60 years old, the young—under 16, students and women, regardless of faith, creed or nationality.
At the present rate of admission it is likely that the stipend will be expended within the next two months—less than the duration of the monsoon rains. Remembrance of your far searching Award, however, shall be perpetuated. At Wat Tham Krabok a spacious new building, attractively designed and now in the final phase of construction, is intended for treatment of drug addicts. At another historic Ramon Magsaysay Award Ceremony on September 6, 1975 it shall be named Gusaling Magsaysay (Magsaysay Pavilion). In this building the Public Service Award medal and certificate will be on display to inspire and remind: that for man, good deeds bring forth merits.
Note: In respect for the abbot’s vow not to travel in any type of vehicle, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, for the first time in the 17 years of its history, saw fit to hold a second presentation outside the Philippines. In a formal ceremony at Wat Tham Krabok on September 5, 1975 the Award was presented to Phra CHAMROON by the Philippine Ambassador, the Honorable Manuel T. Yan, with opening remarks by Dr. Dioscoro Umali, former chairman of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, and reading of the citation by Dr. Jose B. Abueva, a former trustee.
Phra (monk) CHAMROON PARNCHAND, abbot of Wat Tham Krabok, was born on April 1, 1926 in the village of Bangli in the Thawong District of Lop Buri Province, about 140 kilometers north of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. He was the eldest son of seven children of Chamlong Parachand, a moh yapanburan (practitioner of traditional herbal medicine) and Liam Macharoen. At age seven he was sent to live with his uncle Sook Parnchand, who kept an herbal medicine shop in the Klong Toey district of Bangkok. His first three years of primary schooling were taken at Wang Burapha in the capital city. When his father began working on a coastal vessel and the family moved to Thon Buri, across the Chao Phya river from Bangkok, he transferred to a wat (temple) school in that suburb. His secondary schooling was continued in Thon Buri at a wat and a private school. To earn money for tuition he sold candy to his classmates and after school hours helped row a ferry across the river.
Upon his graduation from high school (mathayom 6) in 1943 he obtained a civil service position in the water supply division of the Ministry of the Interior but did not find this work satisfying. Two years later he entered the Police Training School in Bangkok and after the brief course enlisted for active service as a constable. In 1948 he won the Police Department’s Outstanding Record Award for apprehending criminals, for which he received a citation, a cigarette case, and 150 baht which was equivalent to two and a half months pay. As a policeman, however, he found that his job and his conscience were often in conflict. The police, he later said, would sometimes arrest an innocent man, if they could not find the guilty one, in order to please their superiors. Since he refused to do this he could foresee that a career as a policeman was not his true calling.
Decisive guidance was to come from his aunt, Mian, a Buddhist lay nun—there is no official Buddhist order of nuns—who had earned by her sanctity and prophetic powers the deference accorded monks and the title Luang Poh Yai (senior father). Earlier when CHAMROON had consulted her about an opium raid, she had said he would find the material but make no arrest. He subsequently located the opium, but when his back was turned it was stolen, depriving him of evidence for detaining the suspects. On another occasion when he was ordered to kill 30 communists, his aunt told him that killing was not the answer; he arrested them instead.
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