Welcome to The Paradise Paradox. So a few
months ago I was in Thailand and I had the pleasure and the opportunity of
staying in the temple of Wat Tam Krabok and interviewing my
friend who is a monk there so Wat Tham Krabok has an interesting
reputation because of their drug detoxification program that they have
there, which is especially for opiate addicts. A few years ago Vice
released a piece saying it was the harshest drug detox program in the world,
so that comes up in the interview and it turns out it’s not quite as harsh as
they made it out. We also talked about the founding of the temple, about the
founders Luang Paw Yai and her two nephews, and also about the medicine, the
herbal medicine that they use which is actually literally vomit-inducing
and I had the chance to try that there as well. We talked about Buddhism in
general and the teachings of Buddhism, how it can be used – this this approach
which can reduce suffering in people’s lives so it’s a great interview. It’s
actually the first part; I’ve got a lot more footage of this and which I’ll
release over the coming weeks. Unfortunately the audio had a few
problems so I did dub over some of the bits that were harder to hear so you’ll
hear my voice in some places where it should be my friend’s. So let’s get into
it. [Music] I’m here with my friend and he’s gonna tell us about Wat Tham Krabok, the temple here in Thailand
near Phra Putthabat in Saraburi province. So this is an unusual Buddhist temple
because it’s it’s kind of got a separate tradition in a sense to most of
the temples in Thailand. Yeah Buddhism in Thailand is interesting just
as a broad picture of what Buddhism is like There are a lot of forest traditions which have survived to
this day. Early in the last century there was a kind of reformation in Thailand
and they tried to standardise I guess the practice of Buddhism across a lot of
temples, but there are still a lot of traditions which are very unique. This temple comes out of that wandering
forest monk tradition. So a lot of the style of practice here is quite unique
and even the ritualism involved is very different than in other temples.
But fundamentally the underlying basis of the practice is the same.
Buddhism is the same all around the world. There’s a whole bunch of different varieties and styles of practice but at the end of the day
it has the common goal of eradication of suffering. So it is a little different, but not that different.
The fundamentals are the same Yeah, I’d say so.
Can you tell us about the founder of the temple, Luang Paw Yai. I don’t know if I can. A lot of what we’d call biographical details are not commonly discussed amongst people. The feeling of one of
the other founders was that her life is kind of sacred, so to turn it
into a story, like a biographical story is not really
respecting the nature of what she was as a being. Right. Can I say some some basic details?
You can say it Ah, I can say it but you can’t. Okay.
I guess there’s a lot of rumours floating around as well so I have to be careful
I don’t want to overstep the bounds. She was a… She ordained herself as a monk. Which is unusual
It wasn’t a title given to her, she took it herself. And of course female monks are not common, she
decided she wanted to be a monk and not a nun. She foresaw or predicted that drug abuse was
going to be a problem in Thailand and that was one of the main reasons she set
up this temple and some of the practices here like the medicine, the herbal
remedies that they use like the herbal tea, the emetics, that is the vomiting
medicine. So I guess I can’t get you to comment on that to affirm or deny it Well, the interesting
thing about this place is that we’re not trying to find one story or one history
One… I don’t know what you’d call it One plum line of
the way things are or the way things were. If you talk to different high monks, who have been living here for 40 or 50 years, they will have different stories, some of them are radically contradictory.
My teacher told me that Luang Paw Yai was a nun, but the story of her
ordaining herself is also quite accepted and the story of her being a monk is
also accepted. Again, it’s a strange thing about Buddhism, there’s a certain picture,
Ordination has a certain meaning, but then Buddha ordained himself.
When we understand the history of the Buddha, when Buddha was ordaining monks early on
ordination was just “okay you’re a monk, get to it.” It wasn’t this big ritualistic thing. So a lot of problems that people have with this temple,
A lot of questions, stem from the different way that we approach ritualism To other contemporary styles of Buddhism. But in the tradition itself, throughout the history of the path, which is more than 2500 years, there have been all these changes all these different styles of ritualism, from the early non-ritual way of practising to the intensely codified ritual practices of Tibetan Buddhism So this question of what her status was in terms of ordination is interesting. I kinda like the idea of someone just ordaining themself. At the same time, from the I guess contemporary historical way of
looking at events it’s really hard to say anything.
If you ask questions about when something was built or why was built or what it’s for, again you’ll get these answers that are to some degree contradictory or conflicting, whatever. And in Thailand that’s not an issue. It’s not like there is a truth and everything else is false. It’s like, they accept whole-heartedly partial truths. Trying to peel things back to get to one true story isn’t
really important in Thai culture. Right, yeah fair enough. It’s much like with the Buddha himself,
people will tell parables about the Buddha and the details will
change depending on what the moral of the story is and that’s just fine.
– Yeah Again with the Buddha, maybe there’s more of a classically accepted, canonical version of his life. But even that is shrouded in legendary aspects, magical aspects. For a lot of people if they were to read the official story of Buddha’s life, It would have a lot of things that would defy common understanding of physical law So again as to what that means or the significance of it, depends on who is looking or thinking about it. So it’s like with Christianity, I know you mention this story about Jesus handing out fish and the bread to people
some people will take literally as a miracle, other people say when we share we get more. It’s up to your interpretation. Yes. But in terms of the founders of the temple. Luang Paw Yai and these two brothers Luang Paw Charoen and Luang Paw Chamroon all three of them would have had like supernormal abilities. So again, a lot of these stories are kept inside, because either people put too much stock in miraculous magical
things, or they’ll become skeptical and dubious of them, Referring to these stories in this conventional way of looking at physical reality, they’ll see them like children’s stories. Yeah. So that’s just part of the
contradiction, and you just get on with it Digging up the past isn’t
necessarily so important. Yeah. You can use it as a model,
you can kind of create triangulation with the present. Other than that, it’s irrelevant to the daily practice. Can you tell me about the detox, how the detox works. There’s this Vice article and then the title of the
article is deliberately sensational. They say it’s the “world’s toughest rehab
centre” and I read the article and it was like, they tacked that title on later. The article doesn’t really align with the title. Tell us about what what they do in the detox how it helps. I don’t know where to start. The detox has been running for a long time. It started organically because the King of Thailand made opium and heroin illegal. Up until a certain point, almost 60 years ago now. Opiates became illegal in Thailand So there were a whole bunch of people who wanted to follow the law and to withdraw from opiates So the detox started organically in a sense The two brothers were living in a cave where the temple started. Someone addicted to opium wanted their help. And they didn’t really want to help him Like, “we’re practising here, go away.” “We’re doing some serious meditation practice.” But he just kept coming back There’s a tradition that, if someone asks you to do something three times as a Buddhist monk, and it won’t cause any negative effects, You’re obliged to do it. So they said, “okay you can just stay with us.” So that’s how the detox started They just decided they could help by having him stay with them The medicine started, and this is legend as well, the medicine started when Luang Paw Yai saw a sick cat. The cat went and ate from this particular plant. As soon as it ate the plant, it started throwing up By its behaviour I guess she could tell that it was feeling better. This is the original, this is the legend of how the vomiting medicine was created. So then she took this plant and a whole bunch of other plants. Thailand has a very strong tradition in herbal medicine. So the idea was to create the one medicine that would suit every different kind of
constitution. Again, maybe it’s a bit legendary, but officially there are 108 different herbs in the medicine, which have been put together through some kind of naturalistic inspiration but also with a traditional herbal lore to create this medicine that will help every kind of constitution. So that’s the medicine. So the two brothers, they had this idea that Buddhist monks should also take care of social problems They didn’t wanna be the type of monks who just sit in the forest, worked for their own freedom, disregarded the greater community at large, so they got together with these predictions that Luang Paw Yai made about future problems of Thailand. One brother decided that he would help people with drug problems.
And the other brother decided that he would help the youth, with literacy, basic education. So he travelled around Thailand, started all these different schools, to teach people to read and write Thai Raised the basic level of education for children, and the other brother stayed here and slowly the detox got formed around him But it is… I don’t know if comparing different detoxes is particularly useful Or if it even means anything. A detox is not harder or easier than another detox. Detoxing is detoxing Maybe this place is harder in terms of creature comforts. Inside the detox it’s very sparse, beds in dormitories, it’s hot and humid, in Thailand, no air conditioning There isn’t much in the way of creature comforts and the detox process is not mitigated by other drugs.
Normally conventional detox, especially in the west, a whole bunch of substitution happens, drugs for other drugs. The basic idea is to control the
symptoms of the detox while the person is detoxifying But here there’s no symptom control
whatsoever. You’re not allowed to take any kind of pharmaceutical drugs while in detox. Nothing to help you sleep, nothing to help your digestion, your pain. which I think is one of the reasons detox here is so effective. If it is hard, that hardness is useful, because it makes people resilient, or it gets them back in touch with their own resilience. One of the things that happen to people when they use a lot of drugs is, they lose the ability to suffer
through things. because they have this convenient escape
from pain, emotional pain, being awake, So people just get in this habit of not facing their own experience, their
own pain, their own minute-to-minute reality. So in the detox here there’s
nothing they can use to distract themselves. There’s a TV in there right now, it’s only Thai TV anyway. For foreigners it’s not so useful as a distraction. But there’s no recorded music, there’s no telephones or anything. There are little periods during the week where you can go and talk to your family and friends, use the Internet for an hour. Just so you can stay in touch with the world. But yeah you’re really just sitting inside of your own experience. These medications are not designed to help you with your symptoms at all.
They’re just designed to cleanse your body. We have the herbal steam bath as
well, which cleanses toxins through the skin, helps them detoxify. Other than that
it’s just sitting with their experience, which is a really strange kind of
sideways way of practising, getting people to look at their experiences in
what we’d call Buddhist terms. Buddhism isn’t really it isn’t really a thing.
It’s more of an approach to the nature of life Trying to understand your own suffering.
One of the important truths in Buddhism is that what you crave or what you desire causes suffering. For a
lot of people in the world, this truth is a bit hard to see. If you want something and you get what you want then you have a bit of joy from it If you line up a whole series of these, you kind of feel like you’re happy, you don’t have any suffering. But for a drug addict
the idea that craving causes suffering is an absolute truth that every drug addict has experienced hundreds of times, thousands. Getting what you want doesn’t satisfy you. The whole cycle of craving is really really subtle, but with the cycle of drug abuse
it’s just amped up. so it’s a lot easier for people who have been drug addicts to see some of the truths about what craving does and what desire does The standard approach to satisfaction and happiness That the world presents to us doesn’t really work. I wrote a play about a drug addict a little while ago who had all this tongue-in-cheek arguments about drug abuse being a kind of progress of
civilization because we have control of these technologies. Chemistry is a kind of technology. why shouldn’t we use this technology to make our lives better, to make ourselves feel better, make ourselves happy But it’s really a spurious argument, that was the point of the play. There are these
deeper truths that are easier to touch once you’ve seen the devastation that happens from desire and craving Eckhart Tolle talks about “the way of the cross”, hitting absolute rock bottom and that’s when you start to realize that just going after your desires isn’t what it’s cracked up
to be. if you want to change your life Yeah, “Fight Club” has a similar thing, hitting bottom. Sometimes it’s necessary, if you wanna change your life, you need motivation to change it. If you
think you’re okay, you can kind of make do, it’s hard to make a big change, a change
in your perspective, or change in your direction When you realise that, “oh if I keep going in this direction, I’m gonna die” “If I keep going this direction, I’m gonna end up in jail or I’m gonna end up destroying my family.” There are these things, that can become a big impetus for change or self-discovery. [Music]