A Thai temple in Northern Thailand has been left without its Buddhist monks after the entire monastery was found to have been using methamphetamine. In response to orders to investigate drug use in Phetchabun province, local law enforcement and the village headman in Bung Sam Phan subdistrict searched schools, factories, and even temples in search of signs indicating drug use and distribution so those involved could be sent to rehabilitation facilities.1 Law enforcement officials were shocked to find out that Thai monks also struggled with addiction.
What Is Buddhism?
Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world, originating 2,500 years ago in India. Buddhists believe that human life is one of suffering and that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve nirvana or enlightenment. Buddhists view life as a cycle of suffering and rebirth, but if one achieves a state of enlightenment, it’s possible to escape this cycle forever.
Siddhartha Gautama was the first person to reach this state of enlightenment and is, to this day, known as the Buddha. Gautama was an Indian prince in the fifth century B.C.E. and, after seeing people poor and dying, realized that human life is suffering. In response, he renounced his wealth and spent time as a beggar, meditating, traveling, and remaining unsatisfied in what’s called “The Middle Way.”
Eventually, he reached enlightenment while in a state of deep meditation underneath the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening). Afterward, he taught about the Four Noble Truths: Suffering (dukkha), Origin of suffering (samudāya), Cessation of suffering (nirodha), and Path to the cessation of suffering (magga).
Buddhists don’t believe in any kind of deity or god, although there are supernatural figures who are believed to be able to help or hinder people on the path toward enlightenment. They also believe in a cycle of rebirth, where souls are born again into different bodies depending on how they behaved in previous lives. This is connected to “karma,” which refers to how a person’s good or bad behavior in the past or past lives can impact them in the future.
In 2020, Buddhism was practiced by more than 95% of the population in Thailand.2 Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Thailand and plays a key role in many aspects of Thai culture, so much so that the country is often referred to as ‘The Land of Buddhism.’
Thailand Temple Left Empty After Monks Failed Drug Tests
The monks of Thailand are revered figures in Thai culture. Seats are reserved for them alongside pregnant and elderly individuals in Bangkok’s metro system, and people bow their heads in reverence whenever they walk by a monk. Especially in rural areas outside of the city, Buddhist monks in Asia are trusted advisers, often serving as counselors and role models to communities.
For this reason, it was surprising for village headman Sungyut Namburi to find that all four monks in one small temple tested positive for methamphetamine. At another small temple, an additional two Thai monks tested positive for the same drug. Even the abbot, the head of the monastery – which had served as a monk for 10 years – was found to be using drugs.1
The search was in response to villagers’ suspicions about drug use within their local Thai monastery. The monk’s personalities and behaviors simply gave them away as drug users. Even the abbot’s shelter (living space) was found to be a mess, which is highly out of character for Thai monks. Following the discovery, some of them even admitted to battling long-time addictions.1
The scandal in Phetchabun province comes amid a nationwide crackdown on drugs in the area following a mass killing at a daycare center in October that left 38 dead, most of them children. The suspect was a former police officer who was reported to have been removed from the force due to methamphetamine possession.1
For now, the monk temple is empty. A few monks who heard about the scandal had offered to stay at the temple in the interim to support the community. Understandably, the villagers were shocked to find out that their wise counselors and mentors were using drugs. After all, “They are misbehaving monks,” Sungyut Namburi said, “and they should leave the monkhood if they can’t follow and practice the disciplines.”1
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- The Washington Post – Thai Buddhist temple left empty after all its monks test positive for meth
- U.S. Department of State – 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: Thailand