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The Buddhist monk with a cowboy heart.

It was quite common during the last two centuries that immigrants with Tai roots --Sibsong Panna of Southern Yunnan, Yong of Thai Yai Shan State in Myanmar (Burma), some town in Laos or north Vietnam to immigrate to Lanna, Northern Thailand. Forty five years ago, a boy was born from his Tai Lue parents who had their ancestors moved from Chiangroong, Yong, Lumpoon and Mae Chan respectively. His mother had difficulty in early stages of pregnancy. She turned to Wat Pra Thart Doi Dtoong to ask the Buddha image for her wish. Some nights later, she dreamed a white horse came to pick her up taking her for miles and miles. She got her wish, she became pregnant and had her son with the name of Samer Jaipinta. The boy was cranky all the time during his early years. The parents then turned to the fortune teller who advised the arrangement of having an elephant or a horse that could come and console the boy. Of course, it was going to be a big expensive arrangement so the father used his common sense. He used the kitchen charcoal to draw the pictures of elephant and horse which were the posted on the wall. The father kept telling his son that the animals came to him, were always with him to console, and give spirit to him. The boy become calm, peaceful and behaved properly.

Young Samer grew up and finished his high school in his home town, Mae Chan; and continued his law study at Ramkamhaeng University in Bangkok. He quit during his third year due to his father's illness. He joined the army calvary and built up his reputation as a talented boxer, losing only 3 times in 15 years. To his Muay Thai (Thailand style martial arts) boxing fans, his boxing name was Samerjai. In fact, at the age of 30, he was preparing to fight the world champion when he suddenly gave it all up to be ordained as a monk at Wat Laan Tong, Chiangsaen district. As a matter of fact, he liked to spend his peaceful time at either a temple or a rice field when he was young.

Pra Samer slipped away quietly and headed for the jungle caves in Mae Sai where he sat and meditated. It was there that he gained experience of visions. He learned to control his emotions. Buddhism taught him not to harm or take advantage of people. He traveled extensively for 6 years throughout the forest and the areas near the border of Thailand and Myanmar (Burma).

Nearby in Myanmar (Burma), drug traffickers from ethnic and government moved vast amount of drugs into Thailand for local and world distribution. Drug use in the area further damages and destabilizes families and lives through drug illness, kidnapping, prostitution and land control. Among the local monks, Pra Samer was asked to combat the drug war by taking "Dharma", Buddhist teachings, to the terrible village as a monk who was also capable of defending himself from the dangers posed by the deviousdrug barons.

Throughout those years, Pra Samer became known and popular to highlanders. It is a tradition in the north, people always give the title of "Kru Ba" to an especially respected monk or pilgrim who devote his life for public benefit. Along with his Buddhist name in Pali, his full name became "Pra Kru Ba Neua Chai Kosito", or, Proclaim to be victor in the north.

There is a remote hamlet where tall cliffs stand overlooking the valley. Pra Kru Ba selected a quiet landscape in front of the cave for his meditation practice. More and more people poured in for merit - making of food offerings, sundries and teachings. Once the crowds got bigger and bigger, his followers urged him to build an official forest monastery 15 years ago. Some even went farther by suggesting building a more official temple to follow the project of our country's Supreme Patriarch --Borworn (บวร) which means noble and excellent. Meanwhile, each letter of the Thai word indicates the following strengths of a community: บ = Baan (Home); ว = Wat (Temple) and ร Rong-Rien (school).

These local institutions belong to each community for their progress, unity and happiness. He taught the nain (novices) and orphaned hilltribe boys the Dharma, discipline, skills, accepting responsibility in life, and Muay Thai martial arts. More fully ordained monks and nuns became part of the temple. As a matter of fact, Pra Kru Ba founded other new monasteries. Presently, he has more than 10 monasteries in the northern hills.

People who lack confidence often use some animism practice to make an offering of gratitude to a respected living or deceased monk, statue and temple when one has a stroke of luck or good karma. And so when a hilltriber became well after his sickness, he donated a horse to the monastery.

Monks are not supposed to turn down any kind of offering unless the offering is unethical, immoral, or illegal matter. Pra Kru Ba realized that this animal could play an important role in his border patrol plans along with receiving food offerings every morning known as "taak-baat" or, the act of putting the rice and other items into the monks' alms-bowls. From the first day the land was allowed to Pra Kru Ba to build the monastery, the long Thai name of this monastery became quite well - known to the northern people -- "Sumnug Patibaat Dharma Thaam Pa Archa Tong".

The first three words indicate the place as Dharma practice center, while the fourth and fifth mean cave and forest respectively. The last two words seem to be popular to the public -- Archa means horse and tong means gold. Therefore, Golden Horse Monastery is appropriate in English language.

People in the northern area believe that Pra Kru Ba has his own magic but he smilingly denies. He was surprised at the questions he was asked because he did not publicly reveal details. A "forty to one" incident was tended to hurt him in the darkness at Baan Hna Mae Kaam -- the highland border finger tip on the country's map. He used basic consciousness and mind at that critical moment. He just blew out the candles and ducked down. The big group of 40 hilltribers became tense and frightened of fighting back from Pra Kru Ba. Those guys tripped over themselves and fought each other innocently and accidentally. Another incident was seven years ago, he survived from the physical attack through the hail of deadly weapons. His recovery has reached only 80% until today. Another survival crisis was poisoning. Hilltribers in some area have knowledge and experience about poisonous herbs and toxic foods. Vomiting after vomiting, his body was about to roll up like a piece of carpet. He fought back with meditation and calmed the illness down. Pra Kru Ba was not proud of those near death incidents.

Built on a jungle slope, the Golden Horse Monastery now sponsors at least 9 monks, 30 nains, a few female devotees or nuns, 200 horses, 9 elephants, 15 cows, and 16 buffaloes.

With the aid of donations and moral support from the 3rd Army Battalion as well as public, Pra Kru Ba has also been able to initiate a reforestation program along with other activities. Income also come from the sales of souvenirs and manure fertilizer the youngsters collect each day. Each boy could earn 100 Baht on Saturday and Sunday. The money is great for kids for school expenses.

Every Saturday, there is Muay Thai boxing betwen the youngsters. The winner and loser will earn 700 and 300 Baht respectively. Gambling is prohibited here. Only the benefits of healthy body, mentally quick and self defense is gained from Muay Thai.

The abbot rides on horseback, stops at each village to educate the locals about: the dangers of drugs, rehabilitate drug addicts, Buddhism, Thailand, their Majesties the King and Queen, health science, environment and daily life. What else remains that the abbot has not accomplished?

Address : The Golden Horse Monastery, (Thaam Pa Achar Thong), 119 P.O. Box 42, Moo 3, Sri - Kaam Subdistrict, Mae Chan, Chiangrai 57110. Mobile : 089-700-0927, 087-1176-765

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