Our brand-new documentary series, COCONUTS TV ON IFLIX, the first original docu-series to drop on the streaming service, is out right now! In the episode “Animals and Us,” we unveil spirituality, mindfulness, and healing with a legendary horse-riding, kickboxing, drug-fighting monk in northern Thailand. Read on to learn more about Phra Kru Ba, the abbot of Archa Thong Forest Monastery and his role in saving the animals.
Every year, dozens of Thai Buddhists travel up the mountainous terrain in Chiang Rai province to watch Phra Kru Ba, the respected abbot and founder of Archa Thong Forest Monastery, bless the ponies in a ceremony called Bai Si Sukwan.
The Archa Thong Forest Monastery is known for the sight of Buddhist monks mounted on horses and the Dharma teaching of Phra Kru Ba.
The senior monk is a former Muay Thai fighter who has fought against the opium trade in the notorious Golden Triangle for the past 20 years by introducing Buddhism to the locals, bonding with the people via the practice of Muay Thai and his equestrian skills.
On the morning of the latest Bai Si Sukwan ceremony, locals dressed in white lined up with dry food in their hands as the famed Phra Kru Ba rode his horse down from the hilltop to accept alms from his worshippers.
“Who wants to get lucky? Raise your hands. Who wants to be wealthy? Raise your hands. Who wants to be safe? Now who wants to listen to Dharma?” Phra Kru Ba said to the cheering worshippers in a ceremony held on September 21.
Phra Kru Ba then chanted his prayers to bowls of grains and seeds. The other monks then lined up to feed their ponies with the blessed food — so did the locals, who brought their buffalos and cows to participate in the ceremony.
The Bai Si Sukwan is just a whimsical highlight to Phra Kru Ba’s initiative to save animals, in which his worshippers buy out cows and buffaloes that are meant to be slaughtered and donate them to him on the ceremony day.
Buddhists believe that their lives can be elongated by the great karma that comes with saving large animals who are on the brink of death.
In the past five years, the temple has helped over two hundred buffalos and cows, according to Baworn Soonklang, 26, a volunteer at the temple.
The animals are then given to residents of the Golden Triangle to use in farming, offering an alternative aside from opium trafficking. The career support goes together with the teaching of Buddhism, showing people a way out from the drug trade.
“Authorities make bad people go away, but the evil in their minds doesn’t really go away, and this is Phra Kru Ba’s role,” said Phra Sutipong, a senior monk who manages the temple.
Not only are the buffaloes and cows saved, the temple is also home to 84 horses, many of which were donated or bought from locals who couldn’t afford to keep their ponies.
Baworn alleged that, in the past, poverty forced people to sell their horses to a local slaughterhouse, which shut down years ago.
In the “Help Thai Horses” project, the ponies receive proper care and vaccinations, as they serve as vehicles for monks to travel and teach Buddhism to the hill tribe people.
Personally, Baworn thinks that the horses that he cares for have a big role in improving society, mainly by attracting children and teens in the drug-prone area to come to the temple — because what children don’t want to ride a pony.
“I have teens who come work with me [at the stable], and they can make a little money for their family by making fertilizer from horse manure,” he said.
For Phra Sutipong, a love for horses is how monks relate to locals, and the key to initiate Dharma teaching and help people find peace of mind.
You can watch the segment below, or check out the full episode on iflix!
To learn more about the Help Thai Horses project and how to donate, visit the temple’s website.