Bangkok Post: Many Hmong refugees from Wat Tham Krabok will remember Phra Gordon, “the black monk”.
A former United States soldier of fortune who later became a monk in Thailand and helped hundreds of people overcome alcohol and drug addictions at the world famous Wat Tham Krabok in Saraburi has passed away.
A spokesman for the temple said Phra Gordon, also known as Gordon Baltimore of Harlem or the “Black Monk”, died on April 20 in hospital. He said temple staff were working with the US embassy in Bangkok to locate Phra Gordon’s family, which was difficult as the monk no longer had a passport.
Phra Gordon had lived at the temple for almost three decades, devoting himself to helping people overcome their addictions through a “tough love” rehabilitation programme.
Irishman Paul Garrigan, who wrote Dead Drunk: Saving Myself From Alcoholism in a Thai Monastery, said that with his loud US accent, keen sense of humour and large frame, Phra Gordon was far from a typical monk.
Writing on his website, Garrigan said the story of how Phra Gordon came to be at the temple was “remarkable”, as the monk had once been a mercenary and admitted he had killed many people.
“He was on his way to join another army when he found himself at Tham Krabok temple. This was not a planned visit, but the bus he was travelling on experienced flat tyres right outside the temple,” Garrigan writes.
“While he was waiting for the wheels to be fixed, he went for a walk and met the head monk. To his amazement, this stranger in Buddhist robes informed Gordon that he was expected and that he would now be joining the temple.
“For some reason, Gordon accepted the revelation and ordained. He had no intention of staying there so long but the time never felt right to leave.”
Phra Gordon said in an interview with the Washington Post that growing up in Harlem in the 1950s and ’60s and as a nine-year-old watching a man die from an overdose turned him away from drugs. He said he joined the merchant marines at age 16, and during a stopover in Penang met Bob Denard, a French mercenary who was recruiting fighters. “Being an American black, they think you know everything about guns,” Phra Gordon said, while admitting he didn’t.
He boasted of becoming a soldier of fortune and participating in some major conflicts, but after a brush with death in Namibia he decided to give up the life of a mercenary. Phra Gordon said that after a long journey around the world, he arrived in Thailand and took a bus ride out of Bangkok and just wandered into the grounds of Wat Tham Krabok.
“I’m not crazy,” he said, recalling the day. “But I heard someone say ‘You’ve come here at last.’ After the war and all that, I got a feeling of peace.
“After Harlem and the life of a mercenary,” he said, “this was the last stop for me.”