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More than medicine

An alternative health camp is thriving on the simple philosophy that patients are their own best doctors

The food definitely does taste bland. But little by little, I start to feel the subtle flavour of each individual raw ingredient in the dish in front of me. There is the mild pungency of the radish, the slight sourness of the tomatoes, and the sweet tinge of the pumpkin, all chopped and cut into fine morsels that can be gulped down in no time. Jipat Klajone, known as Mor Keaw, advises every participant at his alternative health camp to chew the food thoroughly before swallowing it. Take your time, he says, and observe the gradual transformation of the natural provisions into a liquefied mass, see how it is gurgled down to the stomach and eventually spread out to give energy to every cell in the body. And be thankful for this life-sustaining process that dates back to time immemorial.

Admittedly, I personally found even this very first requisite hard to digest initially. Living in a big city, where every day is a series of harried ventures, something as simple as chewing your food slowly does seem a luxury at times. But if it is for our own good, to minimise the chance of more complicated health problems later, then why not give it a try?

According to Jipat, every student of his “Buddhist medicine college” must pass four entrance exams which revolve around the mundane act of eating. Besides meticulous chewing, the other three are eating different types of food in the proper order, in moderate amounts, and being able to consume “healthy” foods even if they taste as bland as the bowl of soup in front of me.

“No matter how smart you are, if your health is in a bad shape, all your potential will come to a loss,” says Jipat, who is in his late thirties.

“The good news is you are the one who can create the best health for yourself. In this camp, we will learn how to be our own doctor. We will then have this ‘doctor’ with us wherever we go. We will have little need to rely on others. We will learn how to balance things.”

Indeed, the term “balance” has been repeated throughout the week-long health camp. Both Jipat and his colleague Pavaravun Chumkrom, a trained nurse and practitioner of Buddhist medicine, take turns stressing the importance of keeping oneself in balance, both physically and mentally.

“Once you are able to maintain this balance,” says Pavaravun, “you will realise the wonderful ability of the human body to heal itself.”

For Jipat, the modern lifestyle has become alarmingly unbalanced. The officer of the Ministry of Public Health said even his colleagues involved in promoting good health among the Thai populace have suffered varying degrees of illness. They keep munching on the very fatty, heavily seasoned fast foods that they try to tell people are unhealthy. Even he himself has not been spared, having developed all sorts of symptoms ranging from ulcers to chest and knee pain. Jipat said he became disillusioned by the ineffectual campaigns wherein both the health-care personnel and the so-called patients grow ever more sick, often with the same recurrent diseases, regardless of the resources being poured into the system.

Turning to traditional Thai medicine as well as other alternative schools (he has a bachelor’s degree in both public health science and administration), Jipat said he also found limitations along those avenues. Even when combining both modern and alternative medicines, only 40 percent of the target population showed signs of improvement, he maintains. Somehow, the answer dawned on him during his subsequent spiritual practice – that he developed and later referred to as the corpus of “Buddhist medicine

A follower of the Santi Asoke cult, which professes austere living and vegetarianism among other things, Jipat considers Buddha to be the world’s best physician. During his lectures, he would every now and then quote a set of Buddhist sutras that he says provide the clues to a healthy life: the importance of balancing “hot” and “cold” elements, of living a simple and carefree existence that consumes little and only those things easy to digest, of cultivating loving kindness, compassion and equanimity towards other beings, and last but not least, the awareness of the overarching influence of food and the mind over everything else.

Jipat’s health regimen, growing in popularity among people across a wide spectrum, is a shrewd combination of several alternative schools of medicine – yoga and body stretching, acu-pressure, the ancient Chinese art of removing toxins through skin rubbing called Gua Sha, detoxification of the large intestine, application of herbal mud, adjusting the diets to fit with one’s body and environment, and the promotion of so-called “chlorophyll drinks” (see sidebar “Mor Keaw’s Nine Pills” on page 3).

Unlike several other expensive health camps booming in Thailand nowadays, Jipat’s version stresses affordability and self-reliance. He has turned his mother’s land in Mukdahan into a retreat centre, an offshoot of the Amnat Charoen state hospital (Jipat’s current affiliation), which is open to anyone seeking to learn self-healing techniques including how to make the greenish chlorophyll drink from local herbs in your backyard. The entrance fee is 0 baht. The health camp I am attending, organised by Sangdad Publishing House in collaboration with General Chamlong Srimuang’s Leadership Training Institute in Kanchanaburi, is also offered free of charge a couple of times a year. (Participants can make donations on a voluntary basis.)

“We just want this operation to go out of business so that we can stop it one day,” Jipat quips. “But so far people have made contributions [such] that it prospers even more. Whoever has the rice or vegetables would bring them to share with others at the centre. Some choose to foot the utilities bills and so on. … I have learned that the most secure job in the world is to be a volunteer. People will always make sure you won’t go starving.”

Interestingly, Jipat claims his health camp has so far produced dramatic results: 1,291 of the 1,397 who have been through the week-long retreat (92 percent) reported significant improvement in their body condition. Over 80 percent of patients who had diabetes (117 persons) and high blood pressure (158) said their level of sugar and blood pressure dropped. The statistics collected by Jipat’s team from Amnat Charoen Hospital also showed 90 percent of 111 people with cancer said they felt much better by the end of the camp; moreover, 22.5 percent who continued the practice rigorously for the next six months said their doctors could not locate the tumours, and 63 percent managed to live longer than the original timeframe speculated by their mainstream doctors.

In retrospect, several facets of Jipat’s Buddhist medicine philosophy do sound not unlike common sense heresay, perhaps what your grandmother might have told you years ago: eat fresh, natural foods, consume a variety of veggies and fruits, and the less chemical additives, the better. But how many of us would have the discipline and stamina to eat unseasoned foods, in which even a pinch of salt is deemed superfluous, over a long period of time? And to search for the still-rare and expensive organic foods in the market?

On closer scrutiny, Jipat’s approach does not fit exactly with conventional Thai or Chinese medicine. What has long been taken as healthy may not be necessarily good for certain individuals, he would argue. And this ranges from ginseng to seaweed to vitamins and food supplements.

Jipat’s best-selling book, titled Thod Rahad Sukkhaphab – Ron Yen Mai Somdool (Decoding Health Secrets – The Imbalance of Hot and Cold Elements), outlines what he claims to be the common cause of illnesses in modern times. Up to 80 percent of the Thai population, he reckons, has health problems caused by “overheating”, while only five percent could be identified as suffering from “over-cooling”. In between, about 15 percent of the population, are those who have overheating problems that evolve partly into over-cooling symptoms (see “Too hot versus too cold?”).

Here comes the delicate task of balancing one’s body with foods and other healing techniques. Jipat proposes dividing foods into two major camps depending on their heating or cooling effects on the body. A person who demonstrates symptoms of overheating should then try to take foods to cool them down, and avoid eating anything that would fan up the body’s temperature. Likewise, someone suffering from over-cooling bouts should eat so-called “hot” foods and scrimp on things that would aggravate their symptoms. Finally, those with semi-overheating and over-cooling problems should consume cooling foods that have been cooked with moderate temperature.

Thus Jipat has departed from the old and other alternative schools of medicine that prescribe more or less similar sets of herbs or medicines for every patient. He claims that such knowledge was formulated when and where climate conditions were cooler, before the onset of the global warming phenomenon. The heart of the matter lies in what would make the person feel comfortable in his or her environment. In a cold place, a warm feeling would be desirable, whereas the majority of people living in a hot country like Thailand would prefer staying cool, Jipat ventures.

Among the herbs promoted as offering a cooling effect is Ya Nang (Tiliacora triandra Diels), an indigenous plant popular in Isan where it has earned the nickname Muen Pee Bor Thao (staying young for 10,000 years). Jipat himself discovered its miraculous qualities when he treated his mother for a tumour in her womb a few years ago. His booklet on the subject became another instant best-seller – hundreds of thousands of copies have been printed so far – and the Ya Nang drink and its use in combination with other cooling plants has become more or less a trademark of Mor Keaw’s camp.

Like everything else, however, there is no ready-made or universal recipe. Jipat often emphasizes sensitivity to one’s own conditions and creativity to adjust to changing circumstances. Even bland, healthy foods are not recommended as a long-term diet. Otherwise, he says, the person would not be able to develop an immunity to all the toxins prevalent in our society, he adds jokingly.

So take it as it feels best, comfortable, to you. Jipat’s Buddhist medicine is not a strict prescription to adopt verbatim, or to swing to either a self-torturing or -indulgence extreme. His week-long health camp feels more like an open university, where the students are both the patients and the doctors (it is indeed quite difficult to distinguish the gravely sick from the healthy ones around here), exposed to challenging ideas about how our own body and mind function and how best to treat them in times of crisis. Certain ideas, such as the merits of drinking one’s urine or the suggestion against taking operations or chemotherapy as in mainstream modern medicine, are of course debatable. A few still cringe at the idea of self-detoxifying or rubbing their back and front with the Gua Sha kit. Others complain of the placid, unexciting taste of Mor Keaw’s recipes. Shall we have to sacrifice the thrill of eating for the sake of staying in shape for the rest of our lives?

At the end of the day, you must check yourself to see if you feel more comfortable, independent and content with your condition. Indeed, of pivotal importance in Jipat’s Buddhist medicine is health of mind. The chaos in the world these days is, he says, closely linked with mental confusion, addiction to what is held to be pleasurable, and ignorance of the fleeting nature of things. In her lecture, Nidda Hongwiwat of Sangdad Publishing who co-sponsored the camp cited a piece of research reporting that on any given day, about 84,000 different thoughts run through our head, each time generating some kind of heat energy. Imagine how many of us have been unwittingly trapped in this cycle of heat, going about day after day with self-inflicting thoughts, hungry for things that will actually be harmful, endlessly suffering without realising when is enough.

Thus Jipat’s health camp is in fact a disguised dharma retreat of sorts, he admits laughingly in one of his last lectures. For years, he says, modern medicine has been monopolised by a few experts despite the fact that the process of treating oneself should be considered as a basic human right. And the consequences are neither healthy for the doctors nor the patients themselves. So Jipat’s Buddhist medicine is a return to the basic, the retraining of the mind and the body. While taking each bite of food, each of us is invited to meditate on the inter-relatedness between nature, the farmer, the cook and the person who is eating, and how what’s on our plate will affect us now and in the future.

Suddenly the bland dish on the table in front of me certainly contains a lot more than meets the eye.

For more information on the health camps led by Jipat Klajone at Suan Pa Na Boon in Mukdahan, call the Amnat Charoen Hospital on 04-5511-9419 ext 1221.

Source of Content :  http://bangkokpost.net/leisure/leisurescoop/32597/more-thanmedicine

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