Is a Buddhist Sajja vow the Solution to Addiction?

ajja (sometimes written as saccha and pronounced more like satja) is a Pali word that refers to truthfulness; a sajja vow is a solemn promise to do or refrain from something. A temple in Thailand called Thamkrabok is using this vow as a means for treating addicts. This Buddhist detox monastery has been involved in this type of work for decades and in recent years there has been a rise in the numbers of addicts arriving there from western countries.

The Sajja Vow of Thamkrabok

Thamkrabok has received a lot of attention in the western media for its unique use of a medicine that makes the addict vomit as part of the detox process. This emetic is only a small aspect of the treatment program though and according to a previous abbot the detox only accounted for 5% of the overall treatment at the temple. More important is the sajja vow. Once you make such a promise it is not permissible to break it and then repeat the vow; the sajja promise is a once off event and there are no second chances. It is a widely held belief in Thailand that keeping such a vow will bring prosperity to a person’s life but breaking it will lead to a less favorable future.

Addicts at the temple will make a sajja vow soon after their arrival. It is usually a promise to refrain from either drugs and alcohol or both for the rest of their lives. This promise is made as part of a ceremony with a Buddhist monk and is conducted using a mixture of the Pali and Thai languages. There is no need for the person to be Buddhist to make such a vow as they can direct it at their own concept of a higher power.

The Success of the Sajja Vow of Thamkrabok

Many people have managed to escape their addictions following treatment at this Thai temple. These individuals frequently claim that keeping their sajja vow has meant that their life in recovery has been full of happy events and success. The monks are keen to promote the idea that there is something magical about this vow that just attracts good things into a person’s life so long as they keep it; karma is often used as a means of explaining why this is so. It is claimed that if the person believes in their vow it will connect them to a higher power that will lead them to peace and happiness – belief is key to the success of the sajja.

Not all of those who have attended treatment at Thamkrabok have been able to keep their sajja vow. It is pointed out that the power of the sajja is tied in with the strength of belief in it; this means that there is sometimes less concern with the negative consequences of breaking the vow among westerners. Some of these people have gone on to have success with other treatment options.

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