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Possessed! A Halloween Special

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There were a few times when I have seen some yogis and or monks go crazy. One time I saw a possession case when I went to a Kandy forest monastery called, Ulpathkandha. It means Sprint Hill Monastery.

I think it was 2010 when I went there. I wanted to use the Internet for the first time in a few years. I wanted to see what this Facebook thing was. I had my brother make me a Facebook account and I was going to see it for the first time. I thought this monastery had Internet because the main room had a computer. However, I later found out that the computer was broken from the lightening storm. Fortunately, they had a donor who invited monks to use his WiFi connection in his home and I made an appointment to go there after a few nights of living at the Spring Hill Forest Monastery, situated deep in the Mountains.

On the third or fourth night, the night that I was supposed to go to the donor’s house, a resident monk came to me and told me that he thought that one of the visiting monks was a little crazy. In Sri Lanka, crazy or “upset” as they say, is a loosely used term. I said, “What is he doing for you to say that?’
“He is chanting in the bathroom.”
“Ah.. I chant in the bathroom too, there is good echo.. no problem.” I said.
“But he is on the floor chanting.” he said.
The bathroom floors in Asia are wet and not so clean. To sit on the floor is abnormal, so I said, “Let’s have a look.”
He took me to the bathroom and just as he had described, there was a monk on the ground silently praying with his head bowed to the floor. I called his name and he lifted up his head. He had a dazed look and tons of snot hanging from his nose. He looked at me and then put his head back to the floor.

I said to the resident monk. “Yes, there is a big problem. He will need to go to a hospital.” At that point I could hear my three wheeler coming to take me to the donor’s house and I had my priorities! I have seen this once before at Nauyana. The young novice was acting like a child, but was generally harmless. Only when they intervened, he got violent and he had to be tied up and sent away. That is another story. “Don’t touch him. Don’t tell him to do anything and he will be peaceful.” The abbot was in Colombo which was three hours away. “Call the abbot and tell him to bring 6 strong guys. He needs to go to a hospital. I’ll be back from using the Internet in a few hours.” I left the small monk who was only about five feet tall alone with the monk praying on the bathroom floor. I felt a little bad, but I had to go and I felt that if he left him alone, there would be no problems.

When I came back, the van with two monks and a few lay people arrived at the same time. I said, “Ask him nicely to see a doctor. He probably won’t want to go and then he will resist and get violent. Then…” The abbot moved forward and did not listen to me. The Sri Lankans are quite reluctant to listen to white people, and he wanted to do it Sri Lankan style. They tried to guide him to the van, but he started to resist. Then he was on the ground with a few guys on him plus a several leaches that were on a feeding frenzy. I took control next.

“He is going to get hurt here. Lets bring him to the meditation hall so we can tie him up. One person get on each limb and we will carry him. He won’t be able to fight this way.” I saw this method used once on a person who was freaking out on LSD at a Dead Show. I was the expert because, nobody else knew anything. I saw the the young novice get tied up a few years earlier and I have also been to a few Dead Shows in my college days. Now they were listening to me. He was on the meditation hall floor face down with four guys on him. I asked for a bed sheet and I had my sewing kit with me (like a good monk who is traveling should have) and started cutting strips to tie him up. Before we were going to tie him up, I realized that I had no clue about how we should do it. I was a boyscout once, but this was different. I said, lets practice. So we tied up a volunteer for practice. It seemed OK, but he was a volunteer and was not resisting us. Time was running out so I felt we were ready to tie up the monk. 1…2…3.. lets go.. and he was tied. Then he started to spit. He had lots of flem in him and he was well armed. It was the only thing he could do. We put a cloth over his mouth.

We brought him to the van and started to drive down to the bottom of the mountain where Kandy General Hospital was situated. It was nearly 11pm at this point. The monk had superhuman strength and got loose along the way and the monks beside him were holding him down in the van. When we got to the hospital, we had to find the mental ward. The hospital is like a campus with many single or double story buildings. It is very big. I thought there would be goons dressed in white coats waiting to help us, but that was only what happens in the movies. We were on our own but we found the ward. We were waiting about one hour for the Psychiatrist on call to come and order some sedatives and other cocktails to be injected. While we were waiting, the monk was put in a wheelchair while another monk named Venerable Subhāvi was holding him down. Venerable Subhāvi had been spit on a few times and never got angry. I was impressed by his patience and loving-kindness.

I looked around the single room mental ward. It was like something from a scary movie. There were about 30 old fashion white painted steel tube hospital beds with about 40 patients. Some shared a bed while others were on the floor. There was only one attendant and one or two policemen for all of those patients with mental problems. Several of the patients were shackled to the beds by their ankles. They were the police cases. One patient was endlessly trying to figure out how to get his shackle off. It was scary.

The orderly spoke English so I spoke with him. I said, “Are you the only person here for all these patients?”
“Yes.”, he replied.
“What if they all go crazy?”
“They are on medication. They cannot do anything.”
“What if they don’t take their medication?”
“We make them take their medication.”, he said with a peaceful and content smile. Never the less, he was a big guy.

Eventually, the doctor came. It was nearing 12 AM and we moved the monk to a bed and soon an injection would come. The man next to the monk’s bed spoke perfect English. He was one of the patients shackled to the bed by his ankles and a police case. He was talking to us and told us that the monk would “sleep like a baby” once he got the injection. The guy next to us was “normal” and I asked him why he was there. He used to work in Malaysia and helped support his wife and kids. That was why he was well spoken in English.

He said the following:

My wife is a whore. I poured petrol on her and set her on fire. She has 60% burns all over her body. If she doesn’t press charges against me, I walk. If they think I am not crazy, I walk. She needs me. We have kids. She won’t press charges and I will walk. I did her a big favor by burning her. This (cheating) won’t happen again.

“Holy f’n shit”, I thought to myself.

Soon the injection came and we went home. The three wheeler driver who brought me back was very faithful to the monastery. He was with us when we tied the monk up in the meditation hall. He was with us for much of the time in the hospital. We sent him back home so he could wake up for work the next morning. He reluctantly obeyed and was crying about the whole thing. It was disturbing for him to see a monk like this.

We went home and the resident monk and myself decided to chant a shortened version of Āṭānāṭiyasutta, which is special chant just for possession cases. In this sutta, we ask the chief yakkhas to punish those yakkhas who are disturbing our monks and devotees. The monk claimed to be possessed by a yakkha (demon) when he was held down on the floor of the meditation hall, just before we tied him up. However, it was later revealed that he was already on psychiatric medication. He was a visiting monk and ran out of medicine during his stay. After that, the problems came.

The next morning we visited the monk and he was on his way to stability. After he was stable, we could send him back to his monastery. Psychiatric problems often happen during the mid to late 20’s. Drugs or meditation can act as a catalyst and bring it on earlier. If a monk ordains when he is 20, there is not really much of a way to know this will happen. We must take care of the monk for as long as he stays a monk. A monk cannot disrobe when he is crazy. It is an invalid time to disrobe and he is still a monk. It is the duty of Saṅgha to take care of the sick. We usually refer to mental problems as a “bile problems” rather than a brain problem. Bile problems are mentioned in the Buddhist texts and the brain was thought to be a useless organ. According to Buddhism, the heart is where the mind occurs. A mental problem is a sickness and the monk is not responsible for anything he does while he is crazy. Even if he kills a man, which is an automatic and immediate disrobing offense, he is innocent and still a monk. However, in order to be innocent by reason of insanity, “He must not be able to tell the difference in value between gold and excrement.”

I was supposed to go to Kandy for a relaxing “Internet retreat.” It was a retreat away from my usual full time meditation schedule at Nauyana. However, my relaxing retreat was not as expected. When I returned, I asked the abbot, Bhante Ariyananda about this incident. I asked him if he was really possessed or just had mental problems. Bhante said, “Both. Those who have mental problems are open to the frequency of the spirits. Then it is easy for them to be possessed. The medication helps the change frequency of them and the spirits go away.” I also asked him why the helpers in the mental ward wouldn’t help us and why we were holding the monk down instead of them. He said that the Sri Lankans don’t want to restrain monks and respect them too much.

So that is the end of my story. There are several more stories actually. One story was more scarier than “The Exorcist.” An American lay person had gone crazy. Since I was American, I was asked to take care of this problem. He was really really crazy. He was able to tell me he was not possessed or “having anyone living inside his body,” but he spoke in a demon voice and his face was contorting like Jim Carrey on steroids. I was so scared, and I still get freaked out when I tell this story. I remember calling the USA Embassy and they were also reluctant to believe a “crazy” complaint due the loose local usage of the term. Eventually I said, “Look this is Hollywood stuff. He is crazy.. what do we do?”
“Call the police.”, they said.

I am afraid to even speak about that story. Perhaps next year.
So this is my “Halloween Boo!”

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About Bhikkhu Subhuti

Bhikkhu Subhuti is an American Buddhist Monk with roots in both Sri Lanka and Myanmar Forest Traditions. He currently resides in Myanmar but his heart sometimes floats back to Kauai, HI where he spent six months in 2015.
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