Mercenary turned monk passes away
His story is remarkable - S.L.
An American soldier of fortune who later became a monk in Thailand and helped hundreds of people overcome alcohol and drug addictions at the world famous Thamkrabok Temple in Thailand 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.
In Thai, "Phra" (pronounced PRAH) is the honorific title for a monk - S.L.
Phra Gordon had lived at the temple for almost three decades, devoting himself to helping people overcome their addictions through a "tough love" rehabilitation program.
Irish writer and teacher Paul Garrigan writes on his website of how with his loud US accent, keen sense of humour and large frame, Phra Gordon was far from a typical monk.
Garrigan describes the remarkable story of how Phra Gordon came to be at the temple; the Harlem, New York native was once a mercenary and admitted he had killed many people.
"He was on his way to join another army when he found himself at Thamkrabok temple. This was not a planned visit, but the bus he was traveling on experienced flat tires right outside the temple.
"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 (Malaysia) he 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 participated in some major conflicts, but after a brush with death in Namibia he decided to give up the life of a mercenary.
After a long journey around the world, Phra Gordon arrived in Thailand, took a bus ride out of Bangkok and just wandered into the grounds of Wat Thamkrabok.
"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."