12th September 1955 – 11th May 2008
I first met Phra Greg over ten years ago while working as a Counsellor for the NHS Community Drug and Alcohol Team in Reading. He had been prescribed the substitute medication methadone for many years and felt stuck going nowhere. Phra Greg was searching for a way out of the cycle of dependency and we agreed to meet and work towards his goal. We formed a wonderful relationship based on trust and openness which grew stronger over the years. He was a true gentleman and a joy to be with.
During those early days Phra Greg shared with me the numerous dreams he had over the years of becoming a monk in an eastern tradition. Later, in my new role as Founder of East West Detox, I was able to help make his dream come true and secured funding from Berkshire NHS and the DAT for Phra Greg to participate in the programme at the Thamkrabok Monastery in Thailand. Phra Greg travelled out with us in May 2005. He completed his treatment and told me he had now found his true home.
He was later given the opportunity by the then Abbot, Luang Por Charoen, to become a life monk, and was ordained shortly after. In Thamkrabok, Phra Greg found his true home and life task and became a very happy individual, never looking back. He took over responsibility for running a herbal sauna where he interacted very well with many patients and members of the Thamkrabok community. Since then he also became Coordinator for the East West Support Network and Research Project.
His great love for animals was put into daily practice when he fed and looked after the many dogs as well as cats and birds within the Monastery grounds.
I was very sad when I heard of his sudden death on Sunday 11th May 2008 but also very happy because he was so happy during his last 3 years at Thamkrabok.
Phra Greg touched the hearts of so many people as a monk, friend and work colleague.
Mike Sarson Founder East West Detox
Phra Greg “Saint Francis of Thamkrabok” A Personal Remembrance
When I met him on my first visit to Thamkrabok in May 2006 – an English man (or so I thought until I found out he was of Polish extraction) transformed into a Buddhist monk, his suntan matching the colour of his brown robes, looking so thoroughly settled and at home in that incomparable community of monks, nuns, local villagers, resident artists, detox patients and visiting ex-addicts – I imagined that he must have lived there for many years already. To my eyes, he simply belonged. I was astonished to learn later that he had only arrived at TKB the previous year, after successfully putting behind him a totally different kind of life: a long life of homelessness, taking drugs and living rough, a life of despair and very little hope. Of course, we can never know what inner scars he carried from that life but, as I saw him, Phra Greg showed no detectable trace of past unhappiness, no bitterness, no indication of being haunted by memories. Instead, he went about his business with quiet, practical, unassuming assurance, running one of the monastery’s steam baths as well as helping in many important ways with English-speaking patients in the detox compound.
I have vivid recollections of Greg sitting outside his steam-bath cabins, involved in what appeared to be meaningful conversations with one or other indigenous member of the Thamkrabok community – no mean feat when, like Greg, you speak no Thai!
Other, equally vivid images are of Greg as he walks about the compound followed by his dogs, cigarette in hand (well, he was not completely perfect!), a plastic bag or bucket in the other hand for the scraps of food he was collecting to feed his animals.
The story of Greg and his dogs deserves a whole separate chapter to itself. In his first year at TKB, he spent many months lovingly and patiently nursing a very ill young puppy, Sammi, back to health. Sammi later repaid him for it with wholehearted and unconditional canine devotion, following him faithfully around, scraps or no scraps.
He also looked after a whole pack of TKB’s semi-stray dogs that lived near his steam bath cabins. He gave them individual names, fed them, groomed them, cared for them when they were sick and protected them as much as he could from some of the local TKB inhabitants, who believe that the dogs in the monastery are re-incarnations of “bad monks” and consequently waste no love or care on them (although they do feed them), despite the well-known Buddhist injunction to cherish all forms of life and not to harm them. Well, Greg was a very faithful Buddhist in that respect.
He would often shield his dogs from unkind individuals who were about to kick them or hurl sticks and stones at them. Greg was quite distressed by such behavior and he would not hesitate to take the matter up with the monks, which I imagine took quite some courage.
On my second visit, in February 2007, I asked Greg’s permission to accompany him on one of his regular early morning expeditions to gather fresh herbs for his steam baths. He agreed to take me with him and the next morning we set off, after first feeding his dogs and swinging by his house to collect his yellow hand-pulled trailer. At his house, a couple of cats came out to meet us – he was clearly their favourite person, too.
On the way to the fields on the outer perimeter of the monastery grounds, beyond the King’s statue that towers over the TKB plantation gardens, we chatted as we walked, Greg telling me about his experience of living and working at TKB, his views on the Buddhist philosophy of life and many other things. He was very easy to talk to and it felt good to be in his company.
We spent quite some time gathering herbs and grasses and loading them onto his trailer. When it was full, I thought we would be turning back to TKB’s central compound and Greg’s steam baths. I was wrong – we had another important errand to run.
We walked toward a bridge over a small stream that runs nearby. Greg told me that some young boys from the village next to the monastery amuse themselves by setting traps under the bridge, to catch wading birds that come there to feed. It was Greg’s self-appointed task to inspect the area under the bridge every morning, free any birds that were caught and destroy the traps.
That morning there were no birds captured under the bridge, only the traps, made quite simply but ingeniously from rows of sticks and some wire. We took them apart, then from the banks of the stream we gathered a few more armfuls of Morning Glory, Greg “dancing” around in the sloping, muddy bed of the stream to keep his balance and avoid his sandals getting stuck in the mud. Finally, job done, we set off to go back.
Just past the bridge, we came across one of the monks watering some plants with a hose. He helped Greg wash the mud off his feet. It was a simple and touching scene, which to me appeared full of Biblical significance. That did not feel in the least strange: after all, I had spent the morning in the company of “Saint Francis of Thamkrabok”!
There is much more to remember about Greg, not least his love of classical music. It was never difficult to think what to bring or send him as a present: a couple of CDs of some latest classical recordings would fit the bill perfectly. I was told that, for a joke, or maybe when annoyed, he would sometimes set up impromptu outdoor musical contests – CD player set up at top volume – against other, younger monks playing rather more contemporary music on their own audio equipment next door. I should think those who have ever visited Thamkrabok can easily imagine the din!
It was with great sadness that I learned of Greg’s sudden death last month. It is hard to think that, when I go to Thamkrabok again, he will not be there smiling his quiet, patient smile, blue eyes twinkling in his suntanned face, cigarette dangling from his fingers, a dog or two in attendance. But I accept that the sadness is more for myself and for others who loved him and who will not be meeting him again in this life. Greg does not need our pity. I like to imagine that, as a Buddhist, he is not very far from having reached his Nirvana already. To my Christian eyes, I believe he has had no difficulty in getting straight to heaven: think of all the dogs and birds that will have given testimony to his goodness and spoken for him before Saint Peter!
More seriously, I believe that Phra Greg died a happy and fulfilled man. As he told Mike Sarson, from his earliest youth and even throughout his seemingly hopeless down-and-out days as a drug addict, Greg had always had a vision – seen in vivid and recurring dreams – of a life he was really destined to live: as a monk in a forest, in some unspecified Eastern monastic tradition. When he came to do his detox at Thamkrabok, he realised he had come to the place he had seen in his vision. In becoming a monk there he had, quite literally, fulfilled his dream. He experienced the rare contentment of knowing that he had come home to the place where he belonged. That is no reason for sadness. On the contrary, it is reason for celebration.
But I will still miss him greatly. Good-bye, Saint Francis of Thamkrabok.
Rest in Peace, Phra Greg (Greg Jendrycha, 1955-2008)
Ania Cannon 28 June 2008
text and photographs (except first image): Copyright AMCannon 2008.
I met Phra Greg when I visited Thamkrabok in October 2005. I was impressed by his warmth, kindness and gentle humour. Greg was a pleasure to be with and a support to all around him, including the animals. He was nursing a stray dog back to health at the time of our visit, and his patient encouragement of her and pleasure in her progress were a joy to see.
Greg clearly loved Thamkrabok and had a great sense of having come home, joking happily about his final resting place in a ‘monk ball’ and saying that he would like a window painted on it so that he could look out.
I am sure he is at peace in his beloved monastery but he will be greatly missed by the patients, his fellow monks and by all who knew him. I have a real sense of personal loss at his passing.
Ann Burrows June 2008
What a shock it was to hear the sad news about Phra Greg and I am still struggling to absorb the fact that he is no longer a physical presence in Thamkrabok Monastery. When I think of Thamkrabok, his smiling face is one of the first images that comes to my mind.
Earlier this year my daughter was a patient at Thamkrabok and I accompanied her to the monastery in a confusion, I must say, of worry and fear. I had never been to Thailand before; neither had I been in a monastery and I was leaving my daughter in this completely unknown environment. At the end of a long, exhausting journey, Phra Greg was one of the first people I met on arrival at Thamkrabok and he was so completely reassuring, he made everything feel normal and safe. He warned me with such humour about the famous Lopburi monkeys. He told me about himself and about the monastery. He showed me the hall that was filled with monks seated on the floor and who were creating heart-stopping harmonies of beautiful chanting. His personal warmth and very natural presence in the monastery immediately transformed my worries into hopeful confidence and I knew that I was leaving my daughter in safe, caring hands until it was time for me to collect her for our journey home.
I will always remember this gentle man, his happy smile, his certain conviction of being in the right place. I know how much he did for the patients at Thamkrabok, people who went there at a time of intense vulnerability in their lives, desperate to escape their addictive demons. These people, including my daughter, were helped enormously by his kindness and by his belief in what he was doing. I will be eternally grateful to him for what he did for my daughter and I will always hold him in my heart with loving kindness.