I was born into a poor family in the early 1970s. It was a difficult childhood due to poverty. My parents both worked long hours but finding enough food to feed me and my three siblings was a daily challenge.
When I turned 16 I started using drugs and soon became addicted. My parents were tortured with worry and my father became sick and frail as a result. Before long I became a full-time criminal. Crime was such a natural part of my life that there’s no way I could recount all my misdeeds.
In 1990 I was jailed for a year for robbery and assault. When I was released I continued to live a lawless life, stealing, fighting, and taking drugs. My ill father beseeched me to come home, and when I visited him he was on his deathbed. His last words were a plea to me to be responsible for my sister. This broke my heart and I burst into tears.
Even though I wanted to fulfill my father’s last wish and turn my life around, I didn’t know how. To avoid the pain and sadness in my heart I fell deeper into drug use. In 1993 I was sentenced to 30 months in prison for attacking and robbing the wife of a local police officer.
A Criminal Empire
My family’s situation was very bad. My sister lived in poverty, selling rice and corn to try and get by. I was imprisoned for another three years for selling drugs. When I was released in 1996 I hatched a plan to steal motorcycles. I spent the next five years in and out of prison for dealing drugs and theft. In 2001, I returned to my hometown and opened a pawn shop where I collected high-interest debt. I made my money from the blood and tears of those who were suffering the most.
I had a large house where my crew of enforcers would gather for criminal activities. We controlled gambling rings and collected debts. Everyone feared us. My money went toward indulging in pleasure. At night we would take methamphetamines and drink alcohol, and use ecstasy in the pubs and karaoke bars.
The only good thing I did at that time was to buy my sister a plot of land so she could use it to make a living.
A Desire to Become a Good Person
I knew that drugs were ruining society and even though I earned a lot of money by selling them, it was dirty money and would not last. I began to feel exhausted by my lifestyle and I was no longer interested in pursuing my vices.
One day, I told my family that I needed to find a quiet place to calm my mind. It was as if the voice of God was whispering to me. When I was a child, even though I was very stubborn and got into lots of trouble, I still believed in the existence of God.
There were many times in my life where I should have died. Some drug users die after a single overdose but I used so much and still stayed alive. Deep in my heart I was searching for something that I could not name. Only when I sat down and wrote out my thoughts did I realize that I truly craved truth and loyalty.
I was still involved in criminal activities but I also traveled to many places in search of a good master to follow. I gave the money I earned through crime to orphanages and monasteries. I knew I had to sacrifice if I was to find a way to a righteous path. Although I was still making money through dishonest means, I stopped selling drugs and being involved in prostitution. The police laughed because I caused them less trouble now.
There was a voice deep inside urgently calling me.
An Unexpected Family
One night, when I was still taking drugs, I forgot to lock the door. When I awoke there was a woman curled up in a blanket on the floor in the corner of the kitchen. She looked very young, and she was pregnant. She told me the child was mine. It could have been. I’d had so many one-night stands that I couldn’t remember. Suddenly I had a family to take care of. Fate and responsibility had a grip on me now.
From then on we lived as a family, cooking, shopping, taking care of the baby. All of it was my responsibility. At times I was enraged and wanted to escape.
One day the woman told me the truth. The child wasn’t mine. She had come to me in order to make money to help her sick father. She was forced into prostitution and became pregnant. I was touched and asked her not to return to her old ways. I told her she could open a flower shop in the front of my pawn shop so she could make some money. However, my family refused to accept this and eventually she decided to leave.
Shortly afterward, another woman came to me and told me I was the father of her child. I had a DNA test done and knew that it wasn’t mine. I didn’t ask her to leave and also told her she could open a flower shop. But she eventually returned to the street where she again fell into prostitution and drugs.
An Urge to Live a Spiritual Life
I decided to leave and backpack around the country in search of a place to settle my spirit. I visited some major monasteries but I realized they were not the place for me. Even in the monasteries I found that the senior monks did not behave in a moral way.
I was so disappointed that I returned home and fell even more seriously into drugs. Around that time I saw a mysterious blue book at a friends house. I read a couple of pages and put it back on the shelf. The book was called Zhuan Falun. Years later, this book would change my life.
I went to rehab many times to rid myself of drug addiction but each time I ended up relapsing. Things were always the same. I decided I needed to make clean money and no longer take part in criminal activities. I contacted my debtors and returned their money. I forgave all of their debts and simply asked that they stopped dealing in drugs and prostitution.
My resolve to live a spiritual life was growing. After another unsuccessful stint in rehab I decided to go to Huong Pagoda, a huge complex of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the mountains, to worship Buddha. While there I visited the local monk and decided to stay, preparing to take the holy orders.
A Chance Encounter
One day at the Pagoda I saw a man reading a book that was somehow familiar to me. I asked him about it and he showed me a picture of the author, Mr. Li Hongzhi, a young and kind looking man. I can’t explain what I felt looking at that photo but I couldn’t avert my eyes. The book was Zhuan Falun, the same one I had seen years earlier.
I begged the man, whose name was Mr. San, to sell me the book but he just smiled. I persisted and he said, “ If you really want it, I will give it to you.” He gave me his phone number and told me to treasure the book, which I later learned contained the main teachings of Falun Dafa, a traditional Chinese spiritual practice handed down from ancient times.
I packed my things and happily left the monastery. I felt as if my feet were being propelled along. I saw the birds gathering and singing at the spot where I once meditated. I held the book tightly. I just knew it would give me a new life. I caught the bus back to the airport.
My New Path Begins
I began reading Zhuan Falun at the airport. Each word brightened my soul. When I slept that night something very strange happened. I couldn’t tell if I was asleep or awake. I felt as if someone was gently stroking my hair and my body became lighter and lighter.
The next morning I woke up late and my body was covered with a foul-smelling, sticky film. I was in the bathroom all day and many nasty things came out of my body. It felt as if I was being cleansed from the inside.
When I returned to my family I asked them to practice Falun Dafa with me. Last time I sold everything and left town without telling anyone so they were very distrustful of my intentions. They thought that drugs were controlling my mind. They thought I was crazy as they couldn’t understand my behaviour or my change of heart. Out of depression I again turned to drugs. My addictions continued to control me. Often I would use drugs and cry at the same time.
One day I held Zhuan Falun in my hands and said “ Please, Master Li, help me. I want to start again.” To prove my determination I decided to fast for seven days. On day four, Mr. San called to see how I was doing. He advised me to read the recent teachings of Mr. Li Hongzhi. I began to read them and the more I read the more I understood. I realized that I had to be extremely serious and diligent if I wanted to be a genuine Falun Dafa practitioner. For the next month, despite a strong craving for drugs, I read Zhuan Falun every day and managed to stay clean.
After three months Mr. San took me to the park to do the Falun Dafa exercises with other Falun Dafa adherents. I decided to give up my debt collection business as I knew the money wasn’t clean. I even thought about collecting bottles and cans to support myself, just so I could live an upright life. I would travel long distances each day to join the Falun Dafa group at the practice site.
Every day I read the books and practiced the five exercises, four in a standing position and a meditation in the seated, lotus position. I felt very energetic, and by this time I knew I had finally conquered my addiction to drugs. In my 40 years of life, I had spent 18 years in prison and detox centres. Many diseases had plagued me, including hepatitis C, insomnia, and depression. Thanks to Falun Dafa all of them have been cleared up. I have a brand new life and a second chance. Now people compliment me on my healthy complexion and my honest spirit.
Today I drive a car that I bought with my own honestly earned money. Even though I have such a depraved past I feel I can move forward without shame. My spirit is calm. I can sit on a rock, listen to the sounds of nature, and find myself completely at peace.
I am now living a happy and meaningful life and following a true spiritual path. I tried everything to free myself from drugs and a life of crime but in the end only Falun Dafa could lift me out of the mire and save me. I am eternally grateful and my wish is that more people will come to learn and benefit from this truly powerful practice.
Phạm Bá Long resides in Bình Dương Province in Vietnam.
Falun Dafa is a cultivation practice of mind and body that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as a way to improve health and moral character and attain spiritual wisdom.
For more information about the practice, visit www.falundafa.org. All books, exercise music, resources, and instructions are available free of charge.