Tibetan Buddhists massage Govindammal, 80, with a traditional method to ease her trauma at a relief center in Nagapattinam, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Friday, Jan. 7, 2005. Her son and neice are missing since the Dec. 26 tsunami. (AP Photo/Gautam Singh)
NAGAPATTINAM, India - Tibetan refugees arrived in this town which bore the brunt of last week's killer tsunamis to counsel and treat displaced villagers, saying they "owed" it to India.
However in a bizarre twist, the Buddhist monks have been trained by controversial US-based Scientologists in a technique called "Assist" which talks people out of focusing on a particular event.
Villagers housed at relief camps here seem unaware of the unusual combination that brought the monks in to talk to them through a translator and to apply massage to ease their pains.
The Buddhists massaged the hands, neck, heads and legs patients suffering from injuries.
Dawa Dhondup, the head of a 15-member team doing the rounds in the worst-hit Nagapattinam district where 6,035 people died when a gigantic wall of water came crashing down on December 26, said the technique was meant to help fight trauma.
"At the moment people are thinking too much about the disaster and their dead relatives," Dhondup, told AFP. "When you touch these people at various points of their body you can take their thoughts away from the disaster.
"It will also help us to know whether their body is in good shape," said the Tibetan monk, dressed in maroon robes and wearing a green mouth and nose mask.
Eighty-five year old Indian tsunami survivor Yentapani (left) is treated by a Tibetan monk at a relief camp in Nagapatinnam, southern India(AFP/Sebastian D'Souza)
Dhondup said he and other Tibetans staying in India were thanking God for giving them an opportunity to help the tsunami-hit villagers.
"I've been staying in India since 1959," Dhondup said. "We owe it to India. The Indians have given us a temporary home. I know we are a little late as it is more than 10 days after the disaster but another 200 Tibetans will soon join us.
"When the disaster struck we conducted prayers in all our monasteries," he added.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and his followers fled Tibet to India in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Dhondup and his colleagues live in the neighbouring state of Karnataka at the largest Tibetan settlement in India.
J. Jayarami, a 15-year-old girl who was treated by the Tibetan monks, said she felt immediate relief.
"They told me to close my eyes and concentrate. Then they kept on asking me if I feel any pain when they touch me. It was a different experience from other doctors," she said.
Agnes Barton, a "missionary" with the Church of Scientology, has been training volunteers in the Assist programme at Mysore, Karnataka.
"The aim is to enable the villagers to bear the trauma and move on. The techniques of communication and touch has to be repeated many times. Basically, it is designed for the individual to get back on his feet," Barton said.
"As of now there are 60 volunteers, including the Tibetans, working on the programme in the affected villages. Another 100 more will join us soon," she said.
The Scientology website says over 200 of the group's "volunteer ministers" are helping in tsunami-hit countries.
However, language is proving a problem in Tamil Nadu with a dearth of Tamil translators.
"The Tibetans feel very strongly about the disaster. They are stateless people and they do not have a nationality. India was kind to them and they are more than happy to give it back," she said.
The Assist technique is described by the group as "strictly and entirely in the field of the spirit."
Scientology, which boasts followers among such high-profile Hollywood stars as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, is based on the writings of late US science fiction writer Lafayette Ron Hubbard.
Germany has accused the group of masquerading as a religion to make money. France and Greece also consider it to be a sect.