There is some debate as to what to define addiction as. Is it a disease, or a disorder? It certainly is an Mental Health condition, but that does not mean that it is a disease the way the A.A. describe it. Although it is a disorder as defined by mental health organisations; It is not, however, like Parkinsons Disease which is an incurable progressively degenerative disorder. Addiction is not a permanent condition it can be managed and overcome through developing more effective coping strategies, developing other avenues for finding pleasure, and seeing the harm it actually does.
Lack Of Personal Responsibility
In Chapter three of A.A.'s "The Story of How Many Thousands Of Men And Women Have Recovered From Alcoholism" 4th ed. it is written "We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control." This sentiment is throughout the A.A. philosophy, and is found within the steps themselves. This is a defeatist attitude that does not seek to end and start afresh, or to move on from past mistakes fully. It is no more than attaching to those mistakes and anchoring them in our consciousness. For recovery from addiction to take place there needs to be a moving away from the addictive mindset, into a new mindset that does not turn to the first option of the addictive substance.
Within Buddhism there are several Deities, not all of them are going to be inclined, or able, to be helpful. One of the most famous Deities is Mara, who wants to control, fool, or trick people, akin to a dictator. and there are even practices which commentary literature suggest were used to appease tree spirits (metta for one instance). However at no point in the early texts did the Buddha indicate that any being other than oneself could do the work for us, on the contrary, it is only us that can do the work, others simply point the way.1
How I View Addiction
People can and should overcome their addictions, although not every method is right for them. Some may be better suited to complete abstinence while others will be able to reintegrate non-illegal substance into their lives. Although a practicing Buddhist or someone who practices the five precepts found within Buddhism, abstinence will be encouraged by the third Precept.
Recovery from addiction should be holistic incorporating both internal and external reform of the person. Building coping mechanisms, developing new interests, and social connections to name a few of the areas that need to be looked at.
12 Steps With A Buddhist Twist
If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it - then you are ready to take certain steps.
This reminds me of the progress people take when going from the Home too Homeless life, in particular the story of the "Great Renunciation of Siddhārtha Gautama".
All of his life Siddhārtha's father had hidden sickness, old-age, death and ascetics from him, keeping him pampered and entertained in a palaces. When Siddhārtha had turned 29, and after many requests, His Father agreed to allow him outside into the City to see the people he would one day rule.After much preparation Prince Siddhārtha was led on chariot by his rider Channa through the cities streets where he happened to see a Old man. Siddhartha asked Channa to stop the chariot and asked what that was? Channa replied that it was an old man 'bowed down by years.' Channa was further quizzed if this happened to everyone? to which Channa replied 'Time lets no man escape old age. He was once a young man and full of energy as yourself.'
When Siddhartha returned home full of troubled thoughts, he arranged another excursion with Channa for the following day. This time they saw a sick man. Again the prince asked if anyone could become ill? When Channa replied "yes", they returned home full of doubt.
A third time they went out and came upon a funeral procession. The body laid out still and lifeless with mourners crying. Channa told the prince that "Death is the end of life. But there is nothing strange about it, for everyone who is born must sooner or later die."
A fourth time Siddhartha arranged for Channa to take him out into the city and this time he saw a man with a shaven head, dressed rags,with a calm and peaceful expression on his face. Prince Siddhartha was confused by this man and asked "who it was? Can it be a god standing there, so serene and happy? To this Channa responded 'He is a wandering monk. one who no home, but shelters in caves and woods, and beg for food. He tries to be pure-hearted and seeks the truth of life."
After returning home this fourth time Prince Siddhartha made an escape plan to leave the palace and find the true source of happiness.
This story reminds us that realising what to do can come in stages, things can go from bad to worse (as depicted with the symbolism of the old man, sick man, and dead body.) We see a problem, but not escape, do fall back on what we know, even if it doesn't work. Then one day we gain some clarity (symbolised by the ascetic in the story) and know the rough direction to go to get help.
This is a stage of suffering and realisation, maybe not fully acknowledging, or understanding all the dimensions. But these are certainly present.
This stage is, to some degree, a taking refuge in the Buddha, a taking refuge in the Prince who went on a search by taking a chance at a different way of life. And to a certain degree following in the Buddha's footsteps.
A possible rewording of this step may be "Seeing the downside to of living heedlessly, and the positive effects of living skillfully I am ready to make changes to make this possible, and a reality.".
We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable
We need to have a firm resolve in spiritual endeavors, and the same is true with overcoming addiction. We need to keep trying and applying effort to what we do.
This step is looking at suffering directly - The first Noble Truth - Understanding that "there is suffering," yet life need not be controlled by it. This step is fully taking refuge in The Buddha. The Buddha as an embodiment of how life can be, just as the recluse in the story of the Buddha's renunciation was an embodiment of how life could be for him.
A possible rewording of this step may be "I admit my life with addiction had become unmanageable, I will regain full control."
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Part of the Buddhist understanding of Kamma is that, "past acts may bring about the present moment, however, it is our actions in the present that determines how we experience it."3 This understanding of Kamma (action) means we don't just accept the moment for how bad it may seem, rather we act in ways which undermine our previous habits, and don't just go with our impulses.
This takes understanding of what the origination for our pain is - the Second Noble Truth. What were we craving that led to the addiction? Or in other words "What was the root of the problem?"
This step is also a taking of refuge in the Dhamma (reality). Dhamma can mean the teaching, but here it is simply about seeing how things are, or have been for us.
Another aspect here is having admirable friends, a trustworthy counsellor. Someone whom we can talk to and explore the issues with, as well as seek advice from. In this regard this step also has an aspect of taking refuge in the Sangha.
A possible rewording of this step may be "Came to believe we have the power to change, and with the assistance of friends acted to bring it about."
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
This Step is a Refuge step, it is a taking refuge in a community of like minded people, The Sangha. Particularly those who have more experience of (in this case) abstinence than ourselves. This is the first that directly points toward counselling and a social network directly, although it is present in the second step.
The Buddha said that "Admirable friends are the whole of the holy life."4 This is because true friends help ensure we are not going off track, or are staying on the path. It is to be expected that none of our friends will fully live up to our expectations of what a perfect being is, and in this we can look to the Buddha, taking refuge in the Fully Enlightened One as an example of a fully skilful person.
This step also has aspects of the third Noble Truth within it, a letting go of our bad habits and a developing of new skillful habits based on how we want to live, rather that how we can feed a habit.
A possible rewording of this step may be "Made a decision to trust our admirable friends, and take heed of their advice in our efforts."
God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
This step Brings the Noble eightfold path into the steps, Particularly as described in Mahā-cattārīsaka sutta - The Discourse on the Great Forty - MN 117.5 Within this Sutta (text) is describes three components of the path that are pivotal to success in following the whole of the path. That is Upright Understanding, Upright Effort, and Upright Mindfulness. These are pivotal because they not only support each other, but also every other aspect of the path as well.
Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
There are several examples in the Suttas, and detailed discussion of confession in the Vinaya. Within this context confession is not an absolution of sins, but a recognition of faults, with a determination to improve in these areas, and in some cases a "punishment" is required to humble oneself. In short the confession is only the halfway point, there is still work to do. A punishment maybe anything from having to give up an item, too losing one's rank and going back to the beginning within the community for a period.
A possible rewording of this step may be "Came to terms with my past, and confided in a trusted companion the exact moral nature of our past."
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
Self-transformation is not a easy or quick undertaking. It can be a long process depending upon how strongly engrained the habits are. Previously there has been a counselling and confessional aspect to some of the steps and this is essentially the end of the theory work (Pariyatti) and putting it into practice (Patipatti), so that a full recovery can be made (Pativeda).6 Here, one could say, there is a recognition of self-confidence.
A possible rewording of this step may be "We have become ready to work at transforming ourselves."
Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
A possible rewording of this step maybe "With the assistance of others, we transform unskillful mind states and cultivate positive ones."
My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good & bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you & my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here to do Your bidding.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
Just because we have done work on ourselves, this can be done selfishly. Here the point is to look at those who were involved and affected by us in the same way as in step four.
A possible rewording of this step may be "Made a list of all those we had harmed."
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Just because we have done work on ourselves, our personal interactions in the past have affected others. Here we are pulling the resources we have learned in steps five and six, based on our work in step four, and attempted to appropriately make amends to those we have wronged, or upset in some way.
But this step should not end in only seeking forgiveness. Rather it should incorporate finding forgiveness within ourselves for those who have negatively affected us.
A possible rewording of this step may be "Made direct amends to those affected by us wherever possible, except when to do so would cause injury. And consciously forgave those who have negatively affected us."
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
At this step we use basic guidelines for our actions, be it the five precepts, or ten wholesome actions (the later does not include abstaining from intoxicants). This way we can easily check and reflect on our actions before, during, and after.
A possible rewording of this step may be "Continued to check our actions and intentions, and when we acted unskillfully admitted it."
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out
This is both the practice of mindfulness of mental qualities, the fourth satipatthana. And mindfulness of mental states the third satipatthana.
A possible rewording of this step may be "Engaged through the practice of meditation to improve our mind. Using affirmations, and reflective reading as a means to cultivate skillful states of mind."
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
With this step we no longer have to rely on supports to stay sober as the addictive impulses are no longer there, and we can help those who are seeking help.
This step can be seen as becoming part of the Noble Sangha in regard to this practice.
A possible rewording of this step maybe "Having gained insight as a result of these steps, we practice these principles automatically, and are an example, and offerer, of this message to others in need of recovery."
Proposed Alternative Wording To The Steps
make this possible, and a reality.
1 - I admit my life with addiction had become unmanageable, I will regain full control.
2 - Came to believe we have the power to change, and with the assistance of friends acted to bring it about.
3 - Made a decision to trust our admirable friends, and take heed of their advice in our efforts.
4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5 - Came to terms with my past, and confided in a trusted companion the exact moral nature of our past.
6 - We have become ready to work at transforming ourselves.
7 - With the assistance of others, we transform unskillful mind states and cultivate positive ones.
8 - Made a list of all those we had harmed.
9 - Made direct amends to those affected by us wherever possible, except when to do so would cause injury. And
consciously forgave those who have negatively affected us.
10 - Continued to check our actions and intentions, and when we acted unskillfully admitted it.
11 - Engaged through the practice of meditation to improve our mind. Using affirmations, and reflective reading as a means
to cultivate skillful states of mind.
12 - Having gained insight as a result of these steps, we practice these principles automatically, and are an example, and
offerer, of this message to others in need of recovery.
Other Relevant Prayers
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
More On Prayer
Other than chanting and meditating on a topic, there is no exact match for prayer (as in a beseech to a higher being as A.A. uses it). However, apart from chanting and meditation on a topic Tibetan Buddhists in particular use slogans. Some such slogans can be seen within the "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life" by Shantideva, or "Mind Training in Seven Points" By Geshe Chekawa. The use of slogans is as a reminder.
Another similar tool found generally within Buddhism is the repetition of (what I will call here) affirmations. A single line (like that of the slogans) of a text repeated to instill it in one's mind. This is subconscious reflection rather than a tool for remembering what we are doing with the practice.
Other Relevant Items
The 12 traditions grew out of the Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) movement and outline the means by which A.A. maintains its unity and relates itself to the world around it. For a more complete explanation of these traditions, please see the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions from the Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
The promises are from pages 83-84 of the Big Book.
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through . . .
- We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
- We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
- We will comprehend the word serenity.
- We will know peace.
- No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
- That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
- We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
- Self-seeking will slip away.
- Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
- Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
- We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
- We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
From A.A. Agnostics
- Stop – Pause for a moment and consider what you are doing;
- Observe – Think about what you are sensing, feeling and experiencing, and what events led to the situation;
- Breathe – Pause for a few deep breaths in order to assess your situation in as calm a manner as possible;
- Expand – Expand your awareness and remind yourself of what will happen if you keep repeating the unwanted behavior (and how you will feel afterward);
- Respond mindfully – Remember that you have a choice, that you are not required to continue the undesired behaviour.
A site dedicated to Buddhists who follow the 12 steps.
A site that looks at the links of the 12 Steps of A.A. to other traditions.
5th Precept Sangha
The Fifth Precept Sangha (Fellowship) exists to promote a wholly Buddhist approach to recovery from alcohol and other drug addictions. Not a 12 Step group
Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)A novel treatment approach developed at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, for individuals in recovery from addictive behaviors.
Those meditative ones who have entered the path are released from Maras grip."
2 Buddhist Step Study
3 MN 101 Devadaha Sutta
4 SN 45.2 Upaddha Sutta
5 I set this as an alternative for the last prayer as this is an important sutta, and relevant for practical application.
6 I have used these commentary terms to signify the stages here. They are used loosely and the translation is not exact
to the meaning of the word, but rather the context they are in I believe they fit adequately.
From Wikipedia “In Theravada Buddhism pariyatti is the learning of the theory of buddhadharma as contained within
the suttas of the Pali canon. It is contrasted with patipatti which means to put the theory into practice and pativedha
which means penetrating it or rather experientially realising the truth of it.”
If you are an trying to live a sober life free from addiction please consult your Medical Professional for referral and treatment.