The Buddha Dharma for Fighting Addictions
- By Hin Lik of the Western Chan Fellowship
- Dec 29
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How appropriate the Buddha's message is to those of us with addictions - especially alcohol addictions! The Four Noble Truths explain our dilemma quite clearly and the fourth, the Eightfold Path, gives us the perfect map to help us out of our burning house. The eight "Right Actions" Buddha said are needed range from right intention to right meditation. These actions, or steps, can also be understood as a diagnosis, prescription, and cure, but for them to work we have to approach them with more than a passive attitude. We addictive types must practice as though our lives are on the line; if we don't, we descend back into hell - samsara -- for if we pick up a drink and put it to our lips we might as well just put a loaded gun to our head!
Usually we have choices in our lives. Many of them. But when we pick up a drink or use an addictive drug most choices are soon deigned to us. The addiction takes the driver's seat and we have no control anymore. We fear we may never be able to stop again ... or worse.
However, if instead we choose a higher power for our guide and inspiration and use it as a base, we can replace our self-destructive samsaric life with a power far greater than our fabricated, ego-dominated, self-conception. The most wonderful thing of all is when we discover that this higher power is within us, that it's ours, and that we all share it equally without any distinction at all. It's always accessible to us if we choose it. We all have a Buddha Nature, and if we access this part of ourselves we can find a new way of being that does not need booze or drugs to escape from.
If you do not struggle with addictions you may not grasp what I am trying to say easily, but if you do, you might easily start to identify with the language we use and also the way that we go about managing our affliction.
When we cease to use the fuel of our addiction there must be something healthy for us to replace it with. We use the Dharma -- Spiritual Law. The Dharma can provide us with the tools we need to handle difficult situations & emotions and fill us anew with the joy of living, a life detached from our cravings. To stop following suicidal urges, for some, will be a hard path, but the rewards are deeply gratifying. We replace the craving for something that is bad for us with something that is good. Wholesome states of mind can easily become addictive for us as well -- the "lotus" begins to bloom as we transform old destructive patterns into new constructive, and ultimately more pleasurable, ones. The Buddha's practice of "Metta" was the one that I personally used at first so I could start to like myself again as I started to achieve sobriety. Usually when helping addicts I have to direct them to love themselves again in a way that only they can do for themselves with a little encouragement.
The danger for those of us with addictions is taking the method as "The Answer" to the extent that we become religious zealots. We must recognize that the Buddha's teachings are only tools for us to use, and once the tools have served their purpose we can leave them behind, offering them to someone else in need. We use the tools to know what we cannot know with our minds, after all, what is there to know when mind is dropped? Chan meditation is not an intellectual affair, only the understanding of it is, and even then, understanding comes as much from the heart as from the mind. A Chan teacher's first course of action with a new student is to help him or her tear down attachments to things. The methods will differ greatly from student to student depending on the kind and severity of the specific attachments.
Taking booze and drugs are usually only avoidance techniques to get away from difficult emotions, but when we practice deeply we are often overwhelmed by these emotions. Yet if we detach from them, simply watching them come and go however strong their grip is on us, then we can see them for what they really are.
The problem with "using or boozing" is that when we stop, the illness returns to fester quietly inside us. It's rather like holding a cork under water, and it's often just waiting to pop up again and again in a new time, a new place, with a slightly different manifestation.
Using the Twelve Step Program: The Twelve Step Program begins by admitting that we are powerless over our cravings and addictions: the Buddha called this Tanha a craving that can never be satisfied. Then we come to realize that the ego is not able to control this intense craving, but that only by letting go of our perception of our self can we experience a state that is greater. Next, it directs us to give ourselves over completely to this better way of experiencing life, asking that most important transcendental question: "Who am I?" Next, we make a fearless assessment of our self and admit it unreservedly to our self and to another person. This means our entire inventory is given face-to-face with them, leaving nothing unsaid. Full disclosure and honesty are essential. From this we start to surrender all we hold dear, all things that have caused our suffering; especially our habitual reactions and desires. Next, we have to work to put right some of the damage we have done to others in a caring, sensitive, way.
Partially and temporarily cleared from a lifetime of Samsaric habits, we are, if we have been thorough and "cleaned up" well enough, ready to start meditation. This part can be quite frightening to many alcoholics. However as stated before, we must now move forward into a spiritual "head space" or we may backslide and head for a new disaster. Falling backwards from here is likely to be worse than our last backsliding so we can't let it happen. When we are thorough with the process we achieve a breakthrough. I have seen many people experience these breakthroughs to varying degrees depending on the effort they put into the program.
Then lastly, having had a spiritual awakening as a result of this program (and some good meditation!), we can carry this message to another -- one still back on the far shore waiting to be rescued. For only once we experience directly our True Nature -- our True Self -- can we begin to point others toward it. As we shed the rules of the program from ourselves we must pass them on to the next person in need.
And it's all done through the healing power of the Dharma!