by Mike R.
Some 10 years ago, I started to practice Buddhist meditation and study Buddhism in depth.
With 14 years sobriety and having gone through the steps 14 times, I felt I needed to be able to look at myself through a different lens. For me, this was the spiritual path that fit.
This is how my practice of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of Buddhism works with my practice of the 12 Steps:
The First and Second of the Noble Truths can be aligned with Step One.
Step One: We are powerless over _____ and our lives are unmanageable.
The First Noble Truth: Suffering
Human beings are subject to desires and cravings, but even when we are able to satisfy these desires, the satisfaction is only temporary. Pleasure does not last; or if it does, it becomes monotonous. Even when we are not suffering from outward causes like illness or bereavement, we are unfulfilled, unsatisfied. This is the truth of suffering.
The Second Noble Truth: The truth of the cause of suffering
The Buddha taught that the root of all suffering is desire, tanhā. This comes in three forms: greed and desire; ignorance or delusion; hatred and destructive urges.
In the First Noble Truth I can see how drinking worked for a time, how it eliminated my internal suffering (restless, irritable, discontent). In the Second Noble Truth I can see that suffering brings back the desire (obsession) to use or drink, so I can fix the malady; that delusion can be twofold: 1) I don’t have a problem and believe deeply that I don’t; 2) This substance is doing something to relieve the malady; and, of course, that Greed is the selfishness in me.
The Third Noble Truth can be seen within Step Two.
Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
The Third Noble Truth: Cessation of suffering
The Buddha taught that the way to extinguish desire, which causes suffering, is to liberate oneself from attachment. This is the third Noble Truth – the possibility of liberation.
To liberate oneself from attachment is to understand that lack of power is my dilemma and come to believe that on my own I am unable to relieve my addiction. So, there will need to be something greater than self.
The Fourth Noble Truth works with Step Three.
Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The Fourth Noble Truth: Path to the cessation of suffering
This is the Buddha’s prescription for the end of suffering: a set of principles called the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is also called the Middle Way: it avoids both indulgence and severe asceticism, neither of which the Buddha found helpful in his search for enlightenment.
The step says as we understood him, not as others understand him. Here I am going to find my truth. But I need to remember it’s not me. Also, the decision in this step is just to move forward to find my truth and to follow the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path
The eight stages are not to be taken in order, but rather support and reinforce each other:
- Right Understanding: Accepting Buddhist teachings. (The Buddha never intended his followers to believe his teachings blindly, but to practise them and judge for themselves whether they were true.)
- Right Intention: A commitment to cultivate the right attitudes.
- Right Speech: Speaking truthfully, avoiding slander, gossip and abusive speech.
- Right Action: Behaving peacefully and harmoniously; refraining from stealing, killing and overindulgence in sensual pleasure.
- Right Livelihood: Avoiding making a living in ways that cause harm, such as exploiting people or killing animals, or trading in intoxicants or weapons.
- Right Effort: Cultivating positive states of mind; freeing oneself from evil and unwholesome states and preventing them arising in future.
- Right Mindfulness: Developing awareness of the body, sensations, feelings and states of mind.
- Right Concentration: Developing the mental focus necessary for this awareness.
Steps Four, Five, Six and Seven are essential to get to the practice of the Eightfold Path. Steps Four and Five assist me in finding where I was wrong in all eight areas of my life. I no longer do a column inventory, but inventory by putting my life against the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Step Six is being willing to make the changes required for contented sobriety. Step Seven is being willing to let go of self, so these changes can take place.
I have to make the Step Eight list in order to be able to follow the path, and need to make my Step Nine amends because freedom is essential for my recovery.
Steps Ten and Eleven are strict disciplines and I must use them the way they were written. I am still human and make mistakes, and must rectify them promptly if I am to follow the path. At least morning and night I go to the mat for meditation and prayer. (In Tibetan the word OM or AUM is used to start and end prayer.) At night I also do daily review. Without meditation and daily review, I can return to the unconscious state where ego rebuilds, and it can take me out of the path I have chosen to follow.
This leads to the Twelfth Step. Carrying the message is essential to my sobriety, and the practice of the principles are the principles of the Eightfold Path. As for the spiritual awakening, there is a Zen saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” It tells me that no matter what, I must practice daily.