The Way Out of Suffering
Buddhism is one of the major world religions.
At the same time, there are many followers who do not view it as a religion at all – there are even people who would describe themselves as atheist Buddhists. The aim of the teachings is to show people how to escape suffering. Those who have dealt with a serious addiction will already know plenty about how uncomfortable life can become. It is not necessary to become a Buddhist in order to benefit from the teachings of the Buddha. This philosophy does provide some interesting ideas for why people become addicted in the first place and how they can escape this misery. Buddhist practices such as mindfulness meditation can be of great value to people who are trying to build a life in sobriety.
Origins of Buddhism
Buddhism originated in India around 500 BCE. It is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who after his enlightenment became known by the title of the Buddha – the awakened one. Many and perhaps most Buddhists do not consider the Buddha to have been a god. The teachings can be followed as a philosophy or a religion. Since his death there have developed many different types of Buddhism. These differ in the way that they interpret different aspects of the original teachings, and they are also influenced by the culture in which they developed. There are believed to be around 500 million followers of Buddhism in the world today.
Teachings of Buddhism
The key teachings of Buddhism are the four noble truths and the Eightfold Path. The four noble truths offer a diagnosis and a remedy for the problems of life and include:
- There is suffering. This is sometimes taken to mean that all life is suffering, but this is not what is meant. What is being referred to here is the idea that true and lasting happiness cannot be found in life because of the nature of reality.
- Suffering is caused by craving/ attachment.
- It is possible to overcome suffering.
- The way to overcome suffering is to follow the eightfold path.
The Eightfold Path consists of:
- Right view means understanding the 4 noble truths.
- Right intention means having the motivation to escape suffering.
- Right action involves not doing things that will harm other sentient beings.
- Right speech refers to not hurting other people with words – it includes gossiping or malicious talk.
- Right livelihood means not having a job that causes harm to other sentient beings.
- Right concentration involves developing enough focus in the mind to be able to understand the mental processes better.
- Right mindfulness means being able to observe thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
- Right effort involves putting enough energy into the Eightfold Path to produce results.
Most individuals will have no problem agreeing that their life is not quite right. The Buddha revealed that the reason for discomfort is the three characteristics of reality which are:
- Impermanence means that things are always changing. Humans can find change threatening, but it is unavoidable.
- Non-self is the idea that humans do not exist in the way they think they do. The Buddha invited people to really examine themselves to see if they could find something that could be called a self. For example, if thoughts were part of self then the individual would be able to fully control them.
- Suffering is another characteristic of existence and it occurs because of impermanence and the reality of non-self.
The Buddha did not want people to just accept his teachings without evidence. He invited everyone to do some investigation to see if they could see the truth in his words. In the Kalama Sutta the Buddha warned people not believe in things because:
- It is traditional to believe in it
- The information has been spoken by respectable people
- They respect the teacher
- They have heard the claim repeatedly
- Because it is written in scripture
- Because the information is provided by an expert
- Because of the individual’s own personal biases
- If it involves suppositional reasoning; it involves too many supposes.
- It is news or rumour
It is only when the individual personally knows something to be true that they should accept it.
Buddhism and Addiction
The Buddha identified craving and attachment as the main cause of suffering. Addiction can be described as a severe type of attachment. The driving force behind it is the human desire to avoid pain and experience pleasure. If people are able to overcome their attachment then this will allow them beat their addiction. This means that for followers the Buddha the core of the teachings offer a path away from alcohol or drug abuse.
How the Buddhist Teachings can Help Addicts
The teachings of Buddhism can be of value to addicts in a number of ways:
- Buddhism offers an explanation for why people become addicted in the first place. This description does not suggest that the individual is a bad person. They are merely deluded, just as are most other humans. Addicts can spend a great deal of time wondering about the source of their affection and this philosophy offers a good explanation.
- These teachings do more than just describe the causes of addiction. More importantly, it also offers a path away from the abuse.
- Mindfulness meditation can be great technique for helping people gain a better understanding of their inner landscape. The driving force behind addiction exists in the deluded mind and by becoming mindful the individual will become less of a slave to these forces.
- Insight meditation is a path to fully understanding the human condition. Many addicts are troubled by questions about the meaning of life. Insight meditation may provide answers to these questions.
- Addicts can be full of anger and resentment. If they are unable to let go of these negative emotions it can prevent them from making progress in sobriety. It also increases the likelihood that they will relapse. Loving kindness meditation can help the individual overcome their anger and let go of the past.
- The eightfold path can be used as a program of recovery. It will help the individual build a good life away for addiction.
- Addicts are usually people who are self-absorbed; the only person that they seem to care about is themselves. Buddhist offers a path away from this obsession with selfhood.
Buddhism and the 12 Steps
There is nothing to stop the individual combining Buddhism with the 12 Steps; the two are quite compatible. One of the reasons for why the 12 Steps have become so popular is that they are non-denominational; this means that people from all backgrounds can follow them. There are many similarities between the 12 Steps and the Eightfold Path including:
- Both of these approaches agree that denial of reality is a problem.
- They also agree that the answer to addiction is not self-will.
- Both philosophies promote the idea of letting go.
- These two paths mention meditation as an important element of a spiritual life.
- Both agree that obsession with self is a bad thing.