The Third Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” The principle behind this step is Surrender. The 3rd Step and is also closely related to the Three Jewels of Buddhism.
Step Three and Surrender
In Step Two, we open ourselves up to a bit of hope and faith. In the third step, we surrender our lives to something greater than ourselves. The Oxford English Dictionary defines surrender as to “cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.” In this sense, we are ceasing to resist running our lives, and submitting to the authority of a power greater than ourselves. Where we previously resisted and turned away from any sense of a Higher Power, we submit to its authority.
It is important at this step to investigate what the term “power greater than ourselves” means to us. For those of us that enter the program with a religious background, it may be a good idea to use our previous concept of a Higher Power. However, most of us do not enter the program with an existing Higher Power. If we are agnostic, we may investigate the power of the twelve-step rooms or of our sponsor. We recognize the rooms hold more power than we do ourselves, as we were not previously able to stay sober alone. For those of us that enter atheistic, we may find trouble with this step. However, this does not mean we must shy away from this step at all. For example, as a Buddhist myself, I use the Dharma as my Higher Power. It is not a greater person nor a sentient being. Rather, the Dharma is a Higher Truth. Merriam Webster defines the word God as “the supreme or ultimate reality,” which the Dharma absolutely is for me. I, daily, turn my will and my life over to the practices that the Dharma lay out for me.
When we turn our will and our lives over, we are submitting to something greater than ourselves. Whether it is Jesus Christ, the universe, a Twelve-Step room, or a set of atheistic teachings, we must surrender completely. To do so, this decision must be made at once, and fulfilled in our everyday life. We must give up running the show ourselves, and allow our thoughts and actions to be run by something greater.
In the Third Step we surrender to a power greater than ourselves. One might say we “take refuge.” In Buddhism, we surrender to the Three Jewels. This is called taking refuge. The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. As we surrender and turn our wills and our lives over to a Higher Power in Step Three, we turn to the Three Jewels for refuge in Buddhism.
The first of the Three Jewels is the Buddha. This jewel is not the worshiping of a supreme being. Rather, it is the recognition of our own Buddha-seed within. The Buddha taught that we all have the ability to attain enlightenment. Taking refuge in the Buddha means aligning our actions with those of our own Buddha-nature. Taking refuge in the Buddha also means we surrender to our loving Buddha-nature, and let it run our lives.
The second of the Three Jewels is the Dharma. The Dharma is the collection of teachings that the Buddha laid out. Generally, the word “dharma” is translated as “path.” However, the word is more appropriately translated to the “way.” The Dharma is not a path that leads somewhere specific, but a way of life that is to be followed. The Dharma teaches us about the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, compassion, mindfulness, and much more. Taking refuge in the Dharma is taking refuge in a set of teachings that has been proven to lead to awakening. We surrender to the teachings, letting our thoughts and actions fall in line with this greater truth.
The final of the Three Jewels is the Sangha. The Sangha is essentially the community of practitioners. Just as in twelve-step meetings we speak of the power of one addict or alcoholic talking to another, there is power in two ore more people coming together to discuss meditation, the teachings, the Buddha, etc. Taking refuge in the Sangha, we engage in our community and fellows and embrace the power of a group.
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is the same principle as surrendering to a Higher Power in the Third Step. We turn our will and our lives over to something greater. We cease resisting our own Buddha-nature, the teachings, and the community. We begin to embrace them, and let our actions and thoughts be guided.