Archive for the The Four Noble Truths Category
The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” The principle behind this first step is honesty. Step One also is closely related to Right View in Buddhism.
The first step is a simple (not easy) declaration of our complete defeat. Looking out our addiction, we see that our behavior has centered around our addiction. The first part of Step One, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol,” is a look at the nature of our using. Powerless is a strong word, and frightens many of us. However, when we look at the way we use, powerless is indeed a fitting word. When we drink and use, we lose all control and power. Taking the first drink, pill, hit, etc., we immediately succumb to our own powerlessness, and give in to the power of the substance.
We also experience powerlessness with the mental obsession we have. Even before we take the first drink, we are in constant thought of alcohol. Our lives are centered around alcohol. When we are not drinking, we are looking for the first drink. We are preoccupied with alcohol, not only losing power of action but also power of thought over it.
When we work this first part of Step One, we are practicing rigorous self-honesty. In order to see the nature of our powerlessness, we must be willing to set down the ego and be genuinely honest. This honesty helps us see that true extent of our powerlessness. As we honestly look at places we drank when we should not have, times we drank when it was inappropriate, and amounts we drank that we should not have, we recognize our powerlessness.
The second half of the First Step is “that our lives had become unmanageable.” Many people read this the first time and misinterpret it. What this is saying is not that our drinking had become unmanageable, but our lives. Yes, our drinking is obviously unmanageable, but the point is that our entire life is unmanageable by ourselves. When we look honestly at our lives, we see how unmanageable it has become. Our entire lives are out of our own control. With honesty, we are able to concede to our innermost selves that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable by our own control.
Step One and Right View
Right View and Step One are very closely related. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they truly are. The principle of honesty goes very well with Right View. In Right View, we begin to see things as they really are. When we are drinking and using, our perception is certainly disturbed. We are not seeing things as they really are, although it seems real to us.
Practicing the First Step and Right View, we open our minds to seeing the world from a different perspective. We look at our drinking and using, and we recognize the truth. We see more clearly the nature of our addiction. Rather than blaming everything on external issues, we recognize it is our own powerlessness that is the root of our suffering.
We also recognize how unmanageable our life has become. This is not to say we recognize the need for a Higher Power in our lives; rather, we come to terms with the reality of our lives being out of control. Often for some time, we have not been able to manage our lives. Where we previously believed we were in complete control, our convictions change.
Right View is essential to the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous because we must begin to see things more clearly. We recognize the cause of our suffering is the addiction, powerlessness, and unmanageability.
Right View (samyag drishti) is often the first of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they really are, or recognizing the true nature. Before anything, Right View is a full understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Sariputra said that Right View was the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots.
One of the most fundamental issues having to do with Right View is our perception. The Buddha told Subhuti, “Where there is perception, there is deception.” The teaching here is that our perceptions affect everything we experience, and we must be careful in trusting our perception. Our human nature, conditioned brains, and closed hearts cause our perceptions to consistently deceive us. Our perception is dependent upon everything going on within us, and as we change, so does our perception. The Buddha taught that our perceptions are nearly all erroneous.
Right View vs. Wrong View
When we speak of Right View, it is often compared to having a Wrong View. Right View is seeing things as they are, recognizing our suffering is of our own making, and not trying to control the external world. We must look at our own mind. In this sense “wrong view” is doing the opposite; it is blaming others for our suffering, trying to control things, and not seeing things as they are.
However, many Buddhist teachers agree that most every view is truly a wrong view. Having Right View, we let go of our perceptions and attachment to them. Any view is still a view, and not recognizing the true nature of things, and thus wrong. However, this is a more advanced concept.
The truth of Right View is that we must focus the mind on the mind. Rather than focusing our mind externally on things we come across, we must focus our minds on our minds. Looking at ourselves, we see the First Noble Truth, that there is suffering. We also recognize the Second Noble Truth, the cause of our suffering. The root of our suffering is our own minds. Our fear, delusion, craving, and attachment create almost all of our suffering.
Recognizing this with Right View, the door opens to focusing our minds on our minds, concentrating on ourselves. As Ghandi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” We cannot change the external, but we can change our minds, our delusions, and our unwholesome behaviors.
The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism is Samudaya, which is often translated to “origin.” Samudaya refers to the origin or source of our suffering. The Second Noble Truth focuses mostly on craving and ignorance. These are seen as the two main causes of all our suffering, and although the cause may seem to be something else, it often breaks down to one of these.
The Second Noble Truth teaches us that there is a root cause of our suffering, and it is of our own making. When we blame the outside world for our unhappiness, it is ignorant. Happiness comes from within, and the Second Noble Truth teaches us that suffering isn’t random; it is created through causes that are within.
Much of our suffering comes from ignorance. Although the term ignorance is sometimes used as a derogatory term, it is not in this sense. Ignorance in this context refers to the absence of self-knowledge. The opposite of this ignorance is Right View. The inability to see things as they really are is at the root of almost every single moment of suffering in our lives.
Craving also creates a significant portion of our suffering. When we have the desire to please some sense, it is a craving for something impermanent. Whether it is food, sex, money, or any other thing that we crave, it will never lead to lasting happiness. Often, once we have experienced the fulfillment of these cravings, we crave it again, or crave more. Also, since we crave more, when we aren’t able to achieve the same experience again, we fall into a state of dis-ease.
The Second Noble Truth teaches us that although life is suffering, there is a cause. It is the second step toward looking for a way out of the vicious cycle of suffering.
The First Noble Truth is Dukkha which is most commonly translated as “suffering” or “dis-ease.” Dukkha refers to physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental suffering. It may also refer to dissatisfaction with our current situation, pain over something changing, or attachment.
Many people read the First Noble Truth, hear that Buddhism teaches life is suffering, and criticize it as being rather cynical. The reality is that every living being experiences suffering at some point in their life. It is inevitable. We will all experience old age, sickness, and death. Most all of us know the feeling of having something in our lives that makes us happy, but becoming unhappy when we no longer have it. It is due to the impermanence that we are most often suffering.
The Buddha emphasized insight meditation as a way to see our own dukkha. It is through meditations on impermanence and insight that we are able to identify the suffering in our life. The Buddha said in Samyutta Nikaya, “What ordinary folk call happiness, the enlightened ones call dukkha.” Often, it is near impossible for us to see the true nature of our suffering until we begin practicing and moving away from it.
(Please note I wrote this while in jail, and am now posting it here)
In jail, it is easy to drift from spiritual practice. The language, attitudes, and energy around me are consistently negative. From inmates blaming the police or the judge to repeat offenders discussing how high they are going to get when they get out, this doesn’t seem like a place where recovery can flourish. In order to fit in, you must blame the system, hate rules, and engage in conversations about who is the harder criminal.
I learned from a Buddhist mentor once that there is a reason that suffering is the First Noble Truth. Suffering is what leads to freedom. Through our suffering we seek and find the path. Without suffering, the other three Noble Truths could not exist, nor the Noble Eightfold Path to liberation. Khalil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” When we are broken down and suffering, it is when we often have the most desire to grow spiritually. My personal experience with Alcoholics Anonymous confirms this. I was not able to get sober until I was COMPLETELY broken. Unfortunately this is the case for many alcoholics. Only through immense suffering was I willing and able to change.
In jail, my personal suffering as well as the suffering of my fellow inmates is too much for me to handle. I came to a point after the first few days where I absolutely had to practice rigorous spiritual routines. Spending so many hours a day locked in a tiny space, left with far too much time to be inside my own head, I had to choose between falling deeper down the self-pity, misery hole, or practicing the spirituality I have worked so hard to obtain, but let go of so easily.
Using my suffering as a motivation, I am finding that my primary perceptions were completely wrong… This is the most intense spiritual practice I have maintained, the most prayer and meditation I have done, and the most growth I have felt. From my morning meditations to my mealtime prayer, I am practicing things that I never before considered. At the root of this willingness is the amount I suffered while not practicing in here.
Being locked up, stuck with myself, and left with hours upon hours of solitude was in fact causing a great deal of suffering, which I can truly say in this moment I am grateful for. The past several weeks have rejuvenated my yearning for recovery and spiritual growth, and the things I’m learning in jail are numerous, crucial, and will hopefully stick with me.
I have been reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh recently. If you are not familiar with him, he is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who teaches at Plum Village, has authored many books, and a strong peace advocate. Considered by many as the most influential figure in Zen Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh has been paramount in bringing Buddhism to the West.
Thich Nhat Hanh insists that it is through living in the present moment that we find happiness. Relating core Zen Buddhist principles to modern life is one of the many things he has to offer. During his speeches, he often rings a small bell to remind the listeners to return to the present moment.
When Thich Nhat Hanh is with is students, he often asks them the simple question, “What are you doing?” He asks this when it is most obvious what the student is doing, with the intention of bringing them back to what they are doing, and nothing more. The idea behind this is for us to stay present. Regardless of what we are doing, we have the opportunity to live fully in the moment and enjoy what we are doing. The Buddha often said, “Drishta dharma sukha viharin,” which is most commonly translated as, “Dwell happily in things as they are.” Although this may be easier in certain situations than others, we nonetheless have the choice to make the most of our experience.
Another concept that Thich Nhat Hanh often uses is to smile. He stresses the importance of smiling at the world upon awakening, and smiling at intervals throughout the day. Upon practicing this, I have found extreme value in it. When I smile, it encourages a lighthearted, compassionate feeling, and I am almost immediately struck with at least a slight decrease in anxiety.
My sponsor often tells me that my phone is one of the greatest tools I progress for spiritual growth. I can use it to reach out to other members of Alcoholics Anonymous, get in contact with sponsees, read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and one more key thing that I have just discovered. With my phone, I set a reminder every day with two things. The first reminder I set for myself it to smile. Twice a day, my phone pops up with a reminder that simply says, “Smile!” Upon seeing this reminder, I follow instructions and smile! I also set a reminder with the question, “What are you doing?” This reminds me to live in the present moment and stay focused on enjoying exactly what I am doing.
These two reminders cover very basic Buddhist principles for me. They are also very helpful in terms of Buddhism and recovery. In Twelve-Step meetings, we are often reminded, “One Day at a Time.” For me, I have to take things one moment at a time. The reminders I set help me practice Right Mindfulness in everyday life. Although I do regularly meditate as a part of my Tenth Step and Buddhism, I know that I must practice mindfulness and self-awareness in everyday life.
Just as meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous are refueling stations for life outside the rooms, meditation is good practice for life outside of our meditation routine. The 12th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” Although the rooms help us learn from our fellows, hear stories, and learn about ourselves, we must take what we learn outside the rooms if we are to thrive. Similarly, in Buddhism, meditation has much value, and it is through meditation that we calm the mind, realize the nature of our true being, and learn to let go of our attachment to thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. However, we also must take these principles outside our meditation.
I use my phone to remind me to practice the most basic of Buddhist principles, as I am often so wrapped up in my thoughts, that I forget to smile or be present. When my phone goes off, Buddhism slaps me in the face. I am brought back to the present moment, to enjoying my moment, and to not get caught in the future nor the past.
I have felt at times in my life that my Higher Power was not there when I reached for it. I also find that I often pray for things for situations to turn out how I want them to. The Twelve N’ Twelve Quote of the Day today was “In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps we think of our day’s work and the chances it may afford us to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it may bring. Possibly today will see a continuation of a serious and as yet unresolved problem left over from yesterday. Our immediate temptation will be to ask for specific solutions to specific problems, and for the ability to help other people as we have already thought they should be helped. In that case, we are asking God to do it ourway. Therefore, we ought to consider each request carefully to see what its real merit is. Even so, when making specific requests, it will be well to add to each one of them this qualification: “…if it be Thy will.” We ask simply that throughout the day God place in us the best understanding of His will that we can have for that day, and that we be given the grace by which we may carry it out.”
This reminded me that I must pray for God‘s will, not mine. When I am praying for something to turn out the way I want it to, I am setting myself up for failure. As the popular quote from “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict” (or “Acceptance was the Answer” in the 4th Edition) says, acceptance is the answer to my relationship with God.
When I am asking for things that are within my will, my prayer is futile. If I am praying for my will to be done, I find that my Higher Power is absent when I most need it. Hard times come, anger comes, friends relapse, things don’t go my way. When I am not praying for God’s will to be done, I am far less accepting when these things happen. When I pray for God’s will, not mine, I find that I am able to accept these situations with an amazing level of serenity.
In Buddhism, the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right View. I find this applicable to this topic in that when I am in Right View, I see that God’s will is always being carried out, and THE ONLY THING STOPPING IT IS ME. When I am seeing more clearly, working to eliminate my warped perceptions (which is indeed all of them), I see that it truly is my will that interferes.
One piece of advice I have found especially helpful is to practice my Right View specifically when I am praying and meditating. When I am asking for God’s help, I check to see if my perceptions are interfering. I do not pray for many things other than happiness for others, compassion, and patience.
As an alcoholic or addict, we are often challenged by our running minds and endless thoughts. In Twelve-Step programs, we are encouraged to take action against these harmful thoughts. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a four-step path of action to take against our thinking. He addresses both vitarka (initial thought) and vichara (developing thought).
1. “Are You Sure?”
The first of the four practices related to Right Thinking focuses on its connection to Right View. Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the idea that all perceptions are wrong essentially. When we have a perception, a thought follows shortly after. A useful tool, we ask ourselves, “Are You Sure?” regarding our perception and thought. We must remember that a view is just a point of view, implying it is just from one point. When we change our point, the view changes. By asking ourselves if we are sure about our perceptions, we often are able to stop the thoughts at their conception, while the mind is still at vitarka.
2. “What Am I Doing?”
The second practice Thich Nhat Hanh offers is to ask yourself, “What Am I Doing?” This practice is related to Right Concentration. By asking ourselves what we are doing, we are brought back to the present moment. Oftentimes, we find that our body is doing something while our mind is doing something else. When we are being mindful, we are brought back to exactly what we are doing, and are able to enjoy the present moment, without thinking.
3. “Hello, Habit Energy”
Each of us has habit energy, energy that pushes us toward repeated behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. It is common for us to be hard on ourselves for these habit energies. We realize we are on autopilot throughout the day, focused on our work, family life, education, etc. We must stop and smell the roses. Getting caught in our habit energy prevents us from having any original, pure thoughts. We are stuck in a thinking cycle. Rather than scolding ourselves for this, we must look at the habit energy, and let it go. Being too hard on yourself is a habit energy! Let it go!
The final practice offered is that of the Bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is the “buddhaseed” within us. When we are living in our own buddha-nature, our thoughts become less invasive. We must cultivate this Bodhichitta within us when our thinking strays, and live with compassion and love. It is amazing how living with compassion and taking action clears our thinking!
“We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God.”
-Alcoholics Anonymous p. 46
“…Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.”
-Alcoholics Anonymous p. 417 (or 449 in the Third Edition)
“In deep self-acceptance grows a compassionate understanding. As one Zen master said when I asked if he ever gets angry, ‘Of course I get angry, but then a few minutes later I say to myself, ‘What’s the use of this,’ and I let it go.’”
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”