“Recovery” and The Four Noble Truths

The word “recovery’ in recent history has been used a lot.  Nowadays we are hearing it in relation to our nation’s economic situation and the path back to health.  The word recovery means a restoration or return to normal condition.  This begs the question of what is normal?   Perhaps we will address that question down the road a bit. What we do know.  What we have become aware of is that things are not working to our satisfaction. We have become aware of a disturbance.  We can deny it no more.  In some cases the situation seems to spiral and we notice dysfunction.   A desire wells up in us.  This desire is for the present moment to be different from what it is.  The desire for now to be different from what it is – is suffering. We suffer whether we are aware of it or not whenever we have any degree of desire for this moment to be anything other than it is.  Of course, with anything, there is a sliding scale as far as the degree to which suffering presents itself.  I guess the poles would be from mildly irritating to excruciatingly unbearable.  I think you get my point.  I started this with the concept of recovery because I have seen a connecting pattern between the Twelve Steps of AA/GA/NA/DA and all the other A’s and Buddhism’s four noble truths.  First the Four Noble truths.

1. Life means suffering.

To live means to suffer, because  human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving andclinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.T

he cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.

And now The Twelve Steps of AA:

1.) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable. This first step is the doorway.  Can’t skip steps here and you are not going to recover from any affliction until you have accepted the situation you find yourself in now.  Many addicts are lead to recovery and many walk through this doorway only to walk right back out a few days, weeks, months, years later.  The hard part of step 1 is not to admit that things have become unmanageable.  In most cases, not all, this is quite apparent.  For someone to even be contemplating going through the process of recovery the degree of dissatisfaction with the way things are have reached a point that have created negative consequences.  The difficult thing to buy in this step is the powerlessness thing.  How can I be powerless over a drink,  a drug, a bet, a twinkie  for God’s sake!  The Ego is strong and the last thing it wants to give up is control; power.  This step involves the same concept of the first noble truth.  It is an acceptance of what is.  First things first.  Eliminate the delusion.  Kinda like starting a journey with a proper map and knowing where you are starting from.  Step 1 and the first noble truth provide the canvas for transformation.  Otherwise one is just creating another spiral of dysfunction.

2.) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. I believe step 2 meshes nicely with the second noble truth – the nature of suffering; the origin of suffering is attachment.  Attachment to what is impermanent.  Step 2 of AA presents a vision for me that pierces through the delusion of EGO and impermanence and offers our first glimpse of the way out; a return to “normalcy.”   “Came to believe” means a shift in one’s thinking, “a Power greater than ourselves”  suggests assistance is available and “could restore us to sanity” gives us hope of change.  The first noble truth opened our eyes to the fact that life is suffering.  In the second noble truth we are beginning to see how this suffering is created and sustained.  The 2nd noble truth is quite deep.  I think that it offers a glimpse towards what is permanent (and therefore perhaps the only normal thing in the game) and a way to begin to dislodge the passion of attachment and the attachment of passion to what is impermanent.

3.) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  The first three steps in AA, as with each noble truth, represents a significant movement forward.  Step 3/Truth 3 offers a fork in the road, so to speak.  A decision is made  to end the madness.  Jesus said that all we really needed to do was to repent.  “Not my will but Thyne will be done.”  Step 3 is a turning away from the cravings and aversions that cause suffering and giving them to God to resolve and dissolve.

The fourth noble truth is the path to take and that is composed of the noble eight fold path;  RIGHT VIEW, RIGHT INTENTION, RIGHT SPEECH, RIGHT ACTION, RIGHT LIVELIHOOD, RIGHT EFFORT, RIGHT MINDFULNESS, RIGHT CONCENTRATION.  See how they relate to the remaining steps in AA.

4.) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5.) Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6.) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7.) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8.) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9.) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10.) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11.) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12.) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Why do I write this?  I have a friend coming down to Florida soon for a one week intensive with me.  I will be introducing him to meditation, going to yoga class, eating well, enjoying acupuncture and cranio sacral therapy, etc.   His affliction is with addiction.  I will be using the four noble truths as a metaphor for what he has been exposed to in his recovery program.  There are many maps of the territory.  The four noble truths might just provide the illumination he needs to keep moving forward.

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