The Twelve Steps as a Path to Enlightenment

Excerpts from Book:


Twenty years of Twelve Step recovery made me “happy, joyous, and free” – but not all the time. I came into Twelve Step programs expecting to learn how to be happy all the time and instead I was told that the best I could expect was to be able to gracefully accept life on life’s terms. The message of the program was that I did not have to suffer over my suffering, but that idea of eternal bliss was just a fantasy.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that more will be revealed, and this is certainly true. I have since learned that the Buddha taught how to permanently end all suffering. This is exactly what I want! The spiritual journey does not end with acceptance but continues until we reach a complete cessation of all unpleasantness. This is the message and vision I want to give back to the fellowships of Twelve Step programs.

The Twelve Steps as a Path to Enlightenment - How the Buddha Works the Steps examines the Twelve Steps and explains how they parallel the steps the Buddha outlined for reaching ultimate enlightenment. This treatise takes the bold move of integrating the Buddhist’s path to enlightenment with the Twelve Step program, resulting in a complete spiritual path that can be used to relieve addictive and compulsive behavior as well as more subtle forms of suffering.

First and foremost, this is a book on how to end suffering that combines two methods that people generally accept as useful: The Twelve Steps and Buddha’s teachings. It is not about adding some Buddhism to the Twelve Steps; it is about taking Buddhism and reframing it in the Twelve Step model. This book fills the following gaps:
  • Gives Buddhists an alternate Twelve Step guide and text.
  • Integrates the Twelve Steps with the Buddhist’s path to enlightenment.
  • Introduces a new world view to spiritual seekers that believe there is no God.
  • Provides westerners with a clear guide for spiritual progression and a complete method for reaching enlightenment based on ancient Buddhists texts, but in a modern format.
A Twelve Step Guide for the Buddhist.
About six million people in the United States are Buddhist. The introduction of Buddhism in the United States began just over one hundred years ago. There are three main branches of Buddhism: Zen, Theravadan, and Tibetan. Zen Buddhism was established first and was followed about seventy years later by Tibetan and Theravadan Buddhism. This book is primarily based on Tibetan Buddhism, the branch of Buddhism that the Dalai Lama is the icon for.

Due to the increased interest in alternatives to Judeo-Christian thought and the positive role model of the Dalai Lama, interest in Buddhism continues to expand as people examine their lives and seek to increase meaning and joy. The Twelve Steps as a Path to Enlightenment provides existing Buddhists and future converts a bridge between traditional Twelve Step texts, with their monotheistic world view, and the world view of Buddhism. Without the need to interpret the traditional Twelve Step texts, Buddhists will have an easier time “working the program” and gain more benefit from their efforts: freedom from compulsions, greater meaning in life, serenity and ultimate peace.

This book is not intended to be comprehensive nor provide an authoritative Buddhist way to work the steps. Indeed, although the title whimsically suggests this is “How the Buddha Works the Steps”, the Buddha himself adapted his teachings to meet the needs and capacity of the people he was addressing. Likewise, this book will appeal to some, but surely not to all. Other books exist specifically for the Buddhist working a Twelve Step program and some individuals may find that another title is more informative or inspiring. Five other books that may be of interest are: All five of these books are wonderful. What is unique about The Twelve Steps as a Path to Enlightenment is that it shows how the Twelve Steps can be worked from a truly Buddhist world view. This text integrates the Twelve Steps with the Buddha’s path to enlightenment, resulting in a complete program.

A World View for Spiritual Seekers that Believe there is no God.
An estimated three million people worldwide practice a Twelve Step program. However, in the United States alone, over 60 million people suffer with some type of addiction or compulsive behavior they cannot control. The Twelve Steps as a Path to Enlightenment serves to open the door for people not in a program, since one of the main reasons that people are turned off from Twelve Step programs is the emphasis on God. Even though members are allowed to define their higher power, religious monotheism permeates most groups. Twelve Step program literature and the Twelve Steps contain many references to God and use unmistakably religious prayers of Judeo-Christian origin.

Twelve Step fellowships claim to be “spiritual and not religious”. However, as soon as the word God or Higher Power is used, the program becomes a monotheistic program inadvertently excluding Buddhists and other types of spiritual people. For some of us, the attraction to other aspects of the program kept us in the rooms. For others, the subtle message that we would need to eventually believe in God left us looking for a more agreeable solution.

The Twelve Steps as a Path to Enlightenment is a guidebook that takes the teachings of the Buddha and the ancient commentaries of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist masters and translates them into the framework of the Twelve Steps, explaining how the Twelve Steps can work without belief in a God or a higher power. This book may open the doors for some people that have previously been turned off from Twelve Steps programs. It can be used as a basic text for Twelve Step focus groups that serve Buddhists. The following features will allow more people to access the benefits of greater happiness and ease that one comes to expect from working a Twelve Step program:
  • Steps are rewritten to remove references to God or Higher Power.
  • How the steps work without “God” is clearly explained from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective.
  • What one does to take each step using this new approach is specifically outlined.
A “Lam Rim” for Westerners
“Lam” is Tibetan for path and “rim” means steps. Together they mean the steps on the path to enlightenment. The Indian Master Atish a wrote the first lam rim in the 11th century when he relocated to Tibet. In order to teach Tibetans Buddhism he needed a complete and concise summary of the entire path. Building on his work, Je Tsongkapa , a teacher of the first Dalai Lama, wrote a number of lam rims ranging in size from 1,000 to 2 pages.

Our problem here in the West is, while we have copies of these lam rims, they are not truly accessible. For instance, Je Tsongkapa’s Lam Rim Chen Mo is 984 pages long. It has a commentary to explain it that is 1,772 pages long. Not only are many texts laboriously long, they are not modern, are written in “code”, and/or they are not written for our culture.

The Twelve Steps as a Path to Enlightenment is inspired by teachings of the first westerner to complete the Geshe program of study at a Tibetan Monastery and under the guidance of Tibetan lamas. Geshe Michael Roach, after twenty-five years of study and a rigorous final public debate lasting days, graduated with the Western equivalent to a doctorate in theology. He subsequently took the lam rim teachings and translated them into language and practices that we can relate to here in the West. Based entirely upon Buddhist texts and originally taught before live audiences, these teachings are available free to the public as a series of eighteen audio courses that take roughly 700 to 1,000 hours to complete. (See Asian Classics Institute in the resource section at the end of this book.) After studying the teachings of Geshe Michael Roach I realized that the steps on the path to enlightenment were all reflected in the spiritual principles embodied in the Twelve Steps. In other words, the Twelve Steps were a complete lam rim! This work is my attempt to provide a modern lam rim that is organized around the Twelve Step format.
We admitted we were powerless over what we hoped we could control – that our lives had become unmanageable.

What Lies Ahead
The first step on the path to enlightenment involves an honest appraisal of our way of living and goals in life. Most of us want to be happily satisfied. This can take many forms and usually involves having our basic physical needs taken care of, as well as feeling connected to others and appreciated. We want love and meaning in our lives. Freedom, autonomy and influence are other universal needs. It seems that the ability to control our world so that we can maintain our happiness is something that would be essential.

In the First Step we critically examine, with an open and curious mind, if what we are doing is really working for us. The purpose of this step is to realize that our approach to life is not completely satisfying and some, or many, of our needs go unmet. During our exploration, we may find what we are doing only works sometimes or perhaps not very frequently at all. We may also notice that something that works for others does not necessarily work for us, or vice versa. Further, some areas of our lives may seem fine, but other areas may be disappointing.

We must come to conclude, after the analysis of our life, that what we are doing does not work all the time or in all situations. If, instead, we are satisfied with our life and the future that lies ahead of us, then there is no need to do anything different. An attitude of dissatisfaction, unhappiness, or even disgust, is needed to proceed with the remaining steps. Only upon this foundation do we find we have a solid motivation for grasping a way of life that is new and novel, but ultimately effective in bringing us lasting happiness.

I want to forewarn the reader that, although the First Step can be somewhat morbid and depressing, only a complete understanding of what we will be discussing in this step can lead to the type of motivation required to complete the remaining steps. It is like the bumper sticker that states, “If you aren’t angry, you’re not paying attention.” In this step we start to pay close attention to what is really going on in our lives. We also let go of any tendency to see good in the world and focus on the negative aspects of even a happy life as a human. Admittedly, to focus on suffering would be a miserable past-time if we did not have at our disposal a program (the Twelve Steps) that can change our future world. Here, our focus will be on taking the sugar coating off of life and looking at the cold reality of it. In Step One, we admit we cannot control anything and that our lives are unmanageable.

For people already on a spiritual path, as I suspect many of my readers will be, this step may actually be a step backward. You may have already accepted that many things about this world are negative and you cannot change them. From that place you may have already moved on to a practice that focuses on the positive in this world. This is a splendid, worthwhile world view. However, simply ignoring the negative creates a pleasant experience that is only temporary. My purpose in this writing is to show how the Twelve Steps, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, and which have spread like wild-fire to now support people with many different types of addictions or living problems, are a complete path to end all negativity permanently.

Our Ambitious Goal
This seems like an incredible claim. Certainly, millions of people have defeated life-threatening addictions with the Twelve Steps. And many more have improved their lives dramatically with the application of the principles embodied in the steps. But to claim that one can defeat aging, sickness, depression and death with the Steps, certainly this is too much to believe! In fact, defeating death is beyond any sensible person’s wildest dreams. However, that is exactly what I am saying here. The key to what the Shakyamuni Buddha taught was that all negativity can be eliminated in its entirety, never to return. With the elimination of negativity, a heavenly state arises and negative events such as aging and death cease to occur. “Heaven” is not an eternal state that can only be reached after death, but is a state that can be achieved before death – if we are to believe the Buddha. The principle steps the Buddha taught to achieve this state free from suffering mirror the spiritual principles that are inherently part of the Twelve Steps.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

...If not God, what is the creator of our world and of ourselves?

We find the answer in the first line of the fourth chapter of the Abhidharmakosa:

               "Karmic deeds cause the multitude of worlds."

This simple statement has profound ramifications. It suggests that the world we see and experience, from a leaf on a tree to the emotion of contentment we feel, is created by what we have done in the past. No detail is too small to not have been created by our past deeds. The bacteria in our gut and the planets in other galaxies fall under the domain of our karma. Simply incredible! Our personality is similarly shaped by our past. If you have a tendency to lie, that tendency is created by lying in the past. If you have a tendency to be generous, that is likewise a trait that is caused by past thoughts and actions. The personality you were born with could be much more challenging to live with than other peoples’ personalities. We are not born “equal”. Some of us have it harder than others. We are powerless in any one moment over our character traits, but we are not powerless over taking action to change them...

...The reason we take a searching and fearless moral inventory is to facilitate cleaning up the past so that it will not come back to hurt us. In Buddhism, what we do creates our future. While there are ethical guidelines, there is no “good” or “bad”.
The criteria for evaluating our actions is simple. If we have done things in the past that we would not want to happen to us, then we will need to undertake some corrective action. The method the Buddha taught is called the Four Powers and is discussed in detail in Step Ten. If our past actions give us reason to smile, then we can expect pleasant results arising from those actions and will want to rejoice. Further, rejoicing over the positive things we have thought and done will facilitate the results of those deeds manifesting in our life faster.

Karmic Gardening
A review of how we create our world will allow us to undertake the work of the Fourth Step with our purpose clearly in mind. The workings of karma are much too complex for me to know, but the model I like to use explains karma as follows: When we do or think anything, our mind witnesses this act and an impression is made in the mind. The capacity of the mind is infinite and everything we do could easily be recorded there. As a gardener, I like to think of these impressions as seeds.

For example, let’s say I give a dollar to a hungry and homeless person on the street. In general, when I do anything my mind records everything about the act: my generosity, my motive (Did I think I could get something in return?), the value of the object being given (Was it something I needed myself?), the state of the recipient (Were they in need of the thing I gave?). All aspects of the act are recorded in my mind.

What happens next is that the “seed” just hangs out as a mental potential. As it incubates it also tends to grow. That is just one of the aspects of karmic seeds. The result of a karma is always greater than the cause. Just like an oak tree is much bigger than the acorn it originates from. At some point, the seed ripens and the result of my action is experienced. My world is at that moment “created” by the earlier action. In this example, my dollar might come back to me as a 100-dollar gift or perhaps a raise at work. The seed created by giving can either ripen as receiving or as the habit to give more. This is because the original seed was created when we saw someone (ourselves) give and saw a second person receive. When it ripens we experience an event that is similar in context to the original event but not necessarily identical.

If we haphazardly do good things, we will haphazardly experience good things in our life. Positive will always bring us positive. This would be like throwing a bunch of good seed on the ground and then letting nature take its course. There is a good chance that some of the seeds will germinate and produce a crop.

Buy at Amazon (Kindle version available.)

ISBN/EAN13:   1941894046 / 978-1941894040      $16.95 USA      158 pages