The Buddhist Path to a Higher Power

When I first realized I had a problem with alcohol, I looked for an outside fix. If the stars would just align and everything would go the way I’d planned, I’d have no reason to drink–so I thought.  I did a tour of churches in the town where I lived, knowing I was spiritually sick, and stuck around one church only because the pastor was good looking.  But I soon realized that the language they spoke in church just didn’t make sense to me.  My life continued to worsen, and I soon found myself walking through the door of AA mostly to keep everyone in my life off my back.  When I heard and saw the word “God” in the steps, it again, felt like a foreign language.  Somehow everyone else had this secret handshake, and they passed through to the other side and seemed to “get it.”  I used the presence of the “God thing” in AA as a strawman to argue against the program, mostly dismissing it in its entirety despite the concept of openness being stated clearly and concisely on page 46:

Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God.  Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him.  As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe . . . . we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps.  We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive, never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek.  It is open, we believe, to all men.

I stayed sober for a year or so, mostly under the threat of legal trouble, operating on this tenuous principle, and likewise, my sobriety turned out to be equally tenuous.  It only stands to reason if we do not have a higher power, self-reliance is our only other option.  It wasn’t long until I collected yet another DUI charge, and crawled back in the program on my knees, realizing that either I figure out this “God thing” and what it meant for me, or I was going down for the count.

I embarked on a two-year pursuit in this effort which led me to Buddhist teachings, partly due to my many years living in a Buddhist country.  They talked about suffering–I had lots of that; the cause of suffering–pretty obvious for me, it was my addiction to alcohol; and freedom from suffering–I wanted that.  What I eventually found was a framework that melded nicely to my understanding of the AA program.  Alcoholism was the epitome of the cycle of suffering and craving.  Life sometimes sucks as it always does, ie. we suffer, and we crave something that will fix it, and for an alcoholic, my fix for everything was alcohol or something outside myself that would fix me.  The fix is always temporary and fleeting just like the effect produced by alcohol, and we suffer all over again until we find a higher power within.

The Big Book talks about mental obsession and alcoholism being a “thinking disease.” This is very similar to Buddhist thought that it takes training and practice to understand how our thinking is the cause of our suffering, and how, through the practice of the Eightfold path, we can be free of the suffering.  Likewise, AA and the twelve steps had the ability to illuminate the things inside me–my thinking, my character defects, and my magnifying mind–that kept me from being free, ie. finding a higher power on which I can rely. What I realized is that ultimately I am my own worst enemy and without the 12 steps, I cannot find my way out of my self-inflicted prison.

It’s a path I continue on today, and it seems to always evolve.  I’ve reached deeper levels of understanding, and am continually presented with opportunities to apply principles from both AA and Buddhism.  If you are struggling with the idea of a higher power, remember that you are not alone, nor unique.  Open your mind and listen to the people in the fellowship, they are the evidence that this program works, allowing you the believe that it just might work for you too.  Just try and trust the process with the help of a sponsor; after all, what do you have to lose?  You will be amazed before you’re halfway through.

Suggested readings and links (please note that AA does not promote nor have any affiliation with the following):

One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps by Kevin Griffin

Dave Smith Dharma Talks






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