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Saturday, April 16, 2011

On Attachment and Addiction: What Would Buddha Do?

For some, it may be helpful to understand a little of what Buddhist teachings and an Eastern perspective have to say about addiction, as addiction to thoughts, emotions, people, places, and things, in general, are said to be the "root of suffering" in the Buddha's teaching.

In the attached video, Ram Dass (the former Harvard psychiatrist and spiritual teacher, who is no stranger to addiction himself) examines addiction, and its "root cause," our attachments to our mistaken thoughts about just 'who' we are and 'what' will ultimately make us happy.

Ram Dass
"When you look at addictions," says Dass, "it's not like 'evil,' it is just an attempt to 'get back.' The problem is that most behaviours that get you back. . . . It's like Maharaji (Mahesh Yogi) said about drugs. He said, "It will allow you to be in the presence of Christ, but you can only stay two hours." He said, "It would be better to become Christ than to visit it.". . . . And that's what you find out with most addictive things, that they give you a short rush, but they don't allow you to remain 'at home.' They just allow you the taste of it. And then the minute you get thrown out  . . You go back to heaven, but you can't stay because you didn't come in through the right way."

"You end up feeling like, 'I've done something wrong; I'm bad.' And that starts a reaction of mind. You come down, then you feel guilt. 'I must be bad.' 'I should of done something else.' 'Why didn't I do the practices that would have allowed me to stay there, rather than the thing that's short-term?' Because you see your predicament."

"What happens is that the opportunity for the immediate gratification. . . . In psychology, the choice of the 'little candy bar now,' or the 'big candy bar later' . . .  With little children they'll always grab the 'little candy bar now,' because they want what they can get now. They don't have any delay of gratification. And spiritual practices, compared to having sex, or compared to taking coke or something, is more like delayed gratification, rather than immediate gratification."

"So," he says, "when you start to stand back and see your predicament, and see what you are doing, there is a way from a spiritual perspective in which you begin with that slight bit of awareness to extricate yourself from the 'chain of reactivity' (that feeds one's addictive thought-habits)."

"To the unawakened mind," says the Buddha, "life is dhukka, suffering. The root cause of suffering is our addiction or aversion to what we think will makes us happy." And, says the Buddha, "to end the suffering, one must end the addiction, the craving and clinging to what we think will bring happiness." And to end that addiction, he too, like Ram Dass 2,500 years later, recommends a spritual practice. In the Buddha's instance, forming right views and right understanding; engaging in right speech, right action' right livelihood and right effort; and, practicing right meditation and right contemplation."

And such seems to be the shared experience and lessons garnered by alcoholic addicts in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, or its sister programs. In the "We Agnostics" chapter in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, we read:
"If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over how much you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be sufferinfg from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer."
["Alcoholics Anonymous," page 44. Emphasis added.]
 Thus, for millenia, the teaching has proven true, that addictions of the mind and the body, may be broken through spiritual practice and the resultant spiritual awakening which comes with practicing spiritual principles.

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