The decision to recover from addiction—to substances, habits, people, whatever—can be terrifying. The feeling is often one of loss, of isolation and deprivation. One of the first and greatest challenges many of us faced was finding a safe and stable place where we could begin to heal: a refuge, in other words.
In the Buddhist tradition, “taking refuge” refers to the decision to commit one’s life to the way of the Buddha. This does not mean worshiping or pledging allegiance to the historical person we call the Buddha (which means “Awakened One”), but choosing to apply his teachings to our own lives in order to relieve suffering and discover our own Buddha nature.
One of the most revolutionary things the Buddha taught was that the mind is the not only the source of great suffering—due to greed, anger, and confusion—but the remedy for that suffering as well. To take refuge in this teaching is a commitment to change our minds. We’re choosing to accept the truth of karma: the understanding that actions which come from wise, compassionate intentions lead to happiness, and those that come from confused or unkind intentions lead to suffering. By following this teaching, we are claiming protection from the harm that karma causes. And so the refuge we are really taking is in our own potential for wisdom and compassion.
The Literature Committee has embarked on developing a Beginner’s Guide intended as a friendly primer to taking refuge, for those new to the path as well as long-term practitioners. We will talk about the three parts of the traditional refuge vow: to the Buddha (the goal of the path), the Dharma (how we get there) and the Sangha (who we travel with). We’ll share how some of us have done it and ways to make this practice your own: not as a one-size-fits-all approach, but as a set of tools and techniques that anyone can use to relieve the suffering addictive behavior has caused in their lives. We trust in the wisdom of this program, not because it is dogma, not because someone told us we had to, but because we have seen it work in our own lives. We hope that these tools will help you on your path of liberation.
Amy Reed is a writer, mother, and current Treasurer for the very spirited Refuge community in Asheville, NC. She got sober nine years ago in Oakland, CA, where 12-steps and a little dabbling in Buddhism was just what she needed. After moving to the South in 2014, her recovery and spiritual paths have found a new home in Refuge Recovery.
Some Thoughts on Activism and Buddhism
by Amy Reed
I am by no means an expert on Buddhism, but one thing I have come to understand is that the Buddha was a revolutionary, both spiritually and politically. At a time when it was unthinkable, he welcomed the untouchable caste into his sangha. He ordained women as monks (but only after they shaved their heads and marched a hundred miles on bloody bare feet in protest, because those original bikkhunis were badass). His teachings were about questioning dogma and the establishment, yet his sangha did not isolate and tune out, did not close themselves off from the suffering of the world–they were in the streets; they were teaching the way of compassion to anyone who would listen; they were advising kings. They were involved.
Compassion is not only something I do when I’m meditating. I can cultivate wise intentions and wholesome thoughts while I sit, I can send metta to abstract strangers around the world, but that is only part of my practice. There is also right action. There is the action of compassion. What does it mean to act wisely in this world that is experiencing so much suffering? How do I show up for others, and also for myself?
I can start by looking deeply at myself. I can use the practices of mindfulness to investigate, with mercy and without judgment, how I may be contributing to the greed, hatred, and delusion of the world. I can investigate my prejudices and implicit bias, the programming I received from my family and culture, and I can work to heal and see clearly. I can practice gratitude and unattached appreciation for my privileges, and I can practice generosity to use those privileges to help others. I can know when to be humble and listen when people say they’re hurting. I can vote for people who will do the most good, or at the very least do the least amount of harm, even if the people I am given the choice to vote for are not perfect. Because not voting, not participating, is far from neutral; it grants power to those who are doing the most harm, and it makes me complicit.
Addicts and alcoholics have seen more than our fair share of suffering, and yet we persist, we still hope and believe in the power of transformation. We see it in meetings every day—the human capacity for change, the ability of even the most broken of us to turn our lives around and become someone new and whole, and to be of service to help others. Apathy is not an option for people in recovery, and hope is a requirement. I have seen countless people transformed amidst seemingly impossible conditions, including myself, so I have to believe institutions can transform too. And I know, like all the most meaningful transformations in my own life, all change requires hard work and persistence.
I often joke that I am co-dependent with America. In the last two years, I have felt an almost constant pulse of anxiety and fear, an inability to find peace, to settle, to feel safe. This country is not okay, so I cannot be okay. My wellbeing feels dependent on external circumstances I cannot control. So I worry. It is what I have always done. I have been worrying for as long as I can remember. When I worry, I feel like I’m being vigilant, that I am somehow controlling the situation. But of course, I am not controlling anything. I am just reacting. I am letting my fear take control.
I am beginning to realize that worrying is not compassion. Like resentment, though seemingly directed at other people, it only really affects myself. I do not help anyone by worrying about them. I do not help anyone by obsessively scrolling through Twitter and Facebook and getting more and more triggered and enraged by headline after click-bait headline. I am not helping anyone by believing I cannot be okay unless everyone else is okay. And this is where equanimity comes in. This is when I need to let go of what I cannot control. Right now, it’s like this. For me, this is a good time for the Serenity Prayer (perhaps replacing “God, grant me–” with a more Buddhist-friendly “May I have–”).
In all my passion to help, I sometimes forget one essential thing: do no harm. And that includes myself. So if I am getting compassion fatigue, if I am inching toward my tendency to feel co-dependent with the whole world, if I am obsessing about how much I hate people who disagree with me, I have to pause and ask myself: “What is off here? How can I be kind and gentle with myself and others? How can I practice equanimity?”
Equanimity tells me that all beings are the source of their own spiritual liberation, but compassion and right action tell me I cannot sit idly by while people’s rights and lives are in danger. I have incredible power to use my voice to help ease suffering in this world–in my community, in my family, in my sangha, and in the interactions I have with strangers throughout my day–but that power has a limit, and I must accept that limit if I am going to find any peace within myself.
Activism is an essential part of my Buddhist practice. For me, it is how compassion and right action intersect, with equanimity there to keep me humble and in a place of acceptance for what I cannot control. This is how I go against the stream. This is how I try to be a Buddha. Because in this world full of greed, hatred, and delusion, any act of kindness, compassion, and generosity is a revolutionary act.
Refuge Recovery is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is our mission to build an extensive and comprehensive network of Refuge Recovery groups, meetings, and communities that practice, educate, and provide Buddhist teachings and meditations for anyone seeking recovery from addiction.