Buddhism and Rehabilitation
I have mainly avoided the subject of my Buddhist faith and Buddhist philosophy in my affirmations up to this point. I focused firstly on my past and what brought me to rehab. In my second affirmation I spoke about how I feel I am changing and what, up to this point, I feel I have gained from the program. With this being the third affirmation I have been chosen to do in the short time I have been here I feel I should explore the subject of how Buddhism and Buddhist concepts impact my life and my rehabilitation.
As most of you will know from speaking to me I am a practicing Buddhist. To be precise the sect of Buddhism I follow is from Tibet from the Mahayana tradition called Gelugpa.
The first and most important point and the basis for my affirmation comes from a set of teachings called the four noble truths, which is the base teachings for all sects of Buddhism throughout the world. The first noble truth is that within Samsara (the never ending cycle of life and death) there is Dukkha, or suffering. It is a common bond that we all share - from the most privileged human to the lowest animal.
The second point of suffering is that it must be understood and by understood the teaching refers to the realization that all suffering comes from within. Essentially we are responsible for our own suffering - for every negative thought and feeling that arises within us. At first I found this concept hard to understand or believe and I almost stopped right there. Surely everyone and everything else was responsible for my suffering. I had been dealt a duff hand. Something inside me pushed on to continue with the teachings.
Upon realizing that every negative feeling I have is my responsibility I suddenly felt free, I was in the driving seat. I could make it worse but more importantly I could make it better. A simple example of this is that if a stranger were to walk past and insult us and we were then to get angry and think about it all day who really holds onto the anger? Us or them?
It doesn't refer to the circumstances that cause us to suffer but more to how we deal with the feelings that arise within us from the situations in our everyday lives. This is were some people get quite angry and/or confused because often things that happen to us are beyond our control.
This isn’t to say that it’s an easy path to take. Simply realizing that we are responsible for suffering is not enough. The task often seems overwhelming and unachievable and the old thoughts set in. Doubt comes into play - hence why I pick up a drink or down a bottle of pills. Wanting to get rid of or not wanting to be is referred to as Vibhava Thana. Time must be spent meditating on and contemplating suffering as there is a great difference between understanding the knowledge of a/the teaching/s and the wisdom to be able to use them. Hence: suffering must be understood. We cannot deny or block out these feelings, we must understand them. Slowly by understanding how and why these feelings arise we can begin to change our behavior.
The mind is often likened to the sky. Suffering can be looked at as the clouds. Behind the clouds is the pure blue sky. The blue sky is always there; we just cannot always see it. The blue sky is the innate purity in every being’s mind. I suppose, from my understanding, once this purity has been found that is the end of suffering, the end of samsara. I wasn’t an alcoholic the day I was born. This alcoholic was created through suffering. In fact in accordance to my Buddhist beliefs the “I” in this life was created through the suffering from a previous one.
The next problem is that of the ego. The self or “I”. Within the West a strong ego is something we have been taught to aspire to. We are taught that it will give us a wife, a good job, money and success. Within Eastern psychology they have a very different view on the ego which I believe partly stems from the teachings of Buddha.
The ego can be thought of as a wild horse. Crazy and uncontrollable. Full of desire, fantasies, greed, grasping and anger. Free to do what it wants, when it wants and for what ever reason it wants. To see what I mean, sit down for 10 mins and try to concentrate on your breath. Think of nothing but the breath. I guarantee it won’t be long before all sorts of different thoughts arise with varied emotions from happiness to anger and greed. Here you can see the wild horse at work. But we don’t destroy a wild horse. We tame it and put it to work.
Attachment is one of the big problems with the pesky ego. Another word for attachment is addiction and it’s something everybody everywhere has, there is barely a single person out there who is not addicted to sense pleasures from reading a book to downing a bottle of vodka.
I was attached to that bottle, I loved that bottle. It made me happy, it made me cry. It was my best friend and my worst enemy. I thought it showed me how to deal with my problems and how to make them go away. But the alcohol didn’t make me drink it, the drinks companies didn’t make me drink it and my friends didn’t. My ego did though - I wasn’t meeting it’s ridiculous expectations and so I slowly sank into depression. It cottoned on that drink might get me to where I wanted to be and it also realized that if it didn’t it would make everything go away.
The root of all of my problems began with the ego and attachment, with this false sense of self. This is why I was happy to hear that if most of you had one wish, it wouldn’t be money, nice cars, fast women. Almost everyone simply wanted happiness.
This moves onto the impermanence and inherent emptiness of the self. We often ask, especially at rehab, who am I? Who is Josh? The truth is Josh is nothing, Josh is a label we give to the sum of our senses and experiences. Josh is completely different from when he woke up to when he went to bed. Josh is not the person he was a year ago or five years ago.
Josh is not the bottle in his hand nor is he the experiences and events that shaped this “Josh”. Don’t worry, we do exist, it is just that existence is far more subtle than we perceive it to be. Even the notion that we may not be stuck as who we think we are (because who we think we are is a hallucination anyway) that we are not a permanent fixed thing can fuel change. That with the right methods and practice we are all capable of change that may have at some point seemed impossible.
Even with some knowledge of suffering, the ego and how it works, attachment and the impermanence of the self we can change. The practice of mindfulness, an awareness of how we think and feel, our mind and our actions is one of the most important tools we can learn and key to great change. We should not bottle up anger, depression, resentment and other negative emotions. We should investigate them, understand them - learn their triggers and realize that due to the impermanence of the self they will soon change. With this realization the emotion can be simply let go. Which can be a lot easier said than done!
Compassion and kindness is again key to my recovery. On the one side there is the karma of my actions, the universal laws of cause and effect but with the practice of compassion comes a softening of the self. Compassion for all living beings has brought a feeling of empathy. It has taken some of the pressure off of myself because in realizing every living thing is capable of and indeed does suffer I can relate to that pain and that through the daily practice of compassion I can help to lessen that suffering through my actions, through an awareness of my behavior to other beings.
Alcohol is a very selfish drug and blind sights us. We can only see inwards. I think that this is perhaps one of the reasons that as a Buddhist I am taught to abstain from alcohol (in fact all narcotic substances) because if we only think of ourselves we can never progress. We will wallow in self pity and slowly destroy ourselves either mentally or physically. Which ever comes first - which is inevitable without controlling this awful mental disease.
While I may have decades, perhaps lifetimes left before I have the wisdom and not just the knowledge of these concepts I can still see I am slowly changing. Everyday I progress through my virtuous actions and I learn from my negative ones. If we never made a mistake we would never learn anything.
I have the upmost respect for these teachings because they got me here, they made me care again.
So on that not I would like to say that we are all capable of sobriety, we are not the label we give ourselves and we are not the label society gives us. We can all achieve it and happiness is in our grasp. We are all beautiful, intelligent, unique beings and our own happiness is inside each and every one of us - you just have to look. Never give up and never think that you do not have it inside of you.
I would like to leave you with a quote -
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
- H.H. Dalai Lama
*when I refer to others remember this was a speech read out to our "rehab" community*