Posted by: RealisticRecovery | May 29, 2009

A Buddhist’s Non-Theist 12 Steps

A Buddhist’s Non-Theist 12 Steps:

  1. We admitted our addictive craving over alcohol, and recognized its consequences in our lives.
  2. Came to believe that a power other than self could restore us to wholeness.
  3. Made a decision to go for refuge to this other power as we understood it.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to ourselves and another human being the exact moral nature of our past.
  6. Became entirely ready to work at transforming ourselves.
  7. With the assistance of others and our own firm resolve, we transformed unskillful aspects of ourselves and cultivated positive ones.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed.
  9. Made direct amends to such people where possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. In addition, made a conscientious effort to forgive all those who harmed us.
  10. Continue to maintain awareness of our actions and motives, and when we acted unskillfully promptly admitted it.
  11. Engaged through the practice of meditation to improve our conscious contact with our true selves, and seeking that beyond self. Also used prayer as a means to cultivate positive attitudes and states of mind.
  12. Having gained spiritual insight as a result of these steps, we practice these principles in all areas of our lives, and make this message available to others in need of recovery.

by Bodhi. Sydney, Australia.

Since it was first published in the book Alcoholics Anonymous back in 1939, AA’s 12-step program has transformed the lives of literally millions around the world. Since adopted by numerous other 12-step based fellowships, it offers a practical path for healing addiction, self and spirit. Although AA stresses that the concept of God or a Higher Power that it speaks of is a matter of personal understanding, the language of that book and the 12-steps is often rooted in the Christian tradition to which AA founders largely belonged, somewhat understandable considering the time, place and context in which it was initially written. But despite the founders best intentions to make the spirituality of AA all inclusive, some people do find the Christian or theistic language used either off-putting or even unacceptable.

Buddhism does not teach the doctrine of theism, but rather points out ways to live an enlightened, spiritual life without necessarily believing in God. For this reason some people do not see Buddhism as a religion in the normal, Western sense. Buddhism could be described as more akin to a path of practise and spiritual development which enables people to realise and utilise its teachings in order to transform their lives. A path that enables people to develop the qualities of wisdom and compassion, leading beyond craving and suffering towards the ultimate goal of enlightenment, or Buddhahood.

As a practising Buddhist I wanted to express my understanding of the 12-steps in a language that could be understood by others who may be interested or engaged in a spiritual path that does not require a belief in God. A spirituality rather, that is based on a practical here and now philosophy that leads to higher transformation. Like Buddhism, the 12-steps can provide just such a path of transformation, a spiritual blueprint for living.  I therefore offer these steps to both my fellow Buddhists, but also to those who are not interested in a theistic religion or belief. You certainly do not need to be Buddhist to work my version of the steps. What I am offering here is not meant as an alternative to AA, but rather a differing spiritual approach to looking at the 12-steps within the framework of AA. An attempt to still capture what I believe is at the heart of the AA message in a language that better fits within my own spiritual tradition.

It was my own karma that brought me to my first AA meeting, and although I ultimately had to get sober for myself, I somehow knew that I could not get sober by myself. As a Buddhist I go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha as both the historical enlightened person, but also my own potential Buddhahood. Dharma is the teaching. Sangha is the spiritual community. In a somewhat similiar but more simplistic way my concept of other power in recovery is not God, but rather an extension of my going for refuge. Buddha also becomes a trust and faith in my teachers (those further along the path of recovery) and my own inate capacity for recovery, Dharma extends to incorporate the 12-step program itself, and Sangha includes the fellowship. Going for refuge means a direct and continued engagement in all these areas.

Put even simpler, to use popular AA jargon commonly heard around the rooms, one might say that the concept of Buddha  or Higher Power/Teacher alludes to “guide our destiny“, Dharma or Program alludes to “good orderly direction” , and lastly Sangha or Fellowship alludes to “gathering of drunks“. Each of which of course spell out the letters g-o-d, and are used as a concept of Higher Power that does not denote God (capital “G”) in the usual theistic or religious sense. Without a God, here is something that I can indeed practically place my faith and trust in. Something bigger than merely self.

Upon the willing foundation of admission and refuge, can be built a lifetime of spiritual practise. No matter which language and approach ultimately resonates closest to your own experience, the steps are a path that when practised lead beyond craving and suffering, towards true healing and serenity.

For the benefit of all beings.

Sydney, Australia.


  1. Great post! I especially appreciated the non-theist steps.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. Have been struggling massively with the concept of a higher power and this has really settled me and clarified a lot for me.

  3. I am very glad to have found this site for a variety of reasons:
    1. It helps to freshen my 29 year old program/sobriety.
    2. It provides me something to offer my clients for whom A.A. and N.A. are
    not a goodness of fit.

  4. […] Non-Theist 12 Steps – Buddhist, non-theist twelve steps – Realistic […]

  5. Hi Bodhi,

    I appreciate finding your adapted 12 Steps for Buddhist Non-Theist on the Internet. I’ve been struggling for a couple of years of how I would adapt the 12 Steps but had not gotten far until I read your adaptation. I’ve completed mine now.

    I’m curious for the reason in Step 8 you left out “and became willing to make amends to them all.” I’ve left it in in my adaptation.

    Thank you,

    • That’s interesting Vivian, I didn’t actually even notice that, about the amends part, interesting…
      But since I didn’t write this piece, it would be interesting if we could contact the person who did, and see what they say about that.
      But their website address no longer exists, their link was: Bodhi. Sydney, Australia

      • Thanks for the reply. I was curious and it’s not important to me to investigate the amends step. Bodhi’s adaption is as it is and it served it’s purpose for me. I have even since updated my adapted 12 Steps and have discovered humility is my source of strength (aka higher power).


  6. Reblogged this on Red Rock Crossing.

  7. I’m sure I’m not the first Buddhist drunk and druggie to thank you a thousand fold for this…Hours and hours of meetings, where the rubber is really hitting the road but all thrown away (for me…) by a condition that we must believe in some unproven entity…Bodhisatva vow I understand, and these 12 steps are the beginning of setting me free!

  8. Thank you a thousand times for this information, I’ve been in AA for along time and when I went back to my roots, which is Shin Buddhism, I struggled with my own discriminating mind popping up it’s ugly head when it came to steps 6 and 7 because so many think you just leave it to your Higher Power to change you and so often the mind has been really neglected its responsibilities regarding healing the whole person and not just settle for mediocrity or hide behind the phrase ‘I’m content if I just do drink today’, because of a dualistic fear based paradigm.

  9. i quit aa yrs ago because i couldnt hang with hp. i do miss the fellowship. imperfect people are my kind

  10. I appreciate what you are trying to do revamp the 12-steps to closer align with the Buddhist teachings and philosophy. As a former alcoholic, and AA attendee, (i no longer attend 12-step meetings), and as a serious buddhist practioner that has taken refuge in the triple gem, and taken the vows to follow the precepts, i can’t understand why people are still trying to insist that the 12-step and the true buddhist path to end suffering are complimentary and are closely aligned in pupose and spirt. If one has truly undertaken the vows to become a Buddhist, then one simply can’t follow both the 12-steps and the Noble Eightfold Path, without straying from one or the other at certain stages of the path/steps. What is occurring here is what Bhiku Bodi calls “eclectiscism” (i’ll provide an excerpt at the end of this response) whereby people are picking and choosing bits and pieces of spiritual traditions that “fit” into their individual framework or what works best for them. The truth of the very nature of addiction is viewed completely different by 12-step programs and buddhism. For example, AA sees alcoholism as a disease, whereby buddhist teachings see addiction as an extreme form of craving, one of many forms of sensual craving. Buddhism also teaches us that acting on such cravings are unskillful, as they cause harm to ourselves and others. And where to these unskillful acts come from? our own unskillful minds, which need to be trained and cultivated. No where do the buddhist texts state they were are “powerless” over anything..nor do they state that we rely on something else, other than our own skillful practice. What the Buddha teaches, through the dharma, that only by coming to understand the Four Noble Truths, and following the Nobel Eightfold Path, will we find a path to end our suffering, and as a result, attain enlightenment. Simple as that..i suggest if one has truly accepted the Buddha’s teaching as the truth of the nature of all phonomena, then one needs to look no further than the Eightfold Path to extinguish all suffering, inclulding addiction, and leave the 12 step path to non-buddhists. The question becomes, if one has taken refuge in the triple gem, then why does one need to seek an additional and quite separate path i.e 12-step groups, which contradicts with the Buddha’s teaching, to solve the problem of addiction. Maybe we should start Eightfold Noble Path buddhist recovery meetings…at least we could then honestly and accurate call it “buddhist’…

    • Dharma becomes dogma. “You’re not a ‘true Buddhist (TM)’.”

    • You might want to investigate another school of Buddhism that explicitly doesn’t rely on and in fact rejects self power to achieve enlightenment. In the Pure Land tradition, other power that is in the symbolic form of Amida Buddha provides the “easy” path to buddhahood.

  11. i grew up atheist and remained so until coming to a.a. in july 2010. did not know my sober tru was of buddhist nature until stumbling upon the name ‘gautama’ on one of my forays into the dictionary. as i have studied intensely these concepts of thought ,and many others in my search for knowledge and enlightenment ,i see how not only the west but also the chinese have altered so much of the meaning of buddhism. you may want to look into the true meaning of karma. as i sponsor many persons from all sects ,denominations etc. i have found your stucturing of the 12 steps an invaluable tool. i thank you deeply for allowing all who seek sobriety access to this wonderfull program.

  12. Hi, I am interested in this. My main question: Does it work? Has it worked for some individuals?

    I am struggling with my own addiction. It’s not alcoholism, but for the rest the characteristics are the same. I found that admitting powerlessness is a very strong psychological tool. A trick if you like. I, as an addict, try to solve my problem. But it never worked out. All the time I just went deeper and deeper. Because somehow I was trying to fight my problem, trying to change myself, and I didn’t know the way of how to be loving with myself, and how to let things go. So in recovery, this has been one of the most important things for me to learn: The ability to let go. To let go of the desire, or the obsession, to change myself and to solve my problem. This is what I understand under “powerlessness”.

    On the other hand, I am only in the middle of the road. Haven’t had more than 60 days continuous sobriety, this was my record. So obviously something is not working yet. Either I need more time in recovery, more times hitting bottom, or to try something different.

    • Pretty Good. This accurately correlates the the 12 steps. This continues in the path of AA with the intention of making it accessible to everyone; The Big Book makes it clear to regard any spiritual concepts with your own conception.
      (@trish, maybe reread what this author has written)

  13. I appreciate what you are doing here. I have been developing a Buddhist 12 Step Meditation group and have been frustrated in how to align the traditional steps with something that is more Buddhist inspired. In all of the reading I have done, all of the Buddhist teachers still use the traditional 12 steps and then try to explain them in Buddhist terms, but the higher power part just doesn’t fit no matter how hard you try to make. This is the first site I have seen that really moves away from that language. As addicts we need to have a sangha (group) that understands our journey to sobriety. A Buddhist sangha isn’t necessarily going to fit that bill. So trying to adapt the steps and develop our own groups is a noble thing to do. Thank you.

  14. Higher self or the conception of self, are you and those who comment really using them in the Buddhist sense?

  15. […] are quite a few Buddhist versions of the 12 steps that you might find helpful, like this one: A Buddhist’s Non-Theist 12 Steps | Realistic Recovery Anyway, yes, I suppose you could attend AA meetings and never take on a sponsor or work the steps. […]

  16. […] A Buddhist’s Non-Theist 12 Steps | Realistic Recovery here's another version (or is it the same?) anyway, it's the one I use in my head and when I was working the steps. thanks for the support guys, I really don't have problems with other's views or beliefs, I am just inherently bothered by the lord's prayer and the prostelatizing in meetings. rather than change AA, I will change my approach. like I said, I will always go to AA meetings because I love the fellowship and a lot of the people I have come to be friends with are important to me, as are you guys here. nothing wrong with AA at all, just me I kid, it's not "WRONG" just my views I like the higher power is the good part of a person. that is so apt and so true amongst many atheists I have known and been friends or family with. take care all! __________________ 10-06-2012 […]

  17. Thank you for this post. I am about to start a 12 step program but the steps as written were a hindrance for me. The way you have put them forth really helps me.

    • They were a hindrance for me too.
      As an exercise, feel free to take a look at the other alternative 12 steps on the site and then write a version that connects to you if you want.
      Or for now, if the one’s I wrote help you, that’s very cool too.
      Mike H

  18. […] A Buddhist’s Non-Theist 12 Steps | Realistic Recovery – May 29, 2009 · A Buddhist’s Non-Theist 12 Steps: We admitted our addictive craving over alcohol, and recognized its consequences in our lives. Came to believe that a …… […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: