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 power other than self could restore us to wholeness.
- Made a decision to go for refuge to this other power as we understood it.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to ourselves and another human being the exact moral nature of our past.
- Became entirely ready to work at transforming ourselves.
- With the assistance of others and our own firm resolve, we transformed unskillful aspects of ourselves and cultivated positive ones.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed.
- 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.
- Continue to maintain awareness of our actions and motives, and when we acted unskillfully promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- 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.
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.