Posted by: RealisticRecovery | May 29, 2009

Alcoholics Anonymous and Buddhism

… sometimes, blu3nude ‘s posts make me “google” stuff – just found another interesting article because of something she wrote:

Alcoholics Anonymous and Buddhism

by John Barleycorn Waynedale News, July 9, 2007

I first met a Buddhist monk in the mid 1970’s and later during the late 1980’s and my most recent encounter with Buddhist thought happened in April 2007 when my son gave me a book titled The Monk and the Philosopher, a father-son dialogue between a French philosopher named Jean-Francois Revel and his son Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist Monk.

The similarities between Buddhism and A.A. are too numerous to list in a 600 word news article, but I can say this: I only found one minor difference between the two disciplines, philosophies or systems. Buddhism stresses “spiritual perfection” while A.A. instead stresses “spiritual progress.”

Both A.A. and Buddhism are altruistic programs of suggested “daily actions.” Buddhism states that altruism is a cause of happiness, and hatred a cause of unhappiness while A.A. refers to its program as being an “altruistic program” and it further claims that any life run on “self-will” can hardly be successful.

Buddhism and A.A. have both withstood the test of time and that is not the case with many western fad-sects that run on counterfeit spiritual theories. Fad movements have fancy facades and attract numerous adherents, but they soon collapse because of all sorts of spiritual contradictions, internal scandals, and sometimes abominations. By contrast A.A. and Buddhism are both growing in the West because their meetings and centers are places where, for the most part, people find friends who share common aspirations and want to join in and help each other study, practice and achieve individual spiritual harmony.

Although A.A. has a “singleness of purpose” that specifically deals with the fatal malady of alcoholism, by Carl. G. Jung’s definition, this problem is caused by a “spiritual malady.” Chronic alcoholism and other addictions are but symptoms of a greater malady which is “spiritual in nature.” Both Buddhism and A.A. are spiritual in nature and based on altruism, daily prayer/meditation, and a few other simple daily actions, such as doing the next right thing and saying thanks to a power-greater-than-ourselves, especially at the end of each day.

Neither Buddhism nor A.A. practice the obsessive ritualism that is found in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many other Christian religions, as well as Islam and Judaism. Neither Buddhism nor A.A. promotes a specific Deity.

Buddhism and A.A. are programs of attraction instead of promotion and both deplore expanding their philosophy by any type of coercion whatsoever. By contrast, Christianity, Judaism and Islam do not hesitate to promote their beliefs by swords, guns, bombs, sheer numbers or political force. Buddhist and A.A. principles can be found in all world religions, but without the same dogma, rituals and superstitions.

According to Matthieu Ricard, “Faith becomes superstition when it goes against reason and gets cut off from any understanding of the deep meaning of ritual.” But ritual does have a deep meaning. The Latin word ritus in fact means “correct action.” It calls for reflection, contemplation, prayer and meditation similar to A.A.’s 12 Steps and Traditions.

Buddhist meditation promotes emptiness, love, and compassion while A.A promotes love and tolerance. A.A.’s say “humility is the key to spiritual progress,” and Buddhism pays homage to wisdom in order to develop humility and both systems emphasize the need to eliminate false pride from the individual’s character.

I do not know the Dali Lama’s policy on money and finances, but I do know that A.A. will not accept any donations from any individual, corporation, etc., for more than 3,000 dollars and there are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; A.A.’s only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking alcohol.


source: Hindsfoot Foundation –  A  not-for-profit organization founded in 1993 for the publication of materials on the history and theory of alcoholism treatment and the moral and spiritual dimensions of recovery.

also: John Barleycorn was the Old English mythical figure who represented the magic spirit of the barley and wheat and other grains that produced alcoholic beverages. When you attempted to “kill John Barleycorn” by burying the grains of barley and wheat in the ground, he would just “come back to life again” by sprouting forth in new green sprouts. As the psychiatrist Carl Jung explained, the only force more powerful than the spirit of John Barleycorn, was an even greater Spirit, that of the Higher Power whom alcoholics meet in the A.A. program.



  1. you’re a very talented googler. i don’t know how you find all this stuff. glad i could help you get your google on 🙂

  2. seriously, I truly wish this amount of info was around 20 years ago.

    BTW: i came to this article somehow while i was looking up info on scorpions. Couldn’t find a good article like this a month ago, now suddenly it pops up while i’m looking up something that has nothing to do with me. The internet is inter-connected in ways i don’t understand. I like that. 😉

  3. Buddhism does not believe in God…where as AA does. Yes AA talks about a higher power but they ultimately are referring to a Christian God. AA is a great program for what it is…a program to quit drinking. I prefer Buddhism for my spirituality!!

    • I wholeheartedly agree with your statement. However just because the Big Book does ultimately refer back to a Christian God…… a long time member of aa I can tell you that most of the aa people I know do not believe in this Christian God.

      Several of my close friends are Buddhists also and have long term sobriety!

      I do have one sponsee right now who is struggling with his Buddhist beliefs and AA. I am hoping that this article and you statement will get him over that hump!

  4. […] Alcoholics Anonymous and Buddhism « Realistic RecoveryMay 29, 2009 … Alcoholics Anonymous and Buddhism. by John Barleycorn Waynedale News, July 9, 2007. I first met a Buddhist monk in the mid 1970′s and … […]

  5. There’s a story that tells of a young girl at work on a drawing in her art class at school. She was very intent and absorbed in her drawing when the teacher came by and said, “That looks interesting, what are you drawing?”

    Not looking up, the girl said replied,, “It’s a picture of God.”

    “A picture of God?” the teacher exclaimed. “You can’t draw a picture of God! No one knows what God looks like!”

    Continuing to draw, the little girl said quietly but surely, “They will when I’m finished!”

    It’s said that Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous credited Ebby Thacher with giving him one of the greatest gifts when Ebby told Bill that if his conception of God wasn’t working to choose another. It could be why the book, after which the “movement” was named, says simply and clearly that “We have no monopoly on God; we merely have an approach that worked with us.”

    That concept of a higher power – be it Buddhist, atheist, Christian, Muslim, agnostic, Gaia, angels, ancestors, or a mosaic of all those or none – will make itself clear to the one as he or she draws.

    Thanks for the post and comments and the chance to share.

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