Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Twelve Step Program Compared To The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path


The Twelve Step Program (copyright AA World Services) compared to The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path (as explained on The Big View website in the Buddhism section.)

(One of them, The Twelve Steps was developed and taught to help alcoholics and addicts relieve themselves of their form of suffering. The other, Buddhism, was taught in order to help relieve mankind of the suffering the Buddha experienced in the world at the time.)

Step One  1. Admitted that we were powerless over (State name of substance that you abused here.) and that our lives had become unmanageable.

This is the point where we face ourselves for the first time in as honest a fashion as we can muster. We had to admit to ourselves that we were a different class of person and the idea that we could be able to drink or get high like social party-ers was something unattainable for people like us, and that we had wasted a long part of our life trying to prove that we were normal. No matter how far down the scale we had gone, we couldn't drink or use like a normal human being.

The first noble truth: 1. Life means suffering.

To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.

Step Two:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

This is when we saw in others and started to understand that we had a chance, the first sign of hope in a hopeless situation. We were told that we could choose a higher power of our own understanding, that it had to be a power greater than ourselves and we were to have faith that if we asked, it would give us the strength to stay sober and quit living in a hopeless state of mind and body.

The second noble truth: 2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardor  pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a "self" which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call "self" is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

Step Three:  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

This is when we decided to align our will with the right path, guided and given strength by our higher power and give ourselves to this program in it's whole, vowing to go to any lengths to stay sober. We started praying and following the direction of the people who came before us, having faith that our higher power spoke through them.

The third noble truth:  3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.

Step Four:  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

We wrote down our resentments, fears, sexual relationship failings, and included all other people that we had harmed. We made each list a four column sheet and dissected each problem systematically as the A.A. Big Book described in order to see how delusional we were and how selfish we had treated others. We realized we had to find a way to be rid of this selfishness.

The forth noble truth:  4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

There is a path to the end of suffering - a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely "wandering on the wheel of becoming", because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.

Step Five:  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

We sat down with another person (hopefully our sponsor) and read what we had written, for the first time realizing as we were reading this how this might sound to another human being. We saw how petty and self centered our thinking had been. This was the beginning of seeing through our delusional thinking.

The First of the Eightfold Path : 1. Right View

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

Step Six:  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

We aske our higher power to remove from us all the things that stood in the way of doing the right thing, his will for us. We became ready to start life over under new direction and a sound and sane ideal of how to live.

The second of the Eightfold Path:  2. Right Intention

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

Step Seven:  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

We asked to be rid of the things that stood in the way of us leading a fulfilling life and blocking us from the sunlight of the spirit, the path to right action, word, and deed. We started to see how we had harmed ourselves.

The third of the Eightfold Path:  3. Right Speech

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

Step Eight:  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

We looked back at our list that we made when we took inventory and wrote down the names of the people we had harmed, vowing to set right the mistakes of our past that we could physically accomplish.

The Fourth of the Eightfold Path:  4. Right Action

The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.

Step Nine:  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

We set forth on a mission of cleaning our side of the street as best we could. We admitted our faults to people we had harmed, admitted we were wrong, and asked what we could do to make it up to them. When they told us, we made amends the best we could to show an honest effort to make things right and follow through instead of just whining that we were sorry like we had done a thousand times before. At this point we start feeling like we feel relieved and start realizing even more what harms we do others when being selfish and try to start living a new way in every thing we do.

The fifth of the Eightfold Path:  5. Right Livelihood

Right livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

Step Ten:  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

We took inventory at night and set right any new harms we had done, in the same manner as we made amends in step nine. We continued this process from now on for growth spiritually and humanely.

The sixth of the Eightfold Path:  6. Right Effort

Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

Step Eleven:  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

We asked our higher power to give us the intuitive thought or decision and to guide us throughout the day and show us where we could help others, ever mindful to TRY not to selfishly harm others. We ask to remove selfish motives so that we can see clearly what our higher power would have us do. We spent some time reflecting after praying on what our path for the day was to be.

The seventh of the Eightfold Path:  7. Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualise sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.

Step Twelve:  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

We now use our new consciousness to help others, which at the same time, helps us. Now that we have been given the power to help others and been relieved of the hopeless state of mind and body through a daily reprieve, we set out to help other people who need the same thing, by sharing the gift we have been given, and to help others in our work and living environments and throughout our daily lives. We use the intuitive thought that we gained through our prayer and meditation session to see clearly what we could do to help the man who still suffers and be a better person today than the day before, growing incrementally on a continuous basis.

The eighth of the Eightfold Path: 8. Right Concentration

The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.

Sources Cited:
the twelve step program:  http://www.aa.org/en_pdfs/smf-121_en.pdf
the four noble truths and the eightfold path:  http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/fourtruths.html , http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html

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