Tag Archives: Buddhism

The Parable of the Poisoned Arrow

Whoever coined the phrase, “there are no stupid questions”, probably never interacted with a Zen Master.  I say this because I was recently involved in an interchange with a Zen teacher that, in retrospect, should have resulted in my receiving a hearty whack from him with an awakening stick.  As usual, after his dharma talk, he opened the floor for questions, and I asked him about the purpose of the ego – specifically, “if it is so problematic, why is it the norm instead of enlightenment?”

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Stepping Out of Automatic Pilot

airplane-taking-offI have come to view the years I spent in active addiction as my having been trapped in state of perpetual unconsciousness.  That is not to say there was no mental or emotional activity.  On the contrary, whether I was getting high or not, my mind raced incessantly and my emotions swung to extremes.  I say that I was unconscious because all of this mental and emotional activity occurred without much if any apparent effort on my part as if it all were happening automatically.  I have since learned that these reactive patterns were conditioned in me from a very young age and were likely reinforced by both genetic and other biological factors.  Initially, alcohol and drugs soothed the perpetual state of anxiety (or, dissatisfaction, discontent, dis-ease, or dukkha, if you will) which pervaded my existence.  However, these powerful chemicals ultimately turned on me as they acted upon vulnerable reward, memory, and motivation circuitry in my brain to ensure that I would fall into the vicious downward spiral of addiction.  Thus the trap of addiction is complex and composed of myriad personal and environmental risk factors which conspire to form the trance of automaticity.  And so, for me the process of recovery has essentially entailed an awakening to the causes and conditions of these automatic reactive patterns.  More importantly, it has also been about learning to step out of and interrupt these patterns through cultivation of mindfulness.

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The Buddhism and Addiction Series (Part I of III)

Part I:

Spirituality, Addiction and Recovery

Exploring the Concept of Spirituality

Until recently, scientists have generally avoided the concept of spirituality in research and in clinical settings (Eliason, Amodia, & Cano, 2006).  One explanation for this omission is that spirituality is often mistakenly conflated with religion – the latter being viewed as largely off-limits due to professional ethical considerations (Eliason et al., 2006).  The rule of thumb has been that spiritual matters were best left to the realm of the clergy or mystics and kept outside of the boundaries of science.

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Killing Buddha: Reflections from Clouds in Water

Last December, when I learned that Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul, Minnesota would host the 6th Annual Buddhism and 12-Step Retreat, I immediately began making plans to attend.  It was with great anticipation that I boarded a plane on March 7 and flew to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the 3-day retreat.  What follows are my initial thoughts and reflections from this remarkable event; but first, some background information is in order…

A panoramic shot of the zendo at Clouds in Water

Upon reaching the 8th Step last summer, I had made substantial progress in freeing myself of the closed-mindedness towards spiritual matters that had previously blocked my recovery.  Leading up to that point, while working the 3rd Step, I had come across Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and for the first time felt that I could honestly trust the process of recovery — an experience which I wrote about in an essay entitled An Appeal for Pantheism.  However, as I moved forward with the work of Steps 4 through 7, further spiritual investigation was forestalled in favor of Albert Ellis’ rational approach to cognitive restructuring.  Ellis’ techniques proved practical and effective.  But as I began to consider the 8th Step, I was drawn back to the search for a spiritual underpinning from which I could make sense of the amends process which I was about to undertake.  It was time for me to face, once and for all, the deep-seeded shame and resentment which had fueled my addiction.  And so, the search for a spiritual antidote to these problems resurfaced.

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Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

This award winning film takes viewers into India’s largest prison which also happens to be one of the toughest in the world.  The film documents the dramatic change brought about in both inmates and prison guards under the visionary leadership of Inspector General, Karin Bedi who oversaw the introduction of Vipassana meditation into the prison.

Mindful Living: A Proposed Relapse Prevention Project

Substance abuse prevention is generally thought to involve primary and secondary prevention strategies which target populations that have either not yet engaged in use of alcohol and drugs (though they may be at risk to do so), or those who are in the very early stages of alcohol and drug use (Wilson & Kolander, 2011). Though efforts to prevent the onset of addiction are important, of equal concern is substance use relapse prevention wherein the stabilization brought about during treatment is preserved, and long-term abstinence is promoted.

Unfortunately, it appears that relapse prevention is often viewed as an afterthought of treatment wherein patients are discharged with little meaningful guidance nor provision of resources to aid them moving forward in recovery (McClellan, Lewis, O’Brien, & Kleber, 2000). As experts in the field continue to acknowledge that addiction is a chronic rather than acute condition, the provision of continuing care for those who have completed treatment must likewise adapt to meet this emerging awareness. To this end, the following substance use relapse prevention project, Mindful Living, is proposed.
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Joshu Washes the Bowl

A new disciple came to meet Zen master Joshu.

“I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me the first Zen lesson,” said he to the Zen master.

“Have you finished eating your rice porridge?” asked Joshu.

“Yes master,” replied the disciple.

“Now go and wash your bowl,” said Joshu.

At that moment the monk was enlightened.
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Forgiveness Meditation

Jack Kornfield

Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India, and Burma. He has taught meditation internationally since 1974 and is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West.  A prolific author, Kornfield has written more than a dozen books that have been translated into twenty languages.  He holds a PhD in clinical psychology and is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and of Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California.

The following meditation on forgiveness is taken from his website at www.jackkornfield.com:

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The Karma Effect

I am the owner of my karma.
I inherit my karma.
I am born of my karma.
I am related to my karma.
I live supported by my karma.
Whatever karma I create, whether good or evil, I shall inherit.

— The Buddha —

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