Buddhism and the 12 Steps

Both Buddhist practice and 12-Step programs encourage followers to have faith in their own experience.

Continued from page 5

Karma, like powerlessness, is often misunderstood. People commonly think it means destiny or fate. But both the Twelve Steps and Buddhist teaching point to the ways in which we shape our own destiny. The Buddha said everything starts with thoughts; that we speak and act based on thoughts; that our words and actions turn into habits-or addictions; and that those habits shape our character into something inflexible. So, he says, "Watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings. As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become." This underscores a strong argument for the value of meditation practice. Meditation makes it possible to see your thoughts more clearly, and when you see your thoughts clearly, you can consciously decide how to respond to them.

This idea can be taken too far, though, and we can blame ourselves for things we have no power over. The Buddha points out that because there are so many causes and effects happening simultaneously, our own will can have only a limited impact. It's up to us to find the balance between responsibility and powerlessness. Sorting this out is what the Serenity Prayer, often recited at Twelve Step gatherings, tries to help you do, with its plea to "grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." Though this prayer calls on God for help, the Buddhist teachings and the inherent wisdom that comes through the practices can bring the same acceptance, strength, and clarity. Meditation develops in us the power to sit through all kinds of experiences without flinching, with a willingness to see what is true. This non-flinching willingness can be called courage. So, the courage, wisdom, and acceptance of the prayer come from the same place, from the inner strength that grows through continuously opening the heart and mind.


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