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Lions Roar : May 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 89 turned out graceful and affecting memoirs look- ing at recovery through the lens of longtime Zen practice. More recent authors write from a Theravada perspective. In One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps, Kevin Grif- fin, a graduate of Spirit Rock’s Community Dharma Program, threads his drinking sto- ry through a discussion of how AA’s steps il- luminate Vipassana practice and vice versa. Though Griffin covers much of the same territory as Laura S., his strong narra- tive lends more immediacy to the material. That said, Laura S. may simply have been concerned that personal story is perhaps the one area in which AA is at odds with Bud- dhism. In AA you may have lost your home, your family, your job, your shoes, but if you have your story you have all the currency you need. A recovering alcoholic never sur- renders that one crucial piece—his identity with his disease: “I am an alcoholic.” Bud- dhism, on the other hand, is about no story, no self. The point is to see through the au- tobiographical “I” as just one more defense against the truth of impermanence. For the recovering-alcoholic-Buddhist-practitioner the question becomes “How can I be and not be at the same time?” Even more subversive is the corollary: “If there’s no ‘I,’ there’s nothing to be alcoholic. Therefore, I can drink ...” This is the kind of crazy reasoning AA tackles head on. One of the program’s slo- gans is K.I.S.S.—Keep It Simple, Stupid. Alcoholics are notorious for overcomplicat- ing everything in service to their addiction, so sticking to basics is considered essential for recovery. AA has been called “a simple program for complicated people,” but Laura S.’s gloss of the program with a Buddhist overlay makes sobriety seem as challenging as law school. Of AA’s First Step, she writes: “When I deeply grasped the underlying ef- fect of dependent origination and karma on my alcoholism, I understood powerlessness and unmanageability with an intensity I had not previously imagined. The comfort- ing aspect of this understanding is the ab- solute lawfulness of dependent origination and karma.” Translation, please? The author herself supplies it: “If I don’t drink, I won’t get drunk, and I won’t screw up my life.” Why didn’t she just say that in the first place? When you’re drawing parallels be- tween AA’s twelve steps and twelve tradi- tions, and Buddha’s four noble truths, five hindrances, eightfold path, twelve links of dependent origination, anicca, anatta, duk- kha, and karma, etc. etc., the temptation to slip into jargon must be irresistible. But it can be mind-numbing. More than once I was re- minded of a comment a professor scrawled on one of my college papers: “Nice exposition of the facts, but what does all this mean?” In my own case, I was lucky to find zazen early in my recovery. “Just sitting” with my face to the wall, counting breaths, was about as much as I could handle. If I’d also needed to keep in mind the finer points of Buddhist doctrine, I doubt I’d have been able to hold my seat. I took refuge in the saying “the fin- ger pointing at the moon is not the moon” and its suggestion that deep realization probably wasn’t going to come from study- ing scripture but from direct knowing. Visitors to AA meetings are often sur- prised at the hilarity: “What, you’re laugh- ing about getting drunk and throwing up on your boss?” Some of the laughter is re- lief—the humor of people who’ve survived a harrowing ordeal and are now sharing the same leaky lifeboat. But there’s something more—a lightness of being. “Wear the world like a loose garment,” the AA litera- ture suggests. One of the promises of AA is that sobriety will bring “a new freedom and a new happiness.” Isn’t that what the Buddha promised? Laura S. is quite right in thinking that Buddhism and the Twelve Steps together can make a world of differ- ence to a sober alcoholic. It’s just not clear how reading an extensive exegesis will im- prove conscious contact with the Buddha within, or make life more manageable. Living sober is a challenge. So is libera- tion. For some of us the best tools are the simplest. For others, this book might be just what the Buddha ordered. ♦ JOAN DUNCAN OLIVER’s most recent book is Happiness: How to Get It and Keep It. Her essay, “Drink and a Man,” appears in the anthology The Best Buddhist Writing 2005. Gangaji, an internation- ally renowned teacher and author, has influenced the lives of thou- sands through her retreats and public events. In her new book, The Diamond in Your Pocket, she speaks to the es- sential paradox of the spiritual search: the discovery of true fulfillment lies in the willingness to call off the search for fulfillment. “It is impossible to find happiness,” she explains. “As long as you are seeking to find happiness somewhere, you are overlooking where happiness is ... in your true nature.” In the tradition of Sri Ramana Maharshi and Papaji, The Diamond in Your Pocket cuts through what is false and illuminates what is true, through a brilliant series of contemplations and insights you will want to return to again and again. Exploring a breadth of topics from how to let go of your need to control, to the trance of language, to despair’s hidden treasure, Gangaji helps you to cultivate the courage to open your mind, so you can freshly investigate the truth of your nature and directly realize the brilliance and radiance of who you already are. AVAILABLE NOW AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE, OR ORDER DIRECT FROM SOUNDS TRUE: 800-333-9185 U.S. $22.95 • 304 pages • Hardcover • K919 Please mention offer SSDUA1 to receive free shipping when ordering by phone. 100% money-back guarantee. For more information about Gangaji, visit www.gangaji.org or call 800-267-9205. “This book is meant for the rapidly growing number of spiritual seekers who are approaching the end of their seeking and who are ready for the undiluted truth.” — ECKHART TOLLE A New Book by GANGAJI FREESHIPPING sands through her retreats and public CADSSDUA1_Gngaji.indd 1 1/27/06 1:44:38 PM