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Escaping the Karma of Addiction, an article in Insight Journal, Summer 2008

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A better way to feel good

From there, the big issue is, why change? What’s in it for me? This is where it’s nice to be able to offer pieces of Buddhism as an ethical psychology. People are so used to morality being presented as being coerced and demanding, where one is good to others because that’s what God told you to do. Buddhism doesn’t really play that game. One of the things I like about the Buddha is he’s asked over and over again, tell us about Brahma. Can you tell us about God? And the Buddha says that’s really not what he’s teaching here. “I teach only about suffering and the end of suffering.” Of course many of his Brahmin listeners cannot imagine a path to perfection that did not involve God, but this is one of the things that makes the Buddhist perspective unique.

In the 3-S approach we are not going to present “do no harm” as a moral imperative from any other source, because undoubtedly our clients have been hearing that since Sunday school. If anything we are drawn more in the direction of the Christian teaching, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We appeal rather to the client’s existing desire for self-gratification. And Buddhist ethics says that once you understand how the mind works, “doing the right thing” has a lot to do with feeling good, though not in the conventional sense of mere pleasure. Interestingly, it is the opposite of what we’re told in the West; where “doing the right thing’ takes time, money, effort and self-denial.

There are two aspects of this to cover. The first is the Buddha’s understanding of the inherently harmful nature of hatred. Just as acid first burns the container in which it is held, before it can ever be used to harm another, so also hatred has a corrosive effect on its bearer. It harms us even before it harms others, and in many cases hatred might well do us a great deal of harm and never touch those to whom it is directed. As an example of this, I took a trip recently and the airline lost every last piece of my baggage. It was a teaching trip, and I lost all the handouts I was relying upon. I spent the entire night in my hotel room, prior to presenting 3-S therapy, writing nasty letters to the airline in my head. I was livid. How dare they? Then I thought, wait a minute, it’s not about me. They don’t even care if they’ve lost my bags. Who lost the sleep that night, the chairman of the airline, or me? I did. I was poisoned by it. Those of you in 12-Step programs have heard the line, “What is the nature of resentment?” -It’s where I take poison and wait for you to die, right? It is the same basic concept. You cannot do evil without poisoning yourself first. You always harm yourself first before you harm others.


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