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

Table of Contents

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Non-harming as the first step

Buddhist ethics says that once you understand how the mind works, “doing the right thing” has a lot to do with feeling good.


The second section of the intervention begins with the training in sila, a word meaning integrity or morality. Morality here in the United States is sometimes confused with sexual morality, as if morality is totally encompassed by sexual relations; but this is not the case. Since morality can be such a loaded word in our culture, we might better think of sila as “training in integrity.” The flavor of this training is suggested by the verse from the Dhammapada, “As I am, so are others, and as others are, so am I. Having thus identified self and others, harm no one and give no harm.”

The three sections of the Buddhist eight-fold path dealing with integrity are right speech, right action and right livelihood. In the 3-S therapy, we begin by teasing out from the client some addict speech, addict action and some addict livelihood. The therapeutic goals of this are to look at these and see they are incompatible with getting on a spiritual path.

We are going to reinforce the whole concept of integrity as “no harm to self and others.” Then in the experiential component we are going to replace some really negative addict-self scripts with some scripts of loving kindness about ourselves. It is not easy to do.

Discussion centers around the whole idea of morality being the foundation of a spiritual path. In all traditions, including Buddhism, basic morality -how I treat myself, how I treat others- is key to being able to move forward in a positive way on any path. We can then show how the addict self is a habit pattern of the mind incompatible with the spiritual path. The addict self is rather ambivalent about harming oneself and harming others.

You want to ask the client -and this is a great piece of the session- “Let’s talk a little bit about addict speech, what does the addict self say when the addict self is talking?” And you get some really wonderful expositions about types of things that the addict self actually says. Lying and manipulating are only the first iteration; gossiping, swearing, boasting about one’s capabilities of doing amazing amounts of crack and things like that. Then moving on to addict actions, we hear of drug use, of course, but also of sharing drug paraphernalia, having unsafe sex -these relate directly to the HIV, Hepatitis-C piece of the intervention. For addict livelihood, they are never really sure what to say. How does the addict make his money? What does the addict do to keep drugs in her system?


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