While our craving addictions generally don’t cause the kind of harmful effects that alcohol or sex addiction do, nor are they social taboos, they do take a serious toll on our sanity by causing overwhelming frustration, fear, and anxiety, and so impact our opportunity to experience peace and contentment ... they are the core of our samsara. This is not just harmful to us, but without question has a negative impact on all those around us, whether family, friends, or colleagues.
When we think, in our more rational moments, about freeing ourselves from our cravings by accepting ourselves and the world around us as just being the way things are, and loving ourselves unconditionally and with compassion, we quickly push back against the idea of acceptance because we don’t want to accept. We want our cravings! And our habit-energies usually win out.
We don’t accept that our cravings are bad for us. We know that they are, because we know the agony that they put us through, but we don’t accept that they are unhealthy. Our cravings are normal, we say. Everyone has them. There’s nothing socially unacceptable or shameful about our cravings. If they harm us because we can't fulfill them, we feel it’s because of something that we’re doing wrong; it’s our fault. Or we feel victimized. And we certainly don’t accept that we have no control over them.
The other morning while meditating, I thought about these issues while reflecting on my experience in a 12-step program. And I had an epiphany. I realized that the reason why, even with good teaching, so many Buddhists find it hard to get beyond a certain feel-good point in their practice, why they are unable to free themselves from their suffering, is their inability or refusal to change their relationship with their addictive cravings ... to accept that they are harmful and that we are powerless over them.
Well, if one is a Buddhist and continues to hold such feelings then one is playing games with oneself. One is trying to have your cake and eat it too. And that just isn’t possible.
If I think about the temples I’ve attended and the dharma talks I’ve heard, there is very little mention of any of this. Even the very powerful teaching I received that “scratched the itch,” ignored this whole issue by going directly to an understanding of the illusory nature of our perceptions and the impermanence of all things. But even with that understanding, even after it was internalized, surrendering the ego to my true Buddha nature was another ballgame. And it all comes back to the power of our cravings and our ego.
As the Buddha said as he set rolling the wheel of the dharma, the origin of suffering is craving. This acknowledgment is the lynchpin of the Four Noble Truths. Without accepting this fact, there can be no real progress on the path.
And so I propose to set forth a new approach to the Buddha dharma ... 12 Steps on the Buddhist Path, an expanded take on the Four Noble Truths and on the Fourfold Path to Freedom which I have presented in my books. (NOTE: Others have used the term, “12 step Buddhism,” but in the context of Buddhism as an adjunct to a traditional 12-step addiction recovery program - for example alcohol or sex. What I am proposing is totally independent of any of the traditionally recognized addictions.)
1. Affirmed that what we value most is peace and happiness. That our cravings, emotions, judgments, and attachments cause us suffering and make peace impossible. Yet we admitted that we were powerless over our cravings -- that they were controlling our lives.
2. Came to believe that our true Buddha nature could restore us to peace and end our suffering, and created a platform of serenity through belief in the Buddha dharma, focusing on the good things in our lives, and starting to walk the path of acceptance.
3. Committed ourselves to the path by practicing the Five Precepts and the Six Paramitas
4. Came to believe that all our perceptions are learned, of dependent origination, and thus empty of intrinsic existence, just a product of our ego-mind which is not our true self, and that all things are impermanent. Instead we knew that our true self is our heart.
5. Were ready and willing, and made a decision to surrender our ego and turn our will and our lives over to the care of our true Buddha nature, opening up our heart to embrace all aspects of our being.
6. Came to believe that we have everything we need inside ourselves to be at peace and happy. And formed the intent to not allow anything to disturb our peace and happiness.
7. Came to free ourselves from our cravings and all emotions, judgments, and attachments.
8. Were entirely ready to love ourselves unconditionally and have compassion for ourselves, and to accept ourselves and the world around us as being the way they are because it's just the way it is.
9. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to be mindful of the arising of cravings and desires, and when they arose, stopped, did not attach to them or engage them, rejected their guidance as not being good for us, and allowed them to subside.
11. Sought through meditation to constantly improve our conscious contact with our true Buddha nature, returning to our self-nature, observing things without the intervention of thought, following the Noble Eightfold Path, and practicing the Six Paramitas.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others who were suffering from their cravings and to practice these principles in all our affairs.