Recovery Messages & News

12 Steps of NA and Connection to Buddhism-Part 1 of 2

By Mr. Ken Mercer

As much as the 12 Steps, originally AA, are thought to arise out of the Oxford Group, which is based on a Christian tradition, there are some core aspects that are related to Buddhism. The first step of AA focuses on alcohol, while NA says “our addiction”. NA moves the discussion of the disease to its roots, while discouraging the focus on substances as the problem; and the 12 Steps provide guidance for a recovery life with more humility, joy and freedom. Buddhism addresses the core aspects of the human condition as well in providing a framework and solutions towards a more enlightened life. The parallels are explored in a comparative form below:

Step 1

1. We admitted that we are powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.

First and second laws of Buddhism are –

1. The law of Emptiness.

2. The law of Impermanence.

The First Step is about acceptance of the reality of the disease of addiction. We have, as addicts, a spiritual disease that is uncontrollable and unmanageable, if we don’t take certain steps in changing our behaviour, we may die from it.

The Law of Emptiness and the Law of Impermanence are about acceptance of the reality of life that is pure potential (empty with infinite possibilities) and it is constantly changing. We cannot control or change this reality. It is only through acceptance of this reality, and taking certain steps, that we can enhance or improve the quality of our experience of this reality. If we keep trying to control reality or escape reality through substances and/or addictive behaviours then it may kill us.

Steps 2 – 3

2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. We made a decision to turn our wills over to the care of God as we understood him.

The second and third steps are about faith and trust that there is a power greater than ourselves that can assist us and letting go of control will benefit us.

The third law of Buddhism is –

3. The law of Cause and Effect.

The law of Cause and Effect is about faith and trust too. Everything is energy, positive negative and neutral, we are extensions of this energy. It is universal and infinite. It underlies all that happens within us and around us. We must recognize that universal energy and trust its manifestation in our life. It is also about letting go of control as we can stay in the process and not get attached to the outcome, which will result from the natural law of Cause and Effect or the grace of our Higher Power.

Steps 4 -7

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory.

5. We admitted to God and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. We humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.

Steps Four to Seven are about self-reflection and self-observation. Taking responsibility for our actions and holding ourselves accountable for our contributions to reality, provides an opportunity to recognize what had been unhealthy and how to move forward in a healthier way.

Buddhism, “Noble Eightfold Path”, provides a framework for healthy living:

1. Right view

2. Right intention

3. Right speech

4. Right action

5. Right livelihood

6. Right effort

7. Right mindfulness

8. Right concentration

The Eight Fold Path is also about self-reflection and self-observation. As with Steps Four to Seven it is also about self-discipline and training the mind. Being responsible for our behaviour and holding ourselves accountable for our contributions to reality.

Both steps four to seven and the eight fold path are also about mental discipline, moral/ethical behaviour and meditation. Responsibility, focus and mindfulness are essential for Steps 4 – 7 and the “Noble Eightfold Path”.