Addiction

Posted: 02/03/2018 by zandtao in Buddhadasa, Freedom, Insight, Struggle
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Addiction is a fascinating subject, and I have become interested again through reading Russell’s book on Recovery.

Reading the introduction kept me internally screaming “4 Noble Truths”, but Russell coped with his addiction through the 12 steps programme LINK blog. A simplified version of the 4 Noble Truths might read:-

1) Around there is suffering.
2) Suffering comes from desire, and clinging to this desire.
3) We can free ourselves from suffering by letting go of this clinging.
4) The Noble 8-fold Path is the Buddha’s method for freedom from suffering.

Another key Buddhist teaching is paticcasamuppada, dependent origination. Buddhadasa discusses it in detail here, and here are the stages he discusses:-

The religious 12 Steps are too “Goddy” for Russell, and in the same way despite great respect for his insight Buddhadasa’s description of both the 4 Noble Truths and paticcasamuppada are a tad dogmatic. So much so that looking at both it is perhaps difficult to relate them to addiction.

Buddhists whilst knowing these doctrines tend only to see them in terms of personal choice and conduct, and yet there are such wider implications for both. There is an issue in Buddhism as to “engagement”, how much what the Buddha taught can be applied to socio-political life. For example, paticcasamuppada is concerned with conditioning, and offers a solution as to how we can be free from conditioning. But in considering conditioning Buddhists tend not to view “their” conditioning as connected to the “political conditioning” that so many activists discuss. In the same way at one meeting I discussed the suffering caused by the political system (referring to capitalism) as part of the first Noble Truth, whilst not necessarily disagreeing with the premise that capitalism was the problem, it was said that the suffering talked of in Buddhism does not usually refer to “suffering caused by a political system”. Somehow Buddhist mainstream sees these conditionings as different. It is important to note here that the conditioning discussed in Buddhism has a much wider scope than the political system and conditioning of this time – Buddha’s teachings are timeless. However that does not mean that what the Buddha taught cannot be applied to all forms of conditioning at this time.

What I want to note here is that the teachings concerning the 4 Noble Truths and paticcasamuppada can be applied to addiction. I will look into this later.

Russell discusses how wide addiction is and I want to look at this further. Addiction is a weakness that is a mental process. It is normal to see addiction as a problem associated with substance abuse, and it clearly is. The primary addictions concern drugs and alcohol, and undoubtedly they both have a compulsion that is attached physically. There are far far more knowledgeable people on this, and this physical dependency as addiction is not what concerns me now. It concerned me a lot more when I was younger and an alcoholic (discussed throughout this blog “tag bottom”).

I am now more interested in examining the mental process of addiction, and this is much more connected to the 4 Noble Truths and paticcasamuppada. It is not my intention to get too involved here with Buddhist dogma …. it is however central to the discussion.

When we become addicted to alcohol (I don’t know about drugs), there is a pattern of behaviour associated with alcohol addiction. In my case it was enjoyment and escapism as well as overcoming shyness. Once attracted to the enjoyment and escapism I got pulled back by these attractions until I said “no more, finish” – 17 years. It is these patterns of behaviour that conditioned my alcoholism.

I want to investigate pain in this process as Russell focusses on pain. I think I was particularly lucky on this. In my childhood there was no pain only repression, I was completely middle-classed – repressed by my middle-class upbringing and education. This is a reality and not a complaint, by the time I was an adult I was well equipped with the usual middle-class privilege (qualifications) to have choices in life; it was a privilege I was able to use. In terms of how Raoul Martinez describes it, I was conditioned with middle-class privilege, and compared with what others have to put up with I am happy with that. There was no pain.

But there was no freedom in this repression, and when I left home this conditioning got questioned. At university I was a fool, but the privilege survived the alcohol, and after uni I had a passport that put me on the bottom rung of society’s success ladder. But I did not cope and was not interested, and this led to my hitting bottom, and the upheaval starting me on the path. Was I in pain prior to hitting bottom? No, but I was numb (I use that word because Russell uses it a lot). But the process of hitting bottom seemed more like a conditioned response, middle-class, academia, office job, and a complete lack of invested decision-making in the process. All the “stars” drank so I drank leading to hitting bottom. For a month prior to my hitting bottom, alcoholism badly affected my daily life as I was up all hours and drunk soon after work finished. And I did not cope at work making so many trivial mistakes because I did not care. The job was a bit humdrum as was where I was living – Sevenoaks, but it was nothing to do with either – I was the problem and deserved what happened to me – the sack. In fact because they were both humdrum it hastened the rush to bottom – but probably not by much.

But at that time I was just numb and drifting through, hence my seeing the process as conditioned. I have no doubts at all that I had a physical need for alcohol, but more importantly there was some kind of mental process happening. I describe this process of hitting bottom as upheaval leading to the path, and that this path was natural and moving me beyond conditioning. It was initially creative, as I matured it became gaining insight then insight through meditation. Now I perceive the path as this:-

Unfortunately addiction to alcohol did not end with starting on the path. From the book Recovery, it came as a great surprise to me that Russell had stopped drugs and alcohol 14 years ago, I think I formed my opinion of him as a dickhead long after he stopped. But that changed with his book “Revolution”, and the quality of people on his podcasts “#UnderTheSkin” shows the respect people have for him. Sadly this still seems not to be reflected in his stage persona, but how could he make any money if he was investigating spirituality as he does on his podcasts?

So being on the path is not necessarily free of conditioning, it is what it is – a path. In fact surprising as it may seem to some there is much ego on the path but oft-disguised. I have described my life as having two childhoods leading to a maturity – with much still to learn and ego to overcome.

And understanding addiction has its place in this. Why would someone who is fortunate enough to have landed somewhere on the path still allow addiction? It is the mental process of addiction that is the cause – not an attachment to substance.

Russell recognised addiction to food when he was young – and other addictions later. This suggests that his mental processes can become addicted “easily”. In society the word addiction tends to be saved for those with substance abuse, but this disguises a wider social addiction.

Throughout our lives we have glimpses of the path – some more than others. Within us, for some deeper than others, there is a recognition of these glimpses called presence, muse, nibbana-dhatu and many more. Within us all is the knowledge of the path, the recognition of what could be a better life if we looked for it. However we usually remain inside the conditioning. When we know there is something better, and we hide from it, isn’t that addiction – addiction to conditioning?

To understand how this works we need a Buddhist concept – anatta, no-self. We are born without selves having the 5 human attributes or khandas. What then motivates us is instinct. With this instinct we seek succour from mother, warmth from family, procreation in adolescence, these instincts are all aspects of conditioning that help us survive. As behaviour patterns reinforce themselves throughout our lives we begin to recognise certain things about our lives, and we attach to them calling them self. With many such reinforcements we build up an identity or self, we condition a self.

Through the removal of ignorance and application of paticcasamuppada we can recognise the conditioning process and begin to detach from instinctive responses. As we begin to detach we also develop insight that frees us from the attachment to conditioning. In the meme inserted above we start with the 5 khandas (body and psyche). Through instinct and conditioning consciousness attaches to the khandas creating a self that we perceive as our identity. If we remain ignorant then the conditioning continues, but if we connect to (glimpse) sunnata then we can recognise that there is a path that is not subject to conditioning.

But that conditioning keeps pulling us back, we feel comfortable and want to follow the familiar patterns that we have followed before and gained instinctive gratification from. That is addiction, we are addicted to instinctive patterns of behaviour – not dependent on substance abuse.

We are addicted to the conditioning that has created our selves. Substance abuse is an example of this. But it is not addiction per se that is the problem, it is the results of the addiction that society finds unacceptable. For most of the time my drinking was not a problem for anyone else because I held down a job, and performed it comparatively well. My being an alcoholic was not an issue for others especially as I lived alone. It is not addiction but the results of addiction that are the social problems. Society functions with our addiction to conditioning so long as the results of addiction don’t cause issues. Hence we have the somewhat gross scenario where a significant number of lives are hurt by alcohol addiction, government profits from this by taxing alcohol highly, and Hollywood glamourises the relationship between sexual gratification and drinking. Drugs have such a glamourous connection as well but at least government does not tax drugs.

In the Buddhist dogmas of the 4 Noble Truths and paticcasamuppada, desire and clinging to conditioning is seen as the source of our suffering – this is the mental process of addiction.

What are we addicted to? The conditioning that produces self, we are addicted to self. Anatta simply means ending the addiction to conditioning and moving beyond that conditioning – the path.

Saying I am addicted to self means a lot to me but it might not mean a great deal to others – people who do not follow Buddhadasa Buddhism (Theravada as taught by Ajaan Buddhadasa).

I am suggesting that we have to recognise that we are addicted to self – addicted to the conditioning that produces self, and that we have to resolve to end that addiction.

So understanding what the self is that we are addicted to becomes the problem. This involves going back and seeing where self arises, self arises from attachment to the khandas (see meme above). This is dogma. So when does self not arise? When we do not attach to the 5 khandas, and that means that we must have the mental discipline of detachment and allow connection to sunnata.

Again this is not too helpful because it is dogma. How do we know we are not attached and Eckhart has an easy word for that – presence. One could also use muse, sunnata, more consistent nibbana-dhatu, unity, non-duality and so on. Many words – hard to understand.

Let’s make this everyday. Is there presence when you are watching TV, having sex or masturbating, cooking and eating, gossiping, routine? I suggest not. Is the path everyday stuff? No But we have to do everyday stuff to live so we do them as mindfully as possible, then maybe there is presence.

In presence there is path, there is no addiction, in creativity, insight there is no addiction.

Impossible all the time – maybe. But to avoid being addicted to self we must question our conditioning and always try to be present, the Power of Now, living in the present moment.

So what do the 12 steps mean for being addicted to self?

This is important and difficult, as I don’t know whether I can bear my “soul”, open myself to public scrutiny (even for the 0 people who read this blog). But for it to be meaningful I have to answer honestly.

<– Previous Post “12 steps” Next Post “conditions” –>

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Mandtao, Matriellez.

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