Thursday, January 14, 2016

When Buddhism Came To AA?

Let me begin by repeating what I’ve said several times on this blog; that Twelve & Zen is available to everybody no matter what 12-Step program you follow.  I often refer to AA and the Big Book, mainly because this is the source from which all 12-Step groups have risen.

We know “Buddhism” isn’t mentioned in the original Big Book at all.  It’s no wonder some Buddhists today may feel their spiritual path was overlooked. But what if I told you, by citing a 1940s AA pamphlet (commissioned by Dr. Bob no less), you could begin chanting the Eightfold Path at your meeting?

I’ve got to say “Thank you” to Joanie L. for tipping me off to what might be the most important “official” mention of Buddhist thought in AA literature, and to Kevin Griffin for his input and encouragement. Joanie told me about The Akron Pamphlets after reading about them in Kevin’s latest book, Recovering Joy: A Mindful Life After Addiction. Dr. Bob, the co-founder of AA, was responsible for the publishing of these pamphlets. One pamphlet in particular, Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous, has a jewel within for Buddhists:

Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindedness and right contemplation.  The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute or an addition to the Twelve Steps.  Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than consideration of self are basic to Buddhism. *

I found this exhilarating, to see our Buddhist “scripture”, The Eightfold Path, mentioned in the early years of AA, especially this sentence: The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute or an addition to the Twelve Steps. We haven’t been overlooked – Buddhist input came to AA early in its history.  It’s just been hidden away in the archives. 

Without ever seeing this pamphlet, Dale H. has been applying the Eightfold Path to the 12-Steps for many years.  It’s a very simple and effective practice for him.  Steps 1, 2, and 3 are about relinquishing control.  He relates this to Wisdom Training -- Right View and Right Intentions (or aim).

Steps 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are about transcending self.  He relates these Steps to Ethics Training -- Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood (or living).

Steps 10, 11, and 12 are about Living Consciously.  He relates these to Meditation Training -- Right Effort, Right Mindfulness (mindedness) and Right Concentration (or contemplation).

The Big Book was written as a reflection of the U.S. culture of the mid to late 1930s. In 1940, 91% of the U.S. population identified themselves Christian. It’s only until the second edition came out in 1955 where it mentions “…a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists” are members.  Buddhism was just beginning to become known to the public. Even today in the U.S., as far as religions are represented, Buddhists comprise only 0.7%.

We know that AA began in 1935; and apparently there weren’t any Buddhists amongst the first 100 members when the book of Alcoholics Anonymous was being written. Buddhist philosophy never made it into the book.

Now imagine, had there been some Buddhists among the first 100 members, surely texts such as the Eightfold Path would have been integrated into the Big Book! This certainly would have made AA more accepting to Buddhists early on.  And later when the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book was published, the Eightfold Path might have been printed along with the St. Francis Prayer on page 99 in the 11th Step Chapter.

With the Spiritual Milestones in my hand, showing the 1935 AA Akron Intergroup circle and triangle plus the 2014 copyright, Akron Area Intergroup Council Of Alcoholics Anonymous, it seems to me if a meeting decided to read the Eightfold Path as part of it’s format, this would be no different than reading the St. Francis Prayer.

We have the evidence in this Akron Pamphlet.  No longer can others say AA is not for Buddhists. Buddhist philosophy found its way into AA literature long ago. We now have proof from our AA ancestors, a validation and approval that AA and Buddhism can be practiced successfully together. There are Buddhists who’ve been doing this for many years. In the Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlet it states, “… the Twelve Steps of AA give us a program of dynamic action…” Right action indeed with the inclusion of the Eightfold Path!

Bill K.

* To order a copy of Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous and more, go to:

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Step 1: Step by step in the dark...

Koan: Step by step in the dark – if your foot’s not wet, it found the stone

~ Shaku Soyen

Admitting to something can come quickly, or slowly to us.  Tonight we asked ourselves, “What is this admitting?”  We all came to the similar conclusion that we don’t do this ourselves using our brains – it comes from somewhere else. Then, without notice, we realize that we’ve effortlessly made that change from "no" to "yes".  Something impossible one day has become reality the next day. Dale called this our moment of clarity.

This koan took me to December, 1986, and the Sacramento Marathon.  My friend and I left on Saturday, and the race was Sunday.  I knew I had a problem; I was just shy of turning 43 and had never heard of the 12 Steps, so I didn’t know what Step 1 was.  On the drive over, all I could think about was my problem.

We ran the race (running my best time ever) and drove home.  Of course I felt good about breaking 4 hours in the race.  Other than that, I don’t remember many details from Sunday night except for one very important decision I made to myself ( I didn’t even tell my wife), I was going to call a treatment center on Monday! How could this be?  Saturday, treatment center was not in my mind. Sunday I had made a decision.

In that undefinable place of change, as if a switch has been flipped, came the discovery that my foot is not longer wet. It was later on when I read an important part of “my story” in the Big Book (in “It Might Have Been Worse”) where the writer said, “It wasn’t how far I had gone, but where I was headed.” I felt, for the first time in many years, that I was headed in a better direction.  In the treatment facility I realized that I had taken Step 1.

Roger talked about the times when he’s running his life as he sees fit and isn’t in touch with his higher power at all.  That even in those times, things happen, a shift takes place, where he discovers his foot is no longer wet.  Something for his benefit took place without notice or his input.

We’re on this journey, step by step in the dark, and the koan doesn’t say we stepped up on the dry stone as a conscious act, it simply asks, if your foot’s not wet.

A moment of clarity comes by realizing my foot is dry. If it’s dry, I’m no longer wandering in the dark -- I’ve found a different place that’s safe and firm.

It’s the wondrous nature of this koan that reminds me the “admitting” comes from a sacred place – and it doesn't come from my self will.

Bill K.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Step 12: Finding "your self" in Step Twelve

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.

‘What is your self?’
     ~ Yunmen, fragment from Case 87, Blue Cliff Record

     “This fragment comes from a famous koan, one of my favorite: ‘Medicine and sickness heal each other; ‘The whole world is medicine; What are you?’ Indeed, what and who are we? There probably is no more important question in our lives.”
-- Jon Joseph Roshi

I began by sitting with Step 12 and this koan fragment, just as Jon Joseph did.  Little did I know that the others in the room were drawn to the entire koan of “The whole world is medicine; what are you?” 

Do you remember the board game CLUE? “It was Col. Mustard in the library with a knife…”
This is where I found my self.  As in solving a mystery, I had to ask questions… Who? What? When? Where? How? And Why? With each question, a little more of my self was revealed. How would you answer these?

·      Who is working Step 12? 
·      What am I doing here?
·      When am I ready to do Step 12?
·      Where does this take me?
·      How thoroughly am I doing this Step?
·      Why (reason for) am I doing this?

December 8  [Grapevine Quote of the Day]

"The reason we try to carry the message is so that we stay sober. If the person we are helping stays sober, that's an extra bonus."

Austin, TX, May 2003 
    "What I Learned From My Sponsor"  
                                                                                          I Am Responsible: The Hand of AA 

Dale’s usual approach to 12 and Zen is to move from the Step to the koan.  This week it was turned around -- he started with the koan. This wasn’t planned.  It was simply how it happened.

So, medicine and sickness heal each other.  The whole world is medicine. What is your self?  As I sat with the koan it seemed it was channeling me toward identifying my self as sickness.  Identifying my self as "sickness" was really uncomfortable for me.  It was being in a state of dis-ease.  But I stayed with this and gradually I moved to focusing on healing.  And I realized that medicine and sickness represent two aspects of the healing process.  So my focus shifted to "healing."  Then I saw my "self" as being that which heals.  Both the object of healing and the subject that takes healing out into the world. At that point I was able to move to Step 12: We become sober through the 12 steps.  In other words we heal.  We then try to share that healing with others.  As it says in A Vision for You, ask in your morning meditation "what you can do each day for the man who is still sick."

Elsie, found herself taking a different approach, and a different Step, too.  When she thought about “the self”, she went to Step 4.  “That’s where I really discovered who I had become,” she said, "In order to get sober I had to begin with the self I had discovered in Step Four. 

What a journey we’re on!.  In our own way we find ourselves climbing onto the caboose of a 12-Step train (Step 1); and eventually, with the help of a sponsor, make our way to the engine (Step 12). How we’ve changed by working the Steps, and awakened to what it means to be who we are …who we have become.

Bill K.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Step 11: Sought through prayer and listening...

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Koan: Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.

This koan comes from the story of Ryonen, a remarkable woman Zen teacher, living in 17th Century Japan.  Commemorating when Master Hakuo accepted her as a disciple, she wrote this poem on the back of a mirror:

In the service of my Empress I burned incense to
perfume my exquisite clothes,
Now as a homeless mendicant I burn my face to
enter a Zen temple.

When Ryonen was about to pass from this world, she wrote this poem:

Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld the changing
scene of autumn.

I have said enough about moonlight,
Ask no more.
Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no
wind stirs.

The other day I read a piece about Christian meditation techniques, where it said the word meditate or meditation is mentioned only twenty times in the Bible.  It explained meditation as a cognitive process, “…focusing on biblical thoughts and reflecting on their meaning.”  This is my understanding what the writers of the Big Book meant, too – meditation was to reflect upon. Today, just as we choose our own Higher Power,  we also choose our own kind of meditation, something that suits us.  Meditating with Zen koans in a non-traditional way, as we do here, is one of countless varieties of meditation practiced by our twelve step members. The choice is yours, the 11th Step suggests doing it.

I often say at meetings, “I can't listen when I’m talking,” and the same is true in Step Eleven.  I absolutely have to say my prayers, and equally important, I must listen. This got me wondering -- what if Step 11 began with, "Sought through prayer and listening?"

What are my distractions?  Mostly everything in my head ... my thoughts and the stories I tell myself.  These are the winds in my life. “Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.”  Sought through prayer and listening…

Have you ever ridden in a hot air balloon?  This koan reminds me of when I took a balloon ride.  I had do idea what to expect.  First, there’s the deafening noise of the burning propane, blasting hot air to fill up the balloon.  When all was right with the balloon pilot, we had reached suitable altitude, he turned the propane off.  Instantly it was quiet...pure quiet.   It was even more amazing to experience the balloon (and us) moving above the landscape and not feeling any breeze against my face.  No resistance. Then I realized it was because we were traveling exactly the same speed of the wind.  How could we do otherwise? We were literally riding the wind.  We were experiencing what the wind experiences. No resistance, we were in harmony with the present conditions. We were balloon.

The wind is always a part of my life whether I feel it or not.  The wind of chatter in my head, the stories I tell myself, the distraction from whatever is happening at the moment. And when riding aloft it was just balloon – when no wind stirs, just the voice of pines and cedars.  When no wind stirs, just my Higher Power and listen to... Whatever needs to be heard will be heard.

- - -

These koans have their way, no matter how we sit with them.  A friend has been pretty stressed out from work for a while.  When he heard the koan we were using, not much happened.  Then it began appearing at unexpected times.  Just waking up, his mind already lining up all sorts of errands and places to go in the day collapsed into "...the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs." He laughed, took a breath, and noticed the pine tree in his backyard.

In the book The Hidden Lamp, Wendy Egyoku Nakao writes about Ryonen (who burned her face with a hot iron in order to be admitted into a Zen temple) and asks us, "What would you be willing to sacrifice in order to awaken and find freedom?"

And so, as usual, we practice this in all our affairs...

Bill K.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Step 10: It's only for your benefit

Step 10:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Koan: One day when Dongshan and a monk were washing their bowls, they saw two crows fighting over a frog. The monk asked, “Why does it always have to be like that?”
Dongshan replied, “It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”


Crows, tearing apart the frog – it’s a picture we don’t want to look at.  But we have to.  We’ve all experienced that “tearing-my-guts-out” feeling.  When I realize what I said or did to someone else, knowing I was wrong in doing it, that now I need to make amends ASAP, it is only then where the pain begins to subside.  So actually, we do want to look at this picture in all its gore, the picture we have drawn.  My feelings of remorse in situations like this tear me up; I am the frog.

Eventually, one or both of these crows end up eating the frog.  The frog is nourishment, a natural process for survival.  Step 10 is also a natural process leading to our own well-being, a necessity for our very survival lest resentments develop and we return to drinking and our old behavior.

Knowing that a situation has developed where I need to do a Step 10, but not doing it, this is a form of self-inflicted violence. Hopefully more sooner than later, I choose to apologize to the person I’ve hurt – make amends – attempt to set things right.  For the most part, having done a Step 10, the feelings that were tearing me up usually subside and eventually die. Dale H. refers to Step 10 as a spiritual axiom, where “I always have to look at my role, my own defects no matter what has happened. Looking at self is absolutely to my benefit."

Page 84 in the Big Book: No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.  It doesn’t say just good experiences, or successful experiences, or extraordinary experiences – just experiences – all of them. Who among us has not learned from the person who returns to drinking?

Dale emailed me today saying he wanted to share a few lines from his Pema Chodron reading for this morning:

"Instead of asking ourselves, 'How can I find security and happiness?' we could ask ourselves, 'Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away?  Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace --- disappointment in all its many forms --- and let it open me?' This is the trick.

This is the benefit as I understand it.  Can I allow the violence and suffering of life as I perceive it to "open" me?"

Step 10 and all it touches is absolutely for my benefit ... and for others, too.

And then at the end, Dongshan ends his sentence, addressing the monk as "honored one".   What's this about?  Oh yeah...what a privilege it is to be sober (alive), to be able to experience the benefits we receive from the universe.

Bill K.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Steps 8 and 9 -- "Then wash your bowls."

Have you eaten?
Step 8:  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9:  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Koan: A monk made a request of Joshu:  “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?” 

Then wash your bowls.
The monk replied, “Yes, I have eaten.”
“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”  At that moment, the monk had an insight.

(Case #7, Gateless Barrier)

Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?” He’s already begun to teach the monk how to be a good host.

The group came together quickly with this koan, with similar insights.  Step 8 is like filling our sink full of dirty dishes.  The longer they sit, the worse off it will be, the harder to clean off dried food, and taken to the extreme, a yuck factor develops. The longer we avoid going to Step 9, the worse off it becomes, especially if we long for relief from our condition.

After cooking and eating a meal, the most natural thing to do is to clean things up. “Then wash your bowls,” said Joshu.  This is exactly the same dynamic Steps 8 and Step 9.  Instead of bowls, I’m cleaning up after myself; I’m attempting to clean up my past deeds.  This is the next best action.

Most of our Step 8 list comes from our Step 4 and 5 experiences.  And more often than not, when compiling the Step 8 list, we remember new items to add.  All of this is like a sink full of dirty dishes.  Relief only comes from washing one dish at a time. 

This is being a good host, too; treating myself well, and doing the things I need to stay sober.  In time, I'm rewarded with a cupboard full of clean, usable dishes; ready for serving others.

Bill K.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Where are you going?

This month, instead of sitting with one particular Step, we sat with all twelve Steps and this koan.  I wonder what Step(s) will resonate for you?

Koan: Where are you going?

The first five minutes, we sat with this.  Then I read the full koan story:

Zen teachers train their young pupils to express themselves. Two Zen temples each had a child protege. One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other on the way.

"Where are you going?" asked the one.

"I am going wherever my feet go," the other responded.

This reply puzzled the first child who went to his teacher for help. "Tomorrow morning," the teacher told him, "when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question. He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: 'Suppose you have no feet, then where are you going?' That will fix him."

The children met again the following morning.

"Where are you going?" asked the first child.

"I am going wherever the wind blows," answered the other.
This again nonplussed the youngster, who took his defeat to the teacher.

Ask him where he is going if there is no wind," suggested the teacher.

The next day the children met a third time.

"Where are you going?" asked the first child.

"I am going to the market to buy vegetables," the other replied.

Roger:  I think the cumulative effect of the Steps provide three things; to diminish ego, to connect to Spirit, and to live in the present moment.  Tonight, no single Step came to me.

I’m a “on-the-go” kind of person, going places and doing things all day long.  This koan posed a different question for me.  What if I’m not going anywhere?  Just being…being in the moment.

Elsie: Part of my daily ritual is to ask myself, Who am I, What am I, and Where am I going? So this koan is comfortable for me.  I’m also a busy person and miss the peace in the moment.  I rush too much.  A teacher once said to me, “The small things I tell myself are the big things that are barely there.”  Step 8 came to me this evening, as I attempt to tell myself that I’m going to become willing to be at peace, to stop rushing matters.

Dale:  I start my day recognizing that I’m on a path.  Breathing in and out, taking a moment to consider where I’ll be going.  Not a shopping list, but more like I’ll be going to a meeting, I may drop by that store, my sponsee will be coming by, etc.  Steps 3 and 11 came to me this evening.  I’ll be going where my Higher Power wants me to go is the Step 3 part.  In Step 11 it begins with “Upon awakening…,”  we think of our day, we think of where we may be going.

The longer version of this koan seemed to set the tone of where I went this evening.  The one boy replied, “I’m going wherever my feet go.”  A perplexing answer, it morphed into, I’m going to consider all the Steps tonight.  This became a circular room with 12 doors, each door numbered with a Step.

“I’m going wherever the wind blows,” was another answer.  Perhaps I’ll be blown into one or more of the rooms.  Sitting, sitting, some doors seemed ajar while others remained closed. Then the Step 12 door flung open.  I was blown inside.  That’s where I went.

“Having had a spiritual awakening …” this is my starting point. Before one goes to somewhere, one has to come from somewhere.  What a great place to start, spiritually awakened! And where am I going?  I’m going “to carry this message to alcoholics...” That’s not all – I’m going “to practice these principles in all [my] affairs.”

The second boy’s final response, “I’m going to the market to buy vegetables.”  I’ve worked Step 12 and now it’s working me, providing me with a sack-full of benefits.

Bill K.