What did the Buddha know about addiction?
We know that before Shakyamuni became a Buddha (waking up to the truth of reality) that he tried extreme self-discipline that included abstaining from all forms of indulgence, which was called the practice of asceticism. His self-mortification included eating just one grain of rice a day, and sometimes walking around with one arm in the air for weeks. In his search for an end to suffering, Gautama became like an addict to asceticism. Like today’s addicts, he had learned how to master pain, or so he thought. He grew as thin as a skeleton, and did not budge from his addiction. Still he did not find an end to suffering. Until one day he realized he was getting nowhere.
It is believed that when he became a Buddha his first teaching to his disciples referred to addiction. He says:
“There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable. Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (The Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana.”
There are many stories about the Buddha encountering different people during his travels. There was a King Pasenadi from Kosala who consulted him on many aspects of life. One such story tell us that King Pasenadi who was addicted to eating. One day after eating a bucket full of rice and curries, he was fortunate to have an encounter with the Buddha. The Buddha advised that the King begin to reduce his intake, and recite this sutta
“When a man is always mindful,
Knowing moderation in the food he eats,
His ailments then diminish,
He ages slowly, guarding his life.”
But the king lamented ‘how’. And then he had an idea. I will pay for someone to help me.
It’s said he paid a young Brahmin to watch over him every time he had a meal. The Brahmin would snatch a fistful of food, and recite the sutta. The next day the King was only allowed to eat the amount he consumed the day before, and then the Brahmin would snatch another fistful. And the Brahmin continued to recite the sutta, reduce the King’s food intake until he ate only a pin pot amount and was relieved of his addiction. The Buddha’s method here was harm reduction, with the intention of skilfully leading the King to abstinence.
In the introduction of our book we talk about the Buddha being in recovery. We suggest the following questions for you to work through after reading the introduction.
- What does addiction mean to you?
- What does Recovery mean to you?
- Share your personal story of addiction from the perspective of what was it that got you clean and thinking about the spiritual path
- When you read the Buddha was in recovery what thoughts arise?
- What would it mean if you were to wake up from your present life?
- The Buddha taught the middle way – what would the middle way look like in your life?
- How can this book be for you?
Eight Step Recovery is out now: Eight Step Recovery – Order your book now
Or try a free sample – For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: firstname.lastname@example.org