Dharma teacher and Mindfulness recovery counselor, Jason Murphy has been wrestling so intensively with themes of dharma and recovery with patients and in his own being, that he now sees the two as inseparable. I sat down with Jason to discuss the intersection of Buddhism and recovery, the process of launching Refuge Recovery at ISC, and how recovery from addiction can be understood as a universal approach to awakening.
What inspires you about working with people in recovery?
I am passionate about working with people in recovery because I have a close relationship to addiction in my own life, struggling with addiction, finding recovery, finding Buddhist meditation, and it all just seemed to fall in line.
Stepping out of what is currently available, which is largely a 12-step Judeo-Christian theistic model, to provide an alternative recovery model is very necessary and it has been pretty well received.
What is the proposed structure of the dharma refuge recovery group?
Noah Levine and I were beginning to have conversations several years ago about starting a peer-led recovery group. We were discussing how Refuge Recovery would be a different model from what was already out there. What was already out there was largely dharma talk series offered by dharma teachers in recovery. We knew that this model was not long-term sustainable.
Refuge recovery is a different approach that is basically a peer-led meeting approach. There is a secretary who is leading the meeting, there is a particular teaching and script that will be read, and there will be an all-group meditation and open discussion. So that way, anyone who has a little bit of recovery and a little bit of meditation experience can lead a group, so the group can grow and be self-sustaining. This is very similar to the 12-step model; that’s how it grows.
What do you think are the benefits of a peer-led group model?
One of the ways I think it will be beneficial is that it will bring totally new people to the center who have never been to a Buddhist center before, who have never meditated before, and could be turned on to the dharma through the avenue of recovery.
What do you think the Refuge Recovery approach offers that is different from other recovery models?
Well, primarily Buddhism. That’s was it offers. It offers Buddhism. (Laughs)
Why is Buddhism uniquely suited to address addiction?
Buddhism is uniquely suited to address addiction, because Buddhism is all about addiction.
The Buddha is very clear within the second noble truth that addiction is selfish and self-centered craving. He called it tanha, which translates as unquenchable, insatiable thirst. So it is implicit in the teachings that our addictive nature, or the desire to hold and to grasp addictively, is the cause of our suffering.
So it doesn’t really matter what you are addicted to, you could say booze or heroin or sex or a relationship or a job, being successful or even existence itself. These are all forms of addiction. That is the addictive mindset. In the four noble truths, the Buddha is specifically laying out that there is suffering, there is a cause of suffering, and that cause is addiction, which is selfish and self-centered craving, there is a way out (so the recovery is possible) and the recovery is the 8-fold path.
How would you differentiate an addict from someone who is just a normal human craver? Or could we all be defined as addicts?
I think the distinction is that some people choose to act out their compulsive need to feel good, which we all do because that’s part of the addiction, specifically with marijuana, and methamphetamine, and alcohol and food. Biological addiction is defined as when you remove a particular substance there is physical withdrawal. So sure, some behavior that is addictive is not going to fit under that box that is biological. So yes, I do think there is a difference.
It relates to my favorite saying in Thai “same, same, but different.” If you are talking about the whole scheme of addiction, it’s the same thing. If you ask any person if they have addictive habits, they do. Thoughts are a big one, and that’s really the model I go with. We are addicted to thinking. Who isn’t addicted to thinking?
So who can come to this group? Is it open to all sangha members? Could anyone come to the Refuge Recovery group that wants to?
Yes, of course. I think they will find it completely helpful. There might be some talk about alcohol and drug use because that’s one specific focus. Although, the way that I am hoping to see this Refuge Recovery piece unfold, is that refuge recovery is really about refuge from all addictions and craving, so that’s why I say around sex, and food, and shopping, internet, porn…
My iPhone that I have been compulsively checking. I want to check it right now, I think I have an update…
So If I am addicted to my iPhone I could come to this group?
Of course. Absolutely. No one is left out.
You mentioned the 8-fold path is the recovery method, but this is a peer led group. So I am guessing there probably won’t be a lot of strict teachings, unless some people in the group are knowledgeable about the 8-fold path and how that ties into recovery. In other words, how much Buddhism will appear in the refuge recovery group?
What the structure will look like varies from group to group, but the script that will be read covers the steps to recovery and the steps are the 8-fold path. The group is the 8-fold path translated to talk specifically about addiction and addiction recovery.
And every aspect of the 8-fold path has a tie-in?
Yep. That’s what Noah is writing a book about.
It will be like the 8-fold path folded into the 11th Step?
Yeah, so meditation adds base, and then this understanding of right action, right livelihood, right contemplation, right intention, each of them will be applied to recovery.
I think it is going to be a game changer. It will provide a new opportunity for people who are non-theistic, or who are resistant to the Judeo-Christian mind-set. A lot of times people don’t want to go to AA or NA because they don’t want that powerlessness piece. But what I say to these people is, You are so powerful? What can you control? As a matter of fact, not much. Maybe one thing: Your reaction to life. So you don’t have to admit that you are powerless, but it is pretty important to admit that something has power over you: drugs, alcohol, behavior, addiction, your mind.
How do you think Buddhism will support people using the 12 steps model to keep their recovery alive and sustainable?
You could think of meditation practice as simply the 11th step of recovery, but really what this group will be doing is offering access to the complete Buddhist practice. And there are many ways Buddhist practice can be beneficial to people who are struggling with addiction, which is suffering.
Another big part of AA is being able, when not in meeting, to reach out to each other for support.
That’s why it’s important to have sangha, to have community. If there is a sub group of people who are in our ISC community and also in recovery, there will be more room for connection and flourishing. We like to feel connected, we need to feel connected.
How will the issue of a higher power in the 12-step model translate to Buddhist recovery?
Buddhadasa bhikkhu, who was one of the first Thai masters to actually begin teaching westerners, was quoted as saying “If you need a god, allow the dharma to be your god. Just allow the dharma itself to be your god.” And what is the word God? Why are we so caught up in the words? What is the dharma? Dharma is truth in nature. What is God?
Contributed by Laney Rupp, Alyson Lie, and Jason Murphy