- Jason McCarty
Four Noble Truths of Addiction
Buddhism is founded upon what Siddhartha Gautama realized were the four noble truths of human existence. I want to take those four noble truths and apply them specifically to addiction. I have considered writing an e-book on this very topic, deepening what I am going to write here. I’m just going to briefly touch on each one to keep things simple. There is a lot to reflect on in its simplicity. I will lay out the four noble truths and then apply them each to the phenomenon of addiction.
Here we go.
The Four Noble Truths:
Life is difficult (or suffering):
Life is difficult because of attachment and craving.
It is possible for everyone to be liberated from this suffering.
The eightfold path is the way of liberation: this consists of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.
Applied to Addiction:
1. Life is difficult.
We all know life can be difficult. Find someone with an addiction and it usually didn’t occur within a life of ease and peace. Ultimately we are all imperfect beings and we therefore experience pain in our existence with one another. Some more than others. We carry this pain. Carrying this pain makes life difficult.
2. Life is difficult because of attachment and craving.
In order to not feel the pain, we attach to things that bring relief and good feeling. We crave those things when the pain shows up. Ultimately, suffering is caused by not wanting that pain around. Avoiding pain is suffering. Addiction is a way to avoid pain and to continually cope with a previous life of deprivation by over-indulging in pleasure seeking activities.
3. It is possible for everyone to be liberated from this suffering.
It is possible for everyone to be liberated from addiction, which exists as a way to avoid pain, the very process that leads to suffering. Pain does not stay around forever when it is felt.
4. Liberation is in acceptance.
I’m not going to delve into the eightfold path at this point but give my own version of liberation from craving and addiction. Acceptance. Acceptance of reality, of our feelings, of who we are, of the people around us. This liberates. Radical acceptance. Stephen Batchelor (1997) explains that the root of anguish is wanting life to do be different than it is. When this is the case, and we cannot change our reality, we want to escape from it. It is also paradoxical in that when we finally accept our reality we will know how to handle it and where to go.