Alcoholics Anonymous
and Buddhism

by John Barleycorn
Waynedale News, July 9, 2007

John Barleycorn, columnist for the Waynedale News

I first met a Buddhist monk in the mid 1970's and later during the late 1980's and my most recent encounter with Buddhist thought happened in April 2007 when my son gave me a book titled The Monk and the Philosopher, a father-son dialogue between a French philosopher named Jean-Francois Revel and his son Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist Monk.

The similarities between Buddhism and A.A. are too numerous to list in a 600 word news article, but I can say this: I only found one minor difference between the two disciplines, philosophies or systems. Buddhism stresses "spiritual perfection" while A.A. instead stresses "spiritual progress."

Both A.A. and Buddhism are altruistic programs of suggested "daily actions." Buddhism states that altruism is a cause of happiness, and hatred a cause of unhappiness while A.A. refers to its program as being an "altruistic program" and it further claims that any life run on "self-will" can hardly be successful.

Buddhism and A.A. have both withstood the test of time and that is not the case with many western fad-sects that run on counterfeit spiritual theories. Fad movements have fancy facades and attract numerous adherents, but they soon collapse because of all sorts of spiritual contradictions, internal scandals, and sometimes abominations. By contrast A.A. and Buddhism are both growing in the West because their meetings and centers are places where, for the most part, people find friends who share common aspirations and want to join in and help each other study, practice and achieve individual spiritual harmony.

Although A.A. has a "singleness of purpose" that specifically deals with the fatal malady of alcoholism, by Carl. G. Jung's definition, this problem is caused by a "spiritual malady." Chronic alcoholism and other addictions are but symptoms of a greater malady which is "spiritual in nature." Both Buddhism and A.A. are spiritual in nature and based on altruism, daily prayer/meditation, and a few other simple daily actions, such as doing the next right thing and saying thanks to a power-greater-than-ourselves, especially at the end of each day.

Neither Buddhism nor A.A. practice the obsessive ritualism that is found in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many other Christian religions, as well as Islam and Judaism. Neither Buddhism nor A.A. promotes a specific Deity.

Buddhism and A.A. are programs of attraction instead of promotion and both deplore expanding their philosophy by any type of coercion whatsoever. By contrast, Christianity, Judaism and Islam do not hesitate to promote their beliefs by swords, guns, bombs, sheer numbers or political force. Buddhist and A.A. principles can be found in all world religions, but without the same dogma, rituals and superstitions.

According to Matthieu Ricard, "Faith becomes superstition when it goes against reason and gets cut off from any understanding of the deep meaning of ritual." But ritual does have a deep meaning. The Latin word ritus in fact means "correct action." It calls for reflection, contemplation, prayer and meditation similar to A.A.'s 12 Steps and Traditions.

Buddhist meditation promotes emptiness, love, and compassion while A.A promotes love and tolerance. A.A.'s say "humility is the key to spiritual progress," and Buddhism pays homage to wisdom in order to develop humility and both systems emphasize the need to eliminate false pride from the individual's character.

I do not know the Dali Lama's policy on money and finances, but I do know that A.A. will not accept any donations from any individual, corporation, etc., for more than 3,000 dollars and there are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; A.A.'s only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking alcohol.

CLICK HERE  return to Essays page

CLICK HERE  return to Hindsfoot Foundation home page