August 21, 2012

Video Teaching: Venerable Metteyya on Addiction

To supplement this month's online retreat, "Making Friends with Your Demons and Hungry Ghosts: Buddhist Tools for Recovery," we have a special video teaching on addiction by Venerable Metteyya (you might recognize him from Tricycle's previous interview with him or the PBS documentary The Buddha). In order to discuss addiction from a Buddhist perspective, Metteyya says, we must first understand what the Buddha taught about the human condition. When we are addicted to something, whether it's a cup of coffee or a cigarette, who is in control? How can we begin to have some influence on our impulses? Is it possible to become aware of what we are craving at a subconscious level? Watch the video to find out.

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Will.Rowe's picture

Your analogy of the man separated from the kingdom is most apt. I had eventually quit experiencing emotions (except frustration or anger); spirituality was a vacuum that became filled with superstition; and I separated from people when I could. In short, I was no longer experiencing much of life, like the man with his kingdom.
Additionally, you are quite correct regarding how addiction occurs, as far as this alcoholic is concerned. The 1st Noble Truth is where I now look nearly every day. It was why I began my escape. I did not like my reality, so I ran toward pleasure and away from pain (un-satisfactoriness). However, I know pleasure cannot give happiness—only temporary escape. Nor does the escaping the unpleasant make life more bearable; actually, life becomes more unbearable and painful—as any addict or alcoholic can attest. Moreover, so called “bad” experiences are painful, yet have been more real and even rewarding for me.
1st Noble Truth, it is one vital reason I stay sober: Life is unsatisfactory. I accept this daily, so I am not shocked, or think fate or God is picking on me when bad things occur. As Josh Korda pointed out so well, dukkha is not personal; it is universal. This puts it in perspective for me.
As to what stopped me drinking, that was finding something more important than drinking, a bottom. Then I had to realize Step #1, that I was powerless over alcohol. I still recognize this daily, lest I fall into the trap of thinking I can now control it when I have 30 years of proof to the contrary. Next I had to find something to replace IT, DRINKING, with. AA, Meditation, and the Buddha’s teachings have worked thus far for 5 years.
Yet Step #1 in AA, the 1st Noble Truth, the Serenity Prayer (what I can and cannot control), and helping and being helped by others are my path. Sometimes I wander, yet I know I will suffer when I do. Acceptance of suffering/un-satisfactoriness in life is absolutely the key to my sobriety. You have hit the nail on the head for me.
As a side note addicts generally relate far better to another addict: we know personally what a non-addict can only theoretically know. It is why organizations like AA have success—which is still dismal granted—more than religions. Ironically, the spiritual path is one that many addicts find essential to establish again, once we become sober.
Thank you again. You told my story with the 1st noble Truth. Had I accepted this initially, I would never have become an alcoholic.

wtompepper's picture

I really enjoyed this talk. A wonderful analogy. It is interesting that Venerable Metteyya is so openly puzzled by addiction, that it doesn't seem to have occurred to him before to give it much thought. He tries to discuss it in terms of habit, but of course addiction is really quite different than just a bad habit. It leaves me wondering if, pace Jack Engler, it might be better to go right to being nobody without first trying to be "somebody." Many thoroughly Buddhist teachers don't seem to have any experience with being the kind of "somebody" who is susceptible to real addictions, rather than just bad habits. The addictable subject just seems to be built around assumptions that are thoroughly foreign to the Buddhist conception of the person and the world. This is a fascinating possibility.

Lara's picture

What's the difference between addiction and bad habits? I know with bad addictions people will do things they wouldn't normally do to get at whatever their addicted to. I also think that addiction "takes over" or becomes a STRONG presence. But maybe if we work with these energies at the smaller, bad habit level then they'll become workable at the bad addictions level.

wtompepper's picture

This would be true for the use of term addiction which covers things like watching television or biting your nails--that is, if what we meant by addiction were always only really strongly ingrained habits. But sometimes addiction refers to a problem of a different kind; the addictions industry tried for a very long time to treat addictions by treating them like habit, and it just doesn't work, because addictions in this strong sense of the word are a different kind of problem than habits are. To suggest we can treat them by doing more of the same is like trying to treat a broken leg with antibiotics--giving more antibiotics won't help.

To put a Madhyamaka twist on the palace analogy, what the addict needs to do is to realize that there really isn't even a king at all--that in fact, the king is just a fiction created by the ministers to aid their negotiations, to each get his own way.

swastan's picture

Sorry about the wrong identity. I wanted to say Josh Korda's current on line retreats instead of Noah Levine's. My apology.

With gratitude, Swas Tan

swastan's picture

Thank you so much Venerable Metteyya for sharing this wonderful Dhamma. You make it so clear for us to see where the knots of addiction originate.

Noah Levine's current on line retreats show us the possibility of getting out of this predicament.

The recent Tricycle's teachings on BEING BRAVE (a DVD I bought through Tricycle) where Ani Pema Chodron talked on the Bravery of Openness and the Bravery of Compassion bring us precisely to the point where we are stuck and how to access this basic goodness to be freed from the illusion of self and what Venerable Metteyya described as the energy coming forth. When we really open to this unsatisfactoriness and stop wanting it to be otherwise (seeing dukkha right on or what Ajahn Sucitto described as facing the wall) then we have this possibility of choosing our actions skillfully. We may not immediately overcome our addictions as Ani Pema Chodron used the analogy of a rolled paper keeps rolling back when we remove the bricks at its side. Our training is to continue to placing the bricks (applying mindfulness and compassion practice) and not be discouraged. Finally the Buddha said if this is not possible (liberation from craving or addiction), he would not have told us to do so.

I would like to thank all the teachers that have been untiringly helping us to remove so much dust in our eyes and also to Tricycle for being such a wonderful resource in bringing all these teachings together.


With gratitude, Swas Tan

Philvfenty's picture

An excellent teaching as a supplement to the weekly teaching. Very clear, and concise.