Causes and Conditions of Addiction


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This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.'s picture

Your words have touched my heart profoundly, specially when you say that I deserve happiness and that you hop I look for it in the right places. Is as you knew exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you. Much Metta for you Wharf and all sentient beings.'s picture

Your words have touched my heart profoundly, specially when you say that I deserve happiness and that you hop I look for it in the right places. Is as you knew exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you. Much Metta for you Wharf and all sentient beings.

ilsalaverry's picture

Thank you, I appreciate your understanding of suffering. I have been working with prisoners for several years and think your views on stress and your approaches to alleviating it could be quite helpful in that environment

On anothernote I think one of our greatest stresses/fears/suffering is death....death of the little self is continual though often we can not see it. The death of the "I" is far more challenging but perhaps this a topic for another day. Finally I am a great fan of Thanissaro Bikku.

shin's picture

sorry to chime in again ilsa but working in the area of death, dying & bereavement I think your 'death of the little self' comment is right on the money. I've facilitated a number of conscious living/conscious dying workshops over the last decade and will sometimes ask people if they can recall the first time that it became conscious that 'death means ME too!' Some people recall the precise moment. (I sure do!) And then we explore the cellular sense of that: what happens to the me-sense when it realizes its own mortality. Which leads me to a little pet theory of mine: that even our so-called 'normal' state of body & mind is one of low-grade ptsd-like hypervigilance... Like the sorcerer Don Juan, we all 'know' that Death is just an arm's length away--no wonder we're so vulnerable to addictions that make us feel less afraid and slightly more solid... peace

Joshkorda1's picture

I'm glad to hear you're working with prisoners; the spiritual tools of our practice can alleviate so much suffering. I've done outreach work at halfway houses (both 12 step & meditation) and its very challenging though rewarding as well. I've been lucky enough to teach to a wide variety of parolees at DPx over the years.
Yes, absolutely, attavadupadana (attachment to the ideas of who I am, my inner autobiography, etc) creates great fear when its threatened; we use these beliefs about our identity to explain away our unskillfulness, rather than face how little we are aware of our actual intentions; we use self-belief to maintain the illusion of permanence, failing to notice and accept change and aging, and so we can cling to bizarre forms of denial.
very accurate imho,

gwlopez's picture

I connected with your practice, Josh. Your blending of physiology and spirituality, of human challenges and today's challenges resonates with me and likely many others. I am very happy you have chosen to share what you have learned.


Joshkorda1's picture

Thx Gary, indeed, I try to elucidate my talks with neuroscience, psychology, modern life, humor, personal experience, while keeping the spiritual messages in line with the core principles of the dharma. luckily i have two tolerant buddhist communties as my audience each week, so i get lots of practice.
best, j

chibikuri's picture

Thank you, Josh. I found the first talk very straightforward and helpful. I was writing a to-do list just as you started to talk about to-do lists, and suddenly realized how my interpretation of this tool that is supposed to 'organize' my life is only an enabler in one of my addicitions: taking on too many tasks and not allowing myself to say 'no'. I smiled at myself and my ridiculous situation. I'm not a specialist in addiction matters, but I feel that many without a traditional sense of what 'addiction' means could benefit greatly from this retreat. I'll certainly be tuning in every week. With gratitude--Christopher

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks christopher.
on our podcast site there's a talk i gave on that very subject recently that's become fairly popular. if you get the chance, take a listen:
metta, j

shin's picture

Much metta for your great and important work Josh. I've been wondering lately if we aren't very much addicted to stress itself at many levels. Perhaps this is a riff on Shantideva's "how we hate our suffering but how we love its causes!" I see folks come to weekly sittings full of the longing for stillness and quiet, and as soon as body/mind begins to approach stillness it's as if there is an underlying existential terror that sends them running for the hills. This is one reason I like the translation of dukkha as stress (or unsatisfactoriness) because the word 'suffering' is just too BIG sometimes. We focus on the big stuff and miss the very subtle and often fleeting threads of stress the help sustain 'the whole mass of suffering' as the Buddha put it.

polyvagal-ly yours


Joshkorda1's picture

thanks deeply shin. in my experience your observations are absolutely accurate; i'd add that perhaps Nekkhamma—letting go of one's attachment to the world and its drammas, obligations, responsibilities, etc—can be terrifying is that our worldly pursuits are diversions, pulling our attention away from how much discomfort and tension we carry around with us. Opening to one's inner experience can be quite overwhelming for some early practitioners. Fortunately, with guidance and compassion, progress can be made.

shin's picture

don't wanna jump the gun on week 3, but a quote from Ajahn Sumedho comes to mind: "If I had to rely on my personality, I never would have gained any insight whatsoever!" A big shift occurred for me when I began to understand Ven. Ajahn's words... : )

bobmcdonld's picture

Thank you.

I had a question, but just as I was going to ask, it was answered.


Joshkorda1's picture

A sign of diligence and attention, that you located the answer before asking! I hope the upcoming talks provide more answers,

Hanny2's picture

Thank you very much for the practical and kindly way in which you are sharing these truly important teachings.  As I have heard many teachers say, it is simple, but it is not easy. Several years ago I worked as a nurse in a detox/rehabilitation facility. I feel boundless admiration for and gratitude to the remarkable people I met who were working with traditional addictions. I learned that it is very easy for those of us whose addictions are  subtle and private to believe that somehow we are not in the thick of it--delusion has many layers. Every day, every minute, actually, it takes a balance of steadfast courage and friendly delicacy to work with suffering, no matter what name it takes for each of us.

Anicca1956's picture

Beautifully expressed. Thank you.

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks so much, especially for all the time and care you gave to those who walked through the doors of the detox/rehab. Having been through such places, i'm very grateful for all the care and support shown.
metta, j

shokolah's picture

Thank you Josh for your very clear, refreshing and simple instructions. Reading some of the post earlier, I think it is very difficult for some of us to let go of intellectual analysis ... In any case, I've just come home from a retreat in Germany with Ajahn Brahm. I had a great time. I thought he was amazing! Did you spend much time with him? I am hoping to do the rains retreat next year in Australia providing they accept my application. I love your voice by the way, you sound just like Tom Hanks!

With metta,

Fabien (UK)

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks for your kind words Rabien. Yes, when Ajahn Brahm came to new york he gave a teaching at NYCIMS where I was able to sit with him and afterwards ask a few questions. Thanks to his wonderful website, I've listened to hundreds of his talks over the years and have read his book ("Who order this truckload...")

wtompepper's picture

Yes, some of us just can't let go of intellectual analysis. Instead of making cowardly indirect insults, why don't you explain what is wrong with thinking about the real causes of addiction? I thought that was the point of this first talk: to suggest a cause of addiction.

Jfree's picture

This retreat comes at a perfect time in my life as I am eight months into an attempt to give up alcohol with varying success until recently. It has been five weeks since I have consumed alcohol. My life is so much better without it that I can see no reason to start again at this point. I need all the tools I can to succeed.

Joshkorda1's picture

I hope these tools do help on your path. Contact me on Facebook if there are any questions that arise along the journey.

wtompepper's picture

I hate to be the voice of dissent here, but…
Well, actually, as anyone who knows me is aware, I don’t really hate to be the voice of dissent. So I’ll just go ahead.

It seems to me both a useless oversimplification and thoroughly NOT Buddhist to suggest that stress is the cause of addiction. Stress is an overused metaphor, and although it is sometimes used as a translation for the term dukkha, it is a poor one. The term comes from physics, and assumes a discrete and self-contained entity whose internal structure is being strained by some external structure. In psychology, since the word was first used in the 1930s or so, is has become a catch-all, empty term; however, it always does imply an atomistic self put in a situation in an external “world” which causes problems, discomfort, and unpleasantness. The whole idea that we drink or drug to relieve stress assumes an essential core self, an atman, which is put under pressure by an unnatural environment.

I’ve been in recovery for a while now, and honestly, Buddhism has really helped me enormously. But I have seen many people try to use these stress-relaxation or mindfulness practices, thinking that it is a “Buddhist approach” to recovery, and have no success at all. They never learn the fundamental teachings of Buddhism that might actually help them.

You say you want to get to the “causes” of suffering, in order to relieve it, but stopping at “stress,” whatever that might mean, is hardly getting to the cause. If, to use your example, an insult is the “first arrow,” and my reaction to it is the “second arrow,” to say we should just NOT REACT, and therefore avoid stress, does nothing to solve the problem that leads to addiction. I would need to learn to identify why that particular insult bothers me, why this particular person has felt the need to insult me in this way—what kind of “conventional self” am participating in reproducing, which generates and feels that kind of suffering? Often, things cause us great suffering that are would not seem to be stressful at all, and things insult us that to an outside observer would never be perceived as insults.

One last thing (I have a propensity to prolixity): I have often found that people drink or drug not because they have too much external stress, but because they find nothing in their life worth doing, nothing meaningful. Truly meaningful activities can often keep us quite busy and sometimes make us “stressed,” but they are not likely to make us drink.

Sorry to seem so negative, Josh, because I really do think what your are doing could be hugely helpful--Buddhist teaching and practice have really helped me get and stay sober. I just don't think simplifying ever ends up helping, notwithstanding all the self-help slogans.

Joshkorda1's picture

Thanks for watching the video.
--It would be easier to respond if you articulated your views without resorting to so many globalizing or dismissive statements. Your views and opinions do matter to me, but as a long term buddhist practitioner and teacher it feels somewhat counterproductive to start a dialogue by stating that my views are "NOT Buddhist" (for some reason you use all caps). If you could added "not Buddhist as I understand it" it would be a more engaging start.
--Trust me, I've been studying buddhist practice for over 30 years, in depth study of the pali canon for 15 years, when I state that underlying stress/dukkha is a dominant factor in addiction, its with backing in the texts. Your interpretation of the canon is different, that's all.
--I believe our differing conception of addiction largely boils down to my use of "stress" as a term for dukkha. This is not, as you dismissively state, a "poor" interpretation. It's the translation of dukkha used by the great Thanissaro Bhikkhu, who along with Bodhi, is certainly regarded as one of the most important Theravadan interpreters of the canon. Perhaps you're unfamiliar with his work?
--I would state that it definitely Buddhist to view addiction as caused by underlying dukkha/stress. For example:
--You've only watched the first of a four part series, so to state I'm "simplifying things" might be a tad early. Couldn't you watch a few more, and get the overall gist of my entire message, before throwing away what i'm offering?
--I'm confused by your interpretation of what I suggested in the first arrow/second arrow section; it's so far away from what i stated that I don't know how to address it. Perhaps I spoke in a confusing manner. Either way, I'm glad you've found a solution that works for you.
--I never stated that external stress was a cause of addiction; it would be internal stress, largely vedana-dukkha, citta-dukkha, the hinderances and papanca.
--Finally, I'd enjoy continuing the discussion, but hope you can be a little less dismissive, and entertain the idea that differing interpretations of the dhamma can still be "Buddhist."

wtompepper's picture

I certainly didn't mean to say that you are not a Buddhist, simply that your explanation of addiction is not a very Buddhist one. That is, it assumes that there is an essential core self that interacts (stressfully) with an external world, instead of a self that is conventional, and arises interdependently, as always already addicted, from this world.

I am a little familiar with Thanissaro Bikkhu, and I do admire his work. His translation was the one I was referring to in my previous comment. I still think it is a poor term to translate dukkha.

Does my explanation of the problem with the implications of the term "stress" just not make sense? Internal stress is not different--it is, perhaps, better to say that all stress is "internal" to a "self." You are still suggesting that the stressors are external to some core self. Of course, as you suggest, there are many Buddhisms, and some of them do insist on a world-transcendent self or consciousness; so, when I say your approach is not Buddhist, I should instead say that it rejects what I take to be the core Buddhist insights, particularly non-self and dependent arising.

Sorry if my tone sounds dismissive in these comments. I'm trying unsuccessfully to be brief. I don't mean to be dismissive at all (if I were dismissing your ideas, I wouldn't bother to comment); I just think that getting beyond the vague psychological metaphor of "stress" is really importants if we want to uncover the causes of addiction.

Joshkorda1's picture

Tom, I'll wait to respond until you get a chance to view the third talk, which is specifically on the concepts of self outlined in attavadupadana, sakkaya-ditthi, anatta. If after watching the talk you still feel that in any way, shape or form I believe there is an essential core self well, I'll be astonished.
best, j

wtompepper's picture

I'll look forward to the talk. And again, I didn't mean to suggest that you believe there is an essential core self; I am simply pointing out that your explanation of and solution to addiction depend on there being one. This may be completely not your intention, and opposed to your fundamental belief, but there it is.

mlemon's picture

Though I know a few serious addicts I don't, or didn't, see myself as one, until today.

I started watching this talk out of simple curiosity. But, in the process I saw that I am addicted to my little day planner and the stress that comes with it as much as my 'junkie' friends are addicted to heroin and crack. It's worse because it's so insidious and acceptable in 'normal' circles. It's delusional really - so hard to see.

It is often surprising where insight comes from. I now see a clearer path and fresh urgency.
Thank you.

Joshkorda1's picture

hi! yes, there are many forms that addiction takes, and they all set us up for suffering, as we don't find lasting peace of mind from them. peace of mind comes from a balanced life, where we're not seeking the bulk of our happiness from work, relationships, sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, etc. true peace comes from developing kindness and compassion for ourselves and others, learning to ease inner stress, and having a sense of equanimity towards the ups and downs of the external world.

dccassels's picture

You have presented a new view of "addiction" for me! I have enjoyed 25 years of continuous sobriety with the support of a twelve step program and have just recently started to explore Buddhist Practice. I have struggled with the notion that addictions are some sort of boogyman type of entity that lurks in our souls waiting to strike. I appreciate your view that an addiction is a coping strategy that was learned as a way to deal with a stress. Some of us, just don't release some of the more harmful coping strategies thus leading to greater stress(es).
I will sit with this view for a while, I already feel more free of the "demons", as though "I have a part to play" in my own recovery, rather than an ever vigilant guard waiting for addiction to strike!

Thank you

Joshkorda1's picture

thank you! i hope my explanation of addiction prooves useful.
and yes, its better not to relate to any of our inner experience as "demonic" or "monstrous" but rather ingrained coping strategies that, while hoping to help us escape pain and suffering, ultimately create more for us.
metta, j

lemberg72's picture

Thanks for sharing. I have been clean and sober for 7 years 9 months. I have been practicing a daily routine of prayer and mindfullness meditation, working the steps and practicing the spiritual principles discovered through working them, and going to meetings very regularly. I have always felt that I did not have a drug problem rather a drug solution as you talked aboiut in the beginning of your talk. So far this has proved a sufficient substitute and I am able to carry on within the light of the spirit. Ben Lemberg

Joshkorda1's picture

Hi ben,
I'm glad to read you have a daily routine that reduces stress in your life; that's a key to staying sober, along with going to meetings. Having a regular support group of those recovering as well, where we can share about the stresses and burdens of life, is a terrific way to mitigate feelings of loneliness, isolation, confusion, fear.
best, j

amused1's picture

Thank you so much for this simple, profound teaching. The strategies and practices sound so simple, yet they'll take our constant attention. Come to think of it I guess that's the whole idea--to be continuously present.
As an aside to the topic of this retreat, your statement about deep, expansive breathing tripping the vegus nerve to release seratonin really "tripped" my curiousity. I Googled "vegas nerve" (good thing Google is smart enough to figure the correct spelling) and found some really interesting stuff. I am wondering if a nuerological diagnosis I've been given might be alleviated by deep, expansive breathing. My reading tiggered an interest in finding out if deep, expansive breathing along with body scanning might help alleviate symptoms in many neurological conditions.
With much gratitude,

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks anne!
its probably my new york accent that turned "vagus nerve" into "vegas nerve," though quite possibly we have both! (a vagus nerve that stimulates a release of serotonin, and a Vegas nerve that makes us want to gamble away our savings.
best to you,

cakennedy07's picture

Thank you Josh for this profound service work.

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks to you for stopping by!
Tricycle asked me to stop by occasionally and reply to comments.