COMMON GROUND OF BUDDHISM AND ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

In LIFE by Erik Meier Carlsen

The world-famous British sociologist Anthony Giddens has in several works pointed to the importance of a new kind of international self-organizing movements or groups who can have real and important influence on human life besides political top-down-institutions. One of his most used examples is Alcoholics Anonymous. AA is an international mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935, two years after the end of Prohibition in December, 1933 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio.
Giddens writes in his book Sociology about what he calls self-enlightened groups: Alcoholic Anonymous and social movements like the environmental movement are examples of social groups that have directly sought to bring about practical reform with some degree of success. He might as well have added religious movements including the international movement of Tibetan Buddhism. And I have found a significant connection in attitude between Tibetan Buddhism and AA.
The connection is found in the so-called ’serenity prayer’, which is an essential part of the rhetoric of the 12-step-methodology used in AA’s treatment of alcoholism. It sounds:

GOD, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

The prayer seems to be written by American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971, a controversial and traveling predicator with strong social-political attitudes.

Shantideva

Shantideva

I’ve always sought, that this prayer ask for an attitude, which I found so characteristic and fundamental in Buddhism. And some years ago I was struck, when I found a very similar advice in the famous Bodhisattva Caryavatara by 8th century Indian Buddhist master Shantideva of Nalanda Monastic University. In Tibet it became maybe the most loved Buddhist texts of all, and in the 6th chapter, on patience, and 10th verse it sounds, in Stephen Bachelor’s and Allan Wallace’s translations:

If there is a remedy, what is the use of frustration?
If there is no remedy, what is the use of frustration?

Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied.
And what is the use to be unhappy about something.

If it cannot be remedied, I believe this is the most healthy attitude towards life ever articulated. Some will say that it misses love and compassion, but I believe love and compassion follow with this serenity and patience, which eliminates anger and hatred.

About the Author
Erik Meier Carlsen

Erik Meier Carlsen

An old Danish Buddhist, took refuge 42 years ago, worked as journalist most of my life, wrote around 15 books, fathered four children in two marriages, left work and wife 8 years ago, took master degree in science of religion 2014 with a thesis on common ground of Martin Heidegger and Kunkhyen Longchenpa. Some of my academic work.

Photo by Morquefile

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