The idea of applying Buddhist principles to recovery is not new. In a pamphlet published by the very first AA group in Akron, Ohio in the 1940s, and edited by Dr. Bob Smith, called “Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous,” one of AA’s earliest members shared the following thoughts on Buddhism: “Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindedness and right contemplation. The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute for or in addition to the Twelve Steps. Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than considerations of self are basic to Buddhism.”
Author and Buddhist teacher Noah Levine, the founder of ATS and Refuge Recovery, has taught Buddhist principles and practices to alcoholics and addicts for over 25 years. A recovering alcoholic/addict himself, he’s written four books: Dharma Punx, Against the Stream, Heart of the Revolution, and Refuge Recovery. For his many accomplishments, he was the recipient of a Heroes in Recovery Award from Foundations Recovery Network in 2015. Noah founded ATS in 2008. While ATS is open to anyone seeking to learn about Buddhism, a large part of our community have histories of substance abuse, and Refuge Recovery evolved out of these recovering alcoholics/addicts’ need for mutual support.
Refuge Recovery originated with meetings taking place at ATS in Los Angeles in 2010. Soon, peer-led Refuge Recovery meetings began in the Bay Area, Nashville, Boston, and New York. Noah wrote the book Refuge Recovery (released June 14, 2014), about how the Buddha’s Four Truths and Eightfold Path can be used to relieve the suffering of addiction. It also encourages the formation of peer-led Refuge Recovery support groups wherever possible. Since then, meetings have exploded all around the United States and several foreign countries.
Refuge Recovery draws a mix of people. Some also participate in 12-step recovery programs. Many have years, even decades, of time clean and sober. They are attracted by how a Buddhist perspective can deepen their spiritual practice. Others are struggling and may have failed to find a home in a 12-step program. They are attracted to Refuge Recovery’s secular, non-theistic approach.
Refuge Recovery was designed to be a viable, secular approach to recovery. It offers individuals actively engaged in recovery a safe and welcoming home to address their addictive thoughts and behaviors through non-theistic spiritual guidance and a supportive community. Refuge Recovery doesn’t ask anyone to shift a belief system, or for that matter to believe in anything at all. You also don’t have to be Buddhist to participate. The founders of Refuge Recovery were inspired by the knowledge that while the theistic spiritual approach in AA and other 12-step programs helps many in their personal recovery, a significant number find it be a hindrance. These people need an alternative path. As evidenced through its exponential growth since the book Refuge Recovery was published in 2014 and the active social media participation by its members, Refuge Recovery’s treatment and support approach is addressing a profound need.
Thank you to Refuge Recovery volunteer, Jean Tuller, for contributing this article.