A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction
Noah Levine
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refuge recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction. Copyright © 2014
by Noah Levine. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No
part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without
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f i r s t e d i t i o n
Designed by Level C
Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data
Levine, Noah.
Refuge recovery : a buddhist path to recovering from addiction / Noah Levine.
pages cm
ISBN 978–0–06–212284–1
1. Recovering addicts—Life skills guides. 2. Religious life—Buddhism. I. Title.
HV4998.L48 2014
294.3'4442—dc23 2013040251
14 15 16 17 18 rrd(h) 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
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Preface vii
Introduction ix
The Process xi
1 Addiction Creates Suffering 3
2 The Cause of Addiction Is
Repetitive Craving 11
3 Recovery Is Possible 19
4 The Path to Recovery 23
5 Understanding 27
6 Intention 41
7 Communication/Community 49
8 Action/Engagement 55
9 Livelihood/Ser vice 65
10 Effort/Energy 71
11 Mindfulness/Meditations 77
12 Concentration/Meditations 85
13 The Path to Heartfulness 89
14 Breaking the Addiction 93
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vi Contents
15 Lynne 105
16 Jordan 113
17 Dave 125
18 Mary 141
19 Pablo 151
20 Enrique 159
21 RuthAnn 165
22 Andrea 183
Mindfulness Meditation Instructions 190
Heart Practices 207
Format for Refuge Recovery Meetings 227
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Addiction is the repetitive process of habitually satisfying cravings
to avoid, change, or control the seemingly unbearable conditions
of the present moment. This process of craving and indulgence
provides short- term relief but causes long- term harm. It is almost
always a source of suffering for both the addict and those who care
about the addict.
Recovery is a process of healing the underlying conditions that
lead to addiction. It is establishing and maintaining the practice of
abstaining from satisfying the cravings for the substances and be-
haviors that we have become addicted to. Recovery is also the abil-
ity to inhabit the conditions of the present reality, whether pleasant
or unpleasant.
Renunciation is the practice of abstaining from harmful
A refuge is a safe place, a place of protection— a place that we
go to in times of need, a shelter. We are always taking refuge in
something. Drugs, alcohol, food, sex, money, or relationships with
people have been a refuge for many of us. Before addiction, such
refuges provide temporary feelings of comfort and safety. But at
some point we crossed the line into addiction. And the substances
or behaviors that were once a refuge inevitably became a dark and
lonely repetitive cycle of searching for comfort as we wandered
through an empty life.
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viii Preface
Active addiction is a kind of hell. It is like being a hungry
ghost, wandering through life in constant craving and suffering.
Refuge Recovery, the Buddhist- inspired approach to treating ad-
diction, offers a plan to end the suffering of addiction.
Traditionally, Buddhists commit to the path of awakening
by taking refuge in three things: awakening (Buddha), truth
(Dharma), and community (Sangha). If the teachings and practices
offered here resonate with you as true and useful, we invite you to
take refuge in this process of awakening, truth, and community.
Practicing these principles and developing these skills will lead to
a safe place, a true and reliable refuge, a place that is free from ad-
diction, to a full recovery.

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Refuge Recovery is a practice, a process, a set of tools, a treatment,
and a path to healing addiction and the suffering caused by addic-
tion. The main inspiration and guiding philosophy for the Refuge
Recovery program are the teachings of Siddhartha (Sid) Gautama,
a man who lived in India twenty- five hundred years ago. Sid was a
radical psychologist and a spiritual revolutionary. Through his own
efforts and practices he came to understand why human beings
experience and cause so much suffering. He referred to the root
cause of suffering as “uncontrollable thirst or repetitive craving.”
This “thirst” tends to arise in relation to pleasure, but it may also
arise as a craving for unpleasant experiences to go away, or as an
addiction to people, places, things, or experiences. This is the same
thirst of the alcoholic, the same craving as the addict, and the same
attachment as the codependent.
Eventually, Sid came to understand and experience a way of
living that ended all forms of suffering. He did this through a
practice and process that includes meditation, wise actions, and
compassion. After freeing himself from the suffering caused by
craving, he spent the rest of his life teaching others how to live a
life of well- being and freedom, a life free from suffering.
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x Introduction
Sid became known as the Buddha, and his teachings became
known as Buddhism. The Refuge Recovery program has adapted
the core teachings of the Buddha as a treatment of addiction.
Buddhism recognizes a nontheistic approach to spiritual prac-
tice. The Refuge Recovery program of recovery does not ask anyone
to believe anything, only to trust the process and do the hard work
of recovery.
This book contains a systematic approach to treating and recov-
ering from all forms of addictions. Using the traditional formula-
tion, the program of recovery consists of the Four Noble Truths
and the Eightfold Path. When sincerely practiced, the program
will ensure a full recovery from addiction and a lifelong sense of
well- being and happiness.
Of course, like every path, you can only get to your destination by
moving forward, one foot in front of the other. The path is gradual
and comprehensive, a map of the inner terrain that must be tra-
versed in the process of recovery. The path includes daily meditation
practices, written investigations of the causes and conditions of your
addictions, and how to find or create the community you will need
in order to heal and awaken. We have also included stories of people
who have successfully recovered with the help of Buddhist practices.
Although I am credited with writing the book, the large com-
munity at Refuge Recovery is the inspirational and creative force
behind it. This community has helped shape, inform, and enhance
the program with their direct experience of practicing these prin-
ciples. This book, then, should be viewed as a collaborative effort, a
book written for the plural rather than the singular— the “we” in-
stead of the “I,” since it speaks for Buddhists and addicts everywhere.
Lastly, we are aware that more will be revealed. It is our hope
that we have offered here a substantial and useful foundation to the
Buddhist recovery movement. We have every intention to learn and
grow and revise as we go. This is just the first edition. Enjoy!
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The Process
Refuge Recovery follows the traditional Buddhist system of the
Four Noble Truths, which begin with four actions.
1. We take stock of all the suffering we have experienced and
caused as addicts.
2. We investigate the causes and conditions that lead to
addiction and begin the process of letting go.
3. We come to understand that recovery is possible and take
refuge in the path that leads to the end of addiction.
4. We engage in the process of the Eightfold Path that leads
to recovery.
1. Understanding
2. Intention
3. Communication/community
4. Action/engagement
5. Livelihood/ser vice
6. Effort/energy
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xii The Process
7. Mindfulness/meditations
8. Concentration/meditations
The core philosophy of Refuge Recovery is based on renun-
ciation and abstinence. We believe that the recovery process truly
begins when renunciation is established and maintained. We also
understand that imperfection and humility are part of the process.
Even when we refrain from the primary drug or behavior, addic-
tion at times manifests in other behaviors. We are not holding per-
fection as the standard, but as the goal. We believe in the human
ability and potential for complete renunciation of behaviors that
cause harm. We understand that for many this is an ongoing pro-
cess of establishing and/or reestablishing renunciation.
Renunciation alone is not recovery, however. It is only the be-
ginning. Those who maintain abstinence but fail to examine the
underlying causes and conditions are not on the path to recovery.
They are simply stopping the surface manifestations of addiction,
which will inevitably resurface in other ways.
The eight factors, or folds, of the path are to be developed, expe-
rienced, and penetrated. This is not a linear path. It does not have
to be taken in order. In fact, all the factors need to be developed
and applied simultaneously. And to truly break free from addic-
tion, the eight folds of recovery must be constantly maintained.
Although the process and sequence of recovery will vary from
person to person, the following is an overview of how the Refuge
Recovery approach may be applied.
We begin by accepting all the ways that addiction has caused
suffering in our lives and the lives of others. Turning inward
and acknowledging our suffering is the beginning of the
process, but it is also an ongoing practice. On a daily basis, we
practice mindfulness of suffering, its causes and its cessation.
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The Process xiii
Next we investigate the underlying conditions that have
influenced, exacerbated, and perpetuated our addictions.
Through reading, listening, studying, and practicing the
principles of the Four Truths (which includes the Eightfold
Path) we come to understand the possibility and potential
of our own recovery. Having some inkling of hope and
willingness, we take refuge in the potential of our own recovery
(Buddha), the Four Truths and Eightfold Path of recovery
(Dharma), and in the community of fellow recovering addicts
We embark on the practice of the Eightfold Path. We
encourage you to begin with the practice of meditation right
away. Meditation is going to be the most important tool
in supporting our renunciation. Begin with the practice of
focusing on your breath. After a week, you will alternate
forgiveness practice (explained in Chapter 5) with breath
practice every other day. Eventually we will want you to learn
and practice all the meditations offered, but we encourage you
to first develop the meditations that increase concentration.
As your skill in concentration increases, we begin practicing
the four foundations of mindfulness and the heart practices of
loving- kindness, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity.
Next we refine understanding, intentions, and livelihood. This
is a gradual path. No one changes overnight, but we all must
continue to practice, study, and act wisely to find the freedom
from addiction we seek.
We engage in the relational aspect of forgiveness, making
amends to all people we have hurt through our addictions,
words, and actions.
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