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Common ground
of Buddhism and
Alcoholics Anonymous
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). 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 write 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 Reinhol d Niebuhr
(1892-1971) a controversial and travelling predicator with strong social-political attitudes.
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
Bodhicaryavatara 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:
(First the Tibetan version, followed by my Danish and Stephen Bachelors and Allan Wallaces
English versions.)

I det tilflde at det kan modvirkes,

Hvorfor vre ulykkelig af den grund?
I det tilflde, hvor det ikke kan modvirkes,
Hvad er nytten af at blive ulykkelig af den grund?
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..