12 Step Buddhist

The 12 Step Buddhist by Darren Littlejohn

I had some trepidation about Darren Littlejohn’s book “The 12 Step Buddhist”.  In a market that is dominated by “feel good”, “inspirational” books with wide puppy-dog eyes and flower gardens, this book stands out like flame-thrower at a hayride.  Needless to say this book provides a more realistic portrayal of addiction and Buddhist practice.  

Most recovery books that touch on Buddhism either water-down the Dharma to a base level (like learning yoga just to touch your toes – useful but dull) or scramble it up to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as Dharma (just some self-help dribble with an Eastern flare).

Darrin did none of these things.  On the contrary he represented the Dharma and Buddhist practice as a “spiritual edge” to an otherwise stale 12 Step process.  The 12 steps taken by themselves were not enough for complete recovery.  Instead integration was stressed above all else.  Integration of Buddhist practice, philosophy and religion into the 12 Steps Philosophy; Integration of both meditative and esoteric practices (in this case Zen and Tibetan Buddhism); Integration of the 12 Steps and Buddhist practice beyond the doors of a Zendo or a AA meeting; Integration of a home-practice with a sangha practice; Integration of you with your own addictions and attachments.

While an addict with a Buddhist or contemplative leaning would benefit the most from this book, its presentation leaves plenty to gain from just a superficial understanding of addiction, the 12 Steps or Buddhism and will leave the neophyte with more than cud to chew on – from the first few chapters that explore Darren Littlejohn’s addiction, his practice of Buddhism and several of his successes and failures to the later chapters that outline an actual integrated practice. 

Far from a motivational speech, the 12 Step Buddhist shows where each aspect of recovery is lacking and how each piece, when working together, can make a much clearer (but not necessarily easier) road to recovery.  Whether your addition is as serious and destructive as some of those described in the book or simply an attachment to those things around us, the meditations detailed throughout are a useful tool in the realization and the releasing of those things tying us down.

A personal favorite passage from the book was this explanation of karma and a higher power…

Karma, to me is a spiritual law.  I can’t change it. I can choose to ignore it, but that doesn’t change the outcome.  In that sense, karma is a power greater than I am.  Karma means “action”.  Action is cause.  A cause has an effect.  The law or principle of karma says there is a cause for everything that exists.  If there is no cause, there is no effect.  In fact, the logic of karma can be seen to rule our the possibility of a Creator God, which is the cause but has no cause… [from The 12 Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction]

Take home message from this book:  We have several facets to our practice.  Whether we are addicts in the strictest sense of the word or attached to living; we need an integrated practice.  A practice that can include the absolute as well as the relative; the esoteric as well as the practical.  When we disregard these aspects of practice because they don’t fit into a preconceived framework we let many facets grow dull that otherwise would shine.




6 thoughts on “12 Step Buddhist

    • No problem. It was a good read, an interesting perspective, and some useful meditations for any of us. My suggestion is to request it from your local public library. That way it gets used.

      Cheers and Happy Samhain!


  1. Thank you so much for reading the book. You are correct in that it is aimed at addicts, and Buddhist practitioners. But I’d also hoped to illustrate the Dharma by allowing readers a glimpse into “attachment gone wild” by seeing through the eyes of an addict. In this way spiritual teachers, treatment professionals and family members of addicts may also learn.

    I also appreciate your tweets and posts on the Dharma. So this review is especially meaningful.



  2. I’ve been considering this book since it came out. I was in a 12-step program (Overeaters Anonymous) but the whole “higher power” message made it difficult to continue and I eventually left it despite it helping me to some extent.

    I feel like the group was helpful and this book may aid me in integrating the ideas of Buddhism and 12-step practice.

    • It will definately aid your integration, especially with the “sticky” parts around a higher power. Littlejohn does a great job in defining a “higher power” that fits both a 12 Step Program and Buddhism. Personally, it was one of my favorite parts of the book.

      The meditations would also be benifitial since you are already familar with the 12 step process. It is a deeper book then its contemporaries but is also accessable to someone with little Buddhist experience.

      While not on a 12 step program myself, the meditations have helped me in quitting smoking and keeping my precepts.



  3. Pingback: Life Sucks! Buddhism makes it suck less. « Sweep the dust, Push the dirt

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