Buddhist Recovery Summit


The Buddhist Recovery movement is based on using the Dharma to overcome the suffering arising from addiction.

By Valerie (Vimalasara) Mason-John

The Buddhist Recovery Network (BRN) and the Northwest Dharma Association (NWDA) are sponsoring the 2017 Buddhist Recovery Summit. George Johns, President of BRN, and George Draffan, Executive Director of NWDA, have collaborated together to host the second Summit.

Gwinwood Conference Center

They have invited Buddhist Recovery teachers, facilitators and people committed to Buddhist Recovery to come together in the Gwinwood Conference Center, Lacey, Washington from Friday October 20th to Sunday October 22nd, to discuss the state of Buddhist Recovery in the 21st Century.

The summit is open to anyone interested in Buddhist recovery. Space is quite limited, so it is important to confirm your interest in attending as soon as possible. Staying offsite and not at the retreat itself – with a $150 fee – is now the only option. You can get more information right here: Buddhist Recovery Summit.

The Buddhist Recovery Network was founded in 2008 to support people using the tools of the Dharma in their recovery.

Noah Levine

Keynote Speaker: Noah Levine, author of Refuge Recovery.

This summit, like the conference in 2009 in Los Angeles, is being organized by the generosity of others, by people donating their time and money.

Northwest Dharma Association has taken a pioneering lead in bringing leading Buddhist Recovery teachers from the USA, Canada, England and Australia together to discuss “What is Buddhist Recovery?”.

The origins of Buddhist Recovery lies in the Dharma taught by Gautama the Buddha.

When the Prince Siddhartha gained enlightenment and became a Buddha, his first discourse was on addiction. It is reported that he said:

There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable. Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (The Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana.

We could say that the Prince Siddhartha had addictions, and when he became enlightened he went beyond all his addictions and became a Buddha.


Keynote Speaker: Dr Valerie (Vimalasara) Mason-John M.A., co-author of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction.

We know that before Shakyamuni became a Buddha (waking up to the truth of reality) he tried extreme self-discipline that included abstaining from all forms of indulgence, which was called the practice of asceticism.

His self-mortification included eating just one grain of rice a day, and sometimes walking around with one arm in the air for weeks.

In his search for an end to suffering, Gautama became an addict to asceticism.

Like today’s addicts, he had learned how to master pain, or so he thought. He grew as thin as a skeleton, and did not budge from his addiction. Still he did not find an end to suffering.

We also know that his ascetic practices were in reaction to the hedonistic lifestyle he had been surrounded by from birth. Every sense was indulged in, and that his lifestyle of hedonism and craving was most probably normal. However, he was not satisfied.

It was seeing the four sights of ageing, sickness, death and a man begging for alms that propelled him to escape from the prison of his mind. The Buddha outlines what we could call the Great Escape from Addiction, through the teachings of the four noble truths, the eight fold path, and going for refuge.

Therefore it is not surprising that we saw the birth of the Buddhist Recovery Network in January 2008 at Cannon Beach, Oregon via the inspiration of people like Alan Marlatt, Kevin Griffin, Paul Saintilan and Sheila Blackfoot.

Kevin Griffin

Keynote Speaker: Kevin Griffin, author of One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps.

The BRN arose from discussions between Paul Saintilan and Kevin Griffin in September 2006. A meeting of interested parties was held at Cannon Beach (Oregon) in January 2008 to define the mission of the organisation. A Board was formed, the organisation was formally incorporated as a non-profit, and administrative processes were completed, such as achieving tax deductible status with the IRS. The website was seen as a priority from the outset, providing information on meetings and resources.

Long before the Buddhist Recovery Network there was a growing interest in Mindfulness among psychologists and psychotherapists; the worldwide growth of AA in the twentieth century encouraging the practice of meditation in its Eleventh Step. A number of authors were focusing on the intersection of Buddhism and recovery long before the BRN, including William Alexander, Mel Ash, Tomas and Beverly Bien, and Christina Grof. Also including Daniel Goleman’s book Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them?, have all contributed to the Buddhist Recovery Movement.

The first Buddhist Recovery conference was staged in October 2009 at Against the Stream in Los Angeles, was put together by BRN with the assistance of Noah Levine and Mary Stacanvage.

Vince Cullen

Keynote Speaker: Vince Cullen is the resident teacher at the Mindfulness & Meditation Centre in Tipperary, Ireland.

Since then Buddhist Recovery has gained traction, popularized by books written by Kevin Griffin, One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps, and A Burning Desire, both and Laura S’s book, 12 Steps on the Buddha’s Path – Bill, Buddha and We. In 2014 two books came out, dedicating the Buddhist Teachings specifically as a way out of suffering. Noah Levine published Refuge Recovery, a book which outlines a Buddhist approach to recovery, along with pioneering the first Buddhist Recovery Rehabilitation centre for people with addictions.

Dr Valerie Mason-John M.A. (hon.doc) and Dr Paramabhandu also published Eight Step Recovery, Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction, exploring recovery through the lens of the Buddhist Teachings. Refuge Recovery and Eight Step Recovery have meetings in several countries around the world. And we are beginning to see a plethora of other Buddhist Recovery Meetings, from 5th Precept, to Hungry Ghost, to 12 Step and Dharma meetings.

This year summit will be hosting keynote speakers Vince Cullen from Ireland, Dr Valerie Mason-John M.A. (hon.doc), Noah Levine, and Kevin Griffin. Other attendees also include Dori Langevin, Darren Littlejohn, Christie Bates, and many others.

Paul Santilan and Timothy O’Brien the organizers of the first summit will be facilitating a morning on the future of the BRN, and a way forward. We hope to have enough money to pass onto the organizers of the 3rd summit. And hope that we will not have to wait another 8 years for it to happen.

7 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for the clarifying article, Vimalasara. I am so excited to be helping with this event, together with the teachers and leaders in the Buddhist Recovery field who’s work I have been promoting on our website “Northwest Buddhist Recovery” for over 5 years. For me this is something I have been thinking about for a long time, I am so grateful to be a part of it!

  2. Thomas B. says:

    Good Stuff !~!~!

    Thanks so much Roger for posting this article about the second Buddhist Recovery Summit. They have a most attractive program highlighted by Noah Levine.

    I would really like to attend, but my budget for travel this year is bone-dry with the planned trip to attend SOAAR, visits to daughters and grandchildren in Maryland and a holiday visit with my family of origin in Jackson, MS for the winter holidays.

    Oh well, there’s always next year . . .

  3. Joe C. says:

    Great post. It works if you work it, too.

    Bill stayed sober talking to Bob. Bob didn’t but he got sober soon thereafter. They had no program. They had each other. They were borrowing ideas from the Oxford Group, medicine and psychology. They both read Richard Peabody’s The Common Sense Of Drinking. I don’t think it’s the path we take or steps we take so much as the commitment or leap of faith or lack of options (whatever fits) and the mutual-aid support of others who empathize.

    I am sure Buddhism works better for some than Steps. Excellent ! I’m sure CBT works for others better than either. It’s critical to honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to explore every success (recovery) and see if there isn’t something we can use ourselves or pass on to others. Nothing concerning addiction and recovery is an outside issue as far as my experience with our traditions are concerned. If AA founders borrowed (“AA was not invented,” Bill said), why wouldn’t we discuss SMART, The Budhist path to abstainence or Karma-reduction? We can borrow or share today, in the same way AA always has.

    Just my view, of course.

    • life-j says:

      Joe, well said. Though I find buddhism too restrictive/dogmatic in its philosophy for me personally, as in the 4 this and the 9 that, and its various prescriptions – I’m a spiritual anarchist – I still think of it as much better than the middle eastern monotheistic religions, in part because it doesn’t have a god per se. So I am glad to see this, too.

      Whatever resonates with someone, and works, it ought to be encouraged. The more paths the better.

    • Thomas B. says:

      Hey Joe,

      I agree with life-j, this is most graciously well-said . . .

      I also want to thank you for this morning’s reading out of Beyond Belief. I was unaware of the 1977 “Big Book Study Guides: Reviewing a Position Paper.” It strikes me that perhaps this was the last firm position that GSO has taken about what I refer to as “creeping Christianity” in so many meetings throughout North America. GSO has been powerless to prevent the majoritarian rule of the General Service Conference to subvert the domineering practice of Christianity in AA ever since. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t resent Christians who have their firm beliefs. In fact, I am sometimes envious of them and wish I had some magical belief system.

      Nevertheless, I am most grateful that we secular members are slowly but surely growing in numbers throughout the expansion of our secular meetings. We are thus staying true to the original “Back to Basics” of AA by widening the doorway of AA to “anyone, anywhere” who wants to stop drinking.

  4. Ron says:

    Thank you for posting this.

  5. Steve V. says:

    Not surprised at all that there are people using the principles of Buddhism for recovery. Glad to see this movement grow as this means there’s another option for those seeking sobriety besides conventional A.A.

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