'Dharma Punx' author Noah Levine offers a Buddhist approach to addiction recovery in 'Refuge Recovery'

By Wallace Baine, Monterey Herald, Jul 10, 2014

Monterey, CA (USA) -- Addiction is one of the most bedeviling and ruinous torments of the human experience. And for millions of those trapped in addiction's cycle of suffering, the famed 12-step program established by Alcoholics Anonymous and its many affiliated organizations has been an effective way out.

<< Santa Cruz native Noah Levine returns to his hometown Monday.

But, for many people, the heavily religious, specifically Christian cast of 12-step programs can get in the way of treatment.

Writer, teacher and Santa Cruz native Noah Levine points to another option: Buddhism.

For the past decade, since the publication of his revelatory memoir "Dharma Punx," Levine has been one of the country's most prominent Buddhist writers. His latest book, "Refuge Recovery," takes on the topic of addiction, as a kind of guide book for an effective addiction treatment program based on fundamental Buddhist practices and precepts. He comes to Bookshop Santa Cruz on Monday.

Levine offers the "Refuge Recovery" path, he said, without casting any negative light toward Al-Anon and 12-step.

"I have a lot of gratitude (for 12-step)," he said. As outlined in "Dharma Punx," Levine experienced a youth rife with drugs, alcohol and incarceration. "I have nothing bad to say about that approach. But it is a theistic spiritual system that depends on an external higher power. Now, that resonates to the core of a lot of people. A God-based philosophy is particularly great for Christian-minded people. But what about the people who don't believe in God?"

Levine, 43, grew up in Santa Cruz, the son of well-known poet and Buddhist teacher Stephen Levine, later studying with well-known Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. He moved away from Santa Cruz in the late 1990s, and since settling in Los Angeles, has working to establish a Buddhist path to the treatment of addiction.

The book adapts the Four Noble Truths of Buddhist teaching to dealing with addiction. Given that transcending suffering is at the center of Buddhist philosophy, Levine said that Buddhism is a natural way to address addiction. The "Refuge Recovery" way, like 12-step, emphasizes self-honesty, abstinence and community.

"There is an educational component to it," said Levine. "People want to know what Buddhism has to offer, and how this is a clear and detailed map out of addiction."

The book also offers up stories of others who have escaped addiction through meditation and other Buddhist practices. The Buddhist approach outlined in "Refuge Recovery" came from Levine's own struggles with addiction. "The seeds were germinating even back in 1988," he said, "when I was in Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall trying to figure out a way out."

Levine said that he, for the most part, left out his own story of addiction in the new book because his story has been told in many of his other books — which also includes "Against the Stream" and "The Heart of the Revolution" — and because "I didn't want this to be about me."

The program is beginning to spread in communities across the country. "It's growing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Seattle, up and down the West Coast. But we're also seeing it take hold in unlikely places, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Richmond.

"I have no intention to control this in any way," he said. "It's a peer-led process. People change the format to fit their own communities. People are taking ownership of it, and it's led to quite a bit of excitement."