This Saturday I’ve been invited as one of the speakers to a meditation forum at Thamkrabok Temple here in Thailand. The title of the event is, Sajja: The Vow of Recovery – Christian and Buddhist Perspectives . I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to say on the day. I’ve never been very good at this type of preparation, and I tend to just sink or swim when the time comes. I guess that they will be expecting me to talk about my own experiences with the Thamkrabok sajja and meditation. This has provided me with a nice opportunity to get my thoughts straight on both of these tools for recovery, and it has come at a time when my view of both of them has undergone a radical overhaul.
Thamkrabok Sajja Vow
One of the unique aspects of the addiction treatment offered by Thamkrabok temple is the sajja vow. It is simply a promise that you make to give up your addiction – although it is also possible to limit this to a certain period of time. To make this promise appear all the more significant it is made as part of a ceremony involving a Buddhist monk who is reciting in the Pali language. The Thamkrabok sajja vow is well known to people in Thailand, and it is widely believed that it involves magical powers – if you keep the vow great things will happen to you, but if you break it your life will turn to complete shit. There are many reports of people who died after breaking the sajja.
I had already been living in Thailand for six years before going to Thamkrabok temple for help. I didn’t know the option existed up until then. I’m still a bit amazed at how I managed to avoid hearing about the temple right up until the day before going there. I later asked my wife why she had never suggested that I go to Thamkrabok, and she admitted that it was because she did not believe that I’d be able to keep the sajja. I certainly can’t blame her for this as I regularly made promises to quit but never kept them. She believed that if I did the same with the Thamkrabok vow it would mean that I was cursed.
The sajja is not something that you can make more than once – there is no revolving door policy at Thamkrabok. It is a serious commitment, and if you break it you need to look elsewhere for help.
The Sajja Means Deciding to Trust the Universe
I realise now that I misunderstood the nature of the sajja for the first six years of my recovery. I saw it as a contract where I would agree to behave myself, and in return the universe would comply with my desires. I had a nice run where things did seem to be going my way but of course reality eventually decided to start kicking my butt. This meant that I felt cheated – how dare the universe not live up to its side of the bargain. It took a bit of suffering before I could see the reality of what had happened. I’d never been promised a universe that would bend to my whims, and to expect such a thing went beyond unreasonable. The promise had been that if I gave up alcohol my life would improve, and that is exactly what happened.
I now believe that the sajja vow is a leap of faith and not any type of contract. Maybe the only power that this promise has is what we put into it. Cynics may see “faith” as almost a dirty word, but we all rely on faith in one form or another. The only question is whether our faith is reasonable and beneficial. In the case of the Thamkrabok sajja, this faith involves trusting that my life will be better because I’m no longer poisoning myself with alcohol. It seems a reasonable leap of faith for me to take.
It has turned out to be a great relief to find that the universe is not willing to comply with my desires. I’m a terrible judge of what is best for me, and most of the good things in my life were never part of my plans. The sajja means that I trust the universe to continue sending interesting things my way, but I’m no longer trying so hard to tell the universe how to behave in this regard.
Recovery and Meditation
My views on meditation have also changed significantly in recent months. I began meditating during my teens even before I developed my alcohol addiction. This tool has greatly benefited my life, but it is also something that I’ve misused. I originally turned to meditation for the same reason that I later turned to alcohol – I wanted to escape being me. I’ve experienced some wonderful states of consciousness during these inner explorations, but for the longest time it dimmed my appreciation of normal living. I developed a strong desire to escape this reality but escape to what? There is nothing wrong with normal states of consciousness. Life is already wonderful, and I don’t need to follow any particular spiritual practice or do anything special in order to enjoy it fully. I’m finally learning that nothing special has to happen for me to be content, and I don’t need to be able to control the universe to find real peace. Life comes pre-packed with everything that is needed to make it wonderful. I mediate now to enjoy the different states of consciousness and not to escape my life – it is a simple tool and not that big a deal.