An important part of the addiction treatment at Thamkrabok is the sajja vow. The promise I made not to drink again for the rest of my life. The monks believe that if you keep this vow good things will come into your life, but that breaking it will be disastrous. Unlike a lot of the vows that addicts are famous for making this one can’t be made more than once – if you break this promise there is no saying sorry and repeating it.
The Sajja Vow and Kamma (Karma)
An important idea in Buddhism is kamma; the belief that all actions will have consequences and that our intended actions will have consequences for us. The word ‘kamma’ refers to the action and not the result. The sajja vow is related to this law of the universe.
I find the idea of kamma easy to accept; it makes sense to me. More importantly I’ve seen it work in my life on countless occasions. I don’t think there is anything magical about it. I also don’t think that you need to be a Buddhist in order to accept it. Most people believe in kamma without realising it.
A lot of folk wrongly view kamma as being about punishment; I don’t see it that way. For me it is just one of nature’s laws and so it’s value free. Put very simply, when I do good things then good things will come my way, and when I do negative things then negative come my way. I am not being punished for doing wrong, but instead I am just getting back from the system what I put into it. Not everything that happens to me will be due to my kamma, but it’s an important factor and it’s something that I have control over. My satja vow was a positive action on my part and has had many positive consequences.
A simple example of how kamma works would be how when I help somebody else it makes me feel good about myself; an instant good result from my actions. It may also mean that in the future the person I helped might help me. If I help a lot of people at a later time (when I’m feeling pissed off with things) I might look back at my life and say, ‘hey, I’m not that bad a person’. All these are positive outcomes from my actions.
A very positive action which I took was quitting alcohol. It continues to provide positive results even today, and I’m convinced that it will continue to do so into the future. This is what the sajja vow is all about. I made a positive change in my life and consequently put my life on course for a bright future. Of course bad things will still happen occasionally but unlike my previous life as a drunk it won’t be one disaster after another.
The most fantastic thing that the satja vow provides is that it allows me to lighten up on things. When I put my trust in the promise of the vow I have much less in life to worry about. Things may seem bleak at times, but so long as I don’t return to addiction then they will get better. I can’t imagine ever ending up in the gutter sober. If I continue to sow good seeds then there will be good results at some time in the future. Even though I was once a selfish addict I can now do good because it just feels good to do it – no need for future rewards.
An important thing to remember is that while the sajja vow predicts that positive things will enter my life, it doesn’t promise that things will always go my way. I don’t know anyone who has it good all the time, but overall so long as the positives outweigh the negatives life is good. Sometimes I need to be patient, but when I look back I can see that life has taken me to where I need to be. Sometimes the shit will hit the fan, but the vow supports me through life.
No Need to Buddhist
I’ve spoken to many ex-patients of Wat Thamkrabok; some of these individuals have been sober for a long time. Many would probably not consider themselves to be Buddhist, and I don’t think you need to study Buddhism in order to take the sajja seriously. Thamkrabok is a spiritual community though; I think that this is what makes it magical.
I tend to agree with the AA claim that recovery needs to be a spiritual path for some of us – although maybe not for everyone. Many addicts are acting up because they have no other means of coping. They are missing a spiritual aspect of their lives; the famous ‘hole in the soul’. They may have religion, but this might be just for decoration. A lot of addicts have spiritual yearnings and if these are not met life will have little meaning. There are some who would view this spiritual yearning as a sign of weakness, but for me the opposite is true. A spiritual path brings benefits to my life now; I’m not worried about what comes after life.
The sajja vow works; good things are always coming into my life these days. My faith in the sajja continues to grow as the years pass. This has also been the experience of all who I have spoken to who have kept their vow. Keeping the sajja gives us the breathing space to find the right path in life; the way of living that means we will never again feel the need to numb our brains. Sincere effort gets rewarded – this seems to be the way of kamma and my experience as well.
Do you believe in Karma?
Does the sajja vow make sense to you?
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