Sajja and Sila

Sajja and Sila : Foundations of Awakening – by Vince Cullen

Sajja is not simply a vow to stop taking intoxicating substances; it is much more than this. It is a commitment to starting a new life, embracing truth, loyalty, purity and honesty. Effectively, I believe that as addicts we must change our view of the world, and our view of ourselves in that world.

The Thamkrabok Sangha (monks, nuns and lay-people) are of course Buddhists; and as such they are familiar with the Five Buddhist Precepts – these are in fact some of the vows taken as part of the monk’s ordination service. However, uniquely at Thamkrabok, they use the practice of Sajja as the primary focus of day-to-day morality and spiritual development.  When ex-addicts leave Thamkrabok and return home, Sajja should be enough to keep them clean, and this would appear to be true for many addicts.

Unfortunately, there are some addicts who stop taking drugs only to then find that they are morally lacking, or morally bankrupt, as it were. As addicts we have spent too many years lying, cheating, stealing, abusing and even prostituting ourselves; so when we get clean we simply do not know how to behave properly.  In the West, we might benefit from joining a 12-Step programme similar to those offered by the AA or NA organisations.

These are the twelve steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous programme:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

It can’t be denied that the AA and NA 12-Step programmes do work for a lot of people all over the world. The 12-Step process challenges behaviour, attitudes and thinking; these steps introduce morality and spirituality into the recovering addicts lives.  However, these 12-Step programmes don’t always work for everyone.

I have sometimes observed ex-addicts, some of whom have completed treatment at Thamkrabok; and noted that although they may have stopped taking their drug of choice they still think, act and talk like drug addicts; they have very little spirituality and often no morals.

On the other hand, those ex-addicts who find a sense of self-responsibility, a natural morality and some sense of spirituality seem much better placed to enjoy a successful long-lasting recovery.

This is where I believe that the Five Buddhist Precepts can help to promote morality and self-responsibility in the lives of ex-addicts.

The “Five Precepts” (commitments or endeavours) that all Buddhists, addicts or otherwise, try to live by are:

  1. To undertake the training rule to refrain from taking, or harming life (including our own).
  2. To undertake the training rule to refrain from stealing (taking that which is not given).
  3. To undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual misconduct.
  4. To undertake the training rule to refrain from telling lies (being mindful in our speech).
  5. To undertake the training rule to refrain from intoxicating liquors & drugs that lead to carelessness.

There is no doubt that a belief and commitment to Sajja is imperative for a successful detox at Thamkrabok, so I would not dream to promote the Precepts (or 12-Steps) over Sajja.

For most addicts, the power of Sajja is very strong; but when you put Sajja together with a moral code, as in the Five Precepts, a pathway to recovery and happiness is made much more accessible; recovery is much more likely.

It should be stressed here that my view and approach is not a case of “Sajja verses the Precepts” – like a competition. I believe that Sajja (Truth) and the Precepts (Sila) complement each other such that together they can bring about a long-lasting, successful, and happy life after addiction to alcohol, drugs and/or other compulsions.

Related Resources:

Audio Link :  Sajja – A Practice for Transformation a talk by Vince Cullen

Webpage:   Main Sajja

Webpage :   Personal Sajja

Webpage :   Sajja and Sila : Foundations of Awakening

Webpage :  Notes on Sajja : As practiced at Thamkrabok Monastery

Audio Link :  Truthfulness and Resolve a talk by Andrea Fella (53-minutes)

Topics for contemplation & investigation :  Truth (Sajja)

The following online talks are based on the Foundations of Waking Up: