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Can the Dhamma remove a lay person's addiction?

First, I’d like to say thank you for your answers to my previous question, they were helpful.

I have another question maybe you can help me with.

Suppose a person has severe type 2 Diabetes, they know that consuming sugar worsens their condition and harms them, but they are extremely addicted to sweets consuming mostly sweets. They want to give up sweets but are unable to do so due to their strong desire.

  1. Can the dhamma fully cure their addiction and how? what is the method?

  2. Is it even possible since in MN14 the Buddha tells Mahanama that he needs to leave the householder life to give up desires, and that desires are given up when jhanas are attained (sutta below)

Thank you

Sutta:

Then Mahānāma the Sakyan went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him, “For a long time, sir, I have understood your teaching like this: ‘Greed, hate, and delusion are corruptions of the mind.’ Despite understanding this, sometimes my mind is occupied by thoughts of greed, hate, and delusion. I wonder what qualities remain in me that I have such thoughts?”

“Mahānāma, there is a quality that remains in you that makes you have such thoughts. For if you had given up that quality you would not still be living at home and enjoying sensual pleasures. But because you haven’t given up that quality you are still living at home and enjoying sensual pleasures.

Sensual pleasures give little gratification and much suffering and distress, and they are all the more full of drawbacks. Even though a noble disciple has clearly seen this with right wisdom, so long as they don’t achieve the rapture and bliss that are apart from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that, they might still return to sensual pleasures. But when they do achieve that rapture and bliss, or something more peaceful than that, they will not return to sensual pleasures.

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Maybe it is possible, but highly unlikely…

The good thing about rebirth is that there is always a chance that a future birth may be more conducive in terms of causes and conditions for one to not get stuck in this sort of highly destructive behavior / choice pattern. :man_shrugging:

Nevertheless, if one has duty of care towards someone in such situation, it may be worth considering formal interventions such as hospitalization, therapies, etc.

Usually this sort of treatment can be discussed and explored with a doctor or healthcare professional, a GP would be a good start.

:anjal:

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"I myself, before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened bodhisatta, saw as it actually was with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, but as long as I had not attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, I did not claim that I could not be tempted by sensuality. But when I saw as it actually was with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, and I had attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, that was when I claimed that I could not be tempted by sensuality.”—MN 14

Note the Buddha-to-be used a two-arm strategy, insight and serenity. Investigation has to be made as to the detrimental effect of wrong eating on the arising of samadhi.

Sensible eating is described in the suttas as necessary for all practitioners to succeed, and you are right in using the strategy described in MN 14, but there are conditions. Sensible eating contributes to the threefold dynamics of the path as part of sila’s positive effect on samadhi, so solving a food problem cannot be an end in itself, it has to be incidental to the practice of the path proper.

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Yes, it can.
One can quite easily give up a “householder life” by understanding that one isn’t “a householder”, one isn’t a human being, one isn’t a Buddhist, one isn’t a practitioner, and so on.
Addiction is the disease we catch when we latch onto the world by sending our hearts into the world. By sending one’s heart into the world, one get’s a feeling of something lacking, one becomes fragmented, and so on. This fragmentation makes one feel unhappy and then one starts searching for the missing piece in the world of one’s own creation. The fact is there was never anything lacking, so the addiction is ignorance of where one’s real home is.

Stop sending the heart out, and there isn’t any addict or addiction.

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About addiction in general:

> Uv Kg 23

Self is the lord of self; what other lord could there be? The wise man who has become master of himself finds the law.

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It depends on what you mean by “completely cure”, doesn’t it? If you mean that the desire absolutely never arises again, then it might be necessary to remove all sense desire as in the sutta you referenced. If you mean that the desire to engage in the behaviour is lessened so much that the addiction is under control, then its a lot easier to do. It can be lessened so much that the desire almost never comes up, and when it does, it can be dealt with.

I’m sure there are many methods for doing this. But oftentimes, following the 8fold noble path is enough. Addictive behaviors just become increasingly painful and burdensome over time. So the incentive to stop increases.

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If you look at the 5 precepts one of them is to give up intoxicants that cloud the mind. I and many other non-monastic Buddhists have successfully done this. It is doable.

I’ve also given up dinner. It turns out it was making me drowsy and disrupting my sleep! And now I can meditate in the evening without dozing off :joy:

I meditate every day and have a regular sangha to attend and sutta study. I adore these elements of my life more than dinner, alcohol, music, etc, etc. The benefits of the path, the spiritual joy and happiness that come from the practice become greater than the momentary reward of sensual pleasures. This is true for me even without jhanas. I would say I have consistently pleasurable samadhi but have only touched the jhanas once. I can definitely imagine that more jhana states would incline the mind even more toward spiritual focus and less toward worldly.

In addition, sugar has many adverse effects. With increased mindfulness of your bodily and mental state over time you begin to notice more and more subtle forms of suffering in the body and mind. The effects of sugar would become so obvious it would become increasingly painful to hurt ones own body in this way.

Regarding suttas, I don’t have any direct references but you might look into renunciation more generally. A powerful part of the path and not just for monastics.

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If he just read Dhamma then his reading leads to addiction cannot giving up.

He need learn to apply Samma Vayamo (Right effort) to get rid of craving. He need to develop laugh at the new craving towards eating Sugar. Yes you read correctly laugh, he need to laugh!! on how his mind that going crazy and asking to do something worsen the current condition. When one laughs one self, he don’t takes the craving as self.

What is Right Effort?

  1. Let go current unwholesome
  2. Do not generate new unwholesome
  3. Generate wholesome
  4. Increase wholesome

When you smile/laugh, one can let go of unwholesome and generates wholesome. By trying this, he can gradually let go his craving of sugar.


As mentioned is Sutta, the pleasure of jhana is higher than the pleasure of senses. It’s like a baby is happy with toy car, when (s)he grown (s)he no longer shows interest on toy car, because (s)he found others which gives more happiness.
Being in jhana during daily activity is like foolproof from sensual craving. If one is skilled in applying Effort, then it’s easy to enter into jhanas and remain, to be free from craving.

The key is, one should have interest towards learning the skilful effort.

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Yes, here in 9.41 the Buddha says that the reason his mind isn’t eager for giving up sensual desires is

  1. He hasn’t seen the drawbacks of sensual desires
  2. He hasn’t seen the benefits of giving it up (jhanas)

Then I thought, ‘What is the cause, what is the reason why my mind isn’t eager for renunciation, and not confident, settled, and decided about it? Why don’t I see it as peaceful?’ Then I thought, ‘I haven’t seen the drawbacks of sensual pleasures, and so I haven’t cultivated that. I haven’t realized the benefits of renunciation, and so I haven’t developed that. That’s why my mind isn’t eager for renunciation, and not confident, settled, and decided about it. And it’s why I don’t see it as peaceful.’

But AN 11.2 seems to imply that engaging in sensual desires is unethical, so one has to see giving up sensual desires as not just for the goal of attaining something (a means to an end) but also see that engaging in sensual desires as a vice and evil in itself, with a moral implications, that if you engage in sensual desires, you are unethically harming yourself and others. Samma Ditthi sutta confirms this, by stating that the root of unwholesome is greed.

I think seeing sensual desires as bad, is not just about harming your health, because many people have no qualms about hurting themselves, but do have qualms about hurting others. Thus sensual desires are literally unethical because it’s causing suffering in others. Take for example someone who cares about you like your parents or spouse, if you cause yourself to die prematurely because of your addictions, you are harming them by making them suffer for your loss.

So making the ethical distinction that your indulgence is almost on the same level as psychically hurting someone, especially someone you love, and feeling moral shame for it, can help someone give up their addiction.

AN 11.2

“Mendicants, an ethical person, who has fulfilled ethical conduct, need not make a wish: ‘May I have no regrets!’ It’s only natural that an ethical person has no regrets.

When you have no regrets you need not make a wish: ‘May I feel joy!’ It’s only natural that joy springs up when you have no regrets.

When you feel joy you need not make a wish: ‘May I experience rapture!’ It’s only natural that rapture arises when you’re joyful.

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Yes, exactly, joy follows good sila and non-regret. Lovely sutta!

Someone else will know a quote for this … My understanding of Sila…I don’t think it has to be that the action directly causes others suffer, only that bad kamma is generated. It can be simply that the being who generated the kamma suffers. And since we aren’t separate/there is no self, the kamma of one being does affect all (at an energetic level).

But if you need a literal consequence of diabetes that does affect others … It puts pressure on the healthcare system and friends and family suffer to see loved ones suffering.

Yes, I know that from a karmic perspective hurting yourself is just as bad, but from the general perspective many people have the belief that as long as they’re not hurting others, then it’s ok for them to destroy their own body and harm themselves. In this way I would consider the Buddha’s dhamma to be more morally and ethically advanced than an average modern society which does not see indulging in sensual desires as unethical.

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What AN11.2 say is this:

AN11.2:10.1: When you’re dispassionate you need not make a wish:

AN11.2 simply says that wishes are unnecessary. It’s not really about ethics, since all of us here walked the path of wishing for less suffering. So wishing isn’t so much about ethics. Wishing is simply conditioning.

As practice deepens, one ends up wishing for less effort in practice. “Oh it’s warm in bed, can I be a bedbug one more second? But I am cooking today and it is time to get up.” What the Buddha is teaching here is that wishing itself is suffering and can be relinquished.

The chemical signals of addiction don’t fade easily. Trapped in the mud it’s hard to escape, wheels spinning madly. And that’s what wishes tend to do–make us floor the accelerator desperately in vain attempts at escape. Calming down, we can leave the care and consider the situation, call a friend, wait for help, or work out a solution ourselves. I think your earlier quote summed it up nicely:

Are you wishing for something more? :wink:

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There are parallel suttas that show that when one reviews their virtue/sila it gives rise to pamojja (joy) which gives rise to piti (rapture), samadhi, etc… so it seems like he literally is saying if you have Right View, and thus Virtue, you need not intend (wish) for joy and jhanas, as it will happen naturally.

Pamojja is what bridges the virtue training to the concentration training.

The strength of a person accomplished in view is that, when the teaching and training proclaimed by the Realized One are being taught, they find joy in the meaning and the teaching, and find joy connected with the teaching.

Balatā esā, bhikkhave, diṭṭhisampannassa puggalassa yaṃ tathāgatappavedite dhammavinaye desiyamāne labhati atthavedaṃ, labhati dhammavedaṃ, labhati dhammūpasaṃhitaṃ pāmojjaṃ.

“An unethical person, who lacks ethics, has destroyed a vital condition for not having regrets. When there are regrets, one who has regrets has destroyed a vital condition for joy. When there is no joy, one who lacks joy has destroyed a vital condition for rapture. When there is no rapture, one who lacks rapture has destroyed a vital condition for tranquility. When there is no tranquility, one who lacks tranquility has destroyed a vital condition for bliss. When there is no bliss, one who lacks bliss has destroyed a vital condition for right immersion. When there is no right immersion, one who lacks right immersion has destroyed a vital condition for true knowledge and vision. When there is no true knowledge and vision, one who lacks true knowledge and vision has destroyed a vital condition for disillusionment. When there is no disillusionment, one who lacks disillusionment has destroyed a vital condition for dispassion. When there is no dispassion, one who lacks dispassion has destroyed a vital condition for knowledge and vision of freedom.

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In terms of overcoming addictions, I would say this is ultimately an empirical question. This is the kind of question that science does really well with–does intervention x cure/manage/improve condition y.

I know Dr. Judson Brewer is a researcher specializing in addiction with a Buddhist background. I know he has done studies that demonstrate a mindfulness-based approach to cigarette addiction outperformed the current gold-standard treatment for cigarette addiction. He is also working with a mindfulness-based approach to eating–I’m not sure where that stands in terms of testing.

That said:

So it seems the first question is about one’s goal. If it is to follow the “path proper” to liberation, I don’t think science has much to offer at this point. I’d look at @paul1’s response and the other replies to this thread.

If the primary goal is to overcome addiction to sweets, I think the place to look is research literature on overcoming addictions, and see if there is evidence that Buddhism, or a sub-set of Buddhism such as mindfulness practices, has shown to be effective.

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It is possible to cure an addiction, I know.

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First a practitioner must consider the affliction to themselves through investigation, and how it obstructs insight, promotes stress and does not contribute to advancement of the practice. This is the second noble truth in operation. Affliction to others is important particularly considering the common consciousness, where mind-states profitable or unprofitable contribute to the well-being of others. Note the Buddha-to-be says “thinking” leads to effects on others.

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’—MN 19

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Buddhist teachings and practice were a big part of my finally escaping alcoholism. My obligatory sobriety tattoo has a dharma wheel in the middle of it.

For more than thirty years, trying to quit about a hundred times, a couple of hospital treatment stays, four terms of psychiatric lockup, it never occurred to me that my religious background might actually help me. I have no idea why.

I also got psychiatric help, medications as needed, and attended recovery groups, so dhamma wasn’t the only thing I reached out to, but I’d estimate it was about 80% of what I needed to live sober the last six-plus years.

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