BOOK REVIEW: The 12-Step Buddhist — enhance recovery from any addiction

Author Darren Littlejohn has the mighty big heart of a Bodhisattva, the Buddhist term for an enlightened being who is devoted to ending the suffering of all sentient beings. His raw put-yourself-out-there example of someone who successfully overcame alcohol and drug addiction is the very best and most endearing part of The 12-Step Buddhist. That said, the messages and the methods that Littlejohn extends in The 12-Step Buddhist are confused, conflicted and convoluted. The only plausible explanation I could come up for this rambling mess of a work to sell so well is Littlejohn’s frequently stated intention to be “of maximum service to those around you.” That plus an awesome title do the work of masking a lot of serious mixed messages and inarticulate writing flaws!

I was eagerly looking forward to reading the 12-Step Buddhist, especially after reading the many 5-star and 4-star reviews at amazon.com. In fact, I specifically ordered the book as a hard copy instead of downloading it to my Kindle so I would have the exquisite pleasure of using my yellow marker to notice and cement Littlejohn’s pearls of wisdom. More excitement was generated after reading the professional editorial review and the forward by an A-list Buddhist professor, but disappointment started creeping in while reading the very first chapter, a boring and predictable sob story. I mean, really, who cares that Littlejohn ate hallucinogenic mushrooms and puked on someone’s carpet?

The 12-Step Buddhist is positioned as a stand-alone tool to supplement traditional 12-step programs with Buddhist thought and practices. In reality, Littlejohn also relied heavily on personal therapy and medication to break free of his alcohol and drug addictions. Littlejohn presents us with a combination of Zen and Tibetan Buddhist ideologies and practices. His reliance on unfamiliar terminologies, his references to a wide range of Buddhist principles (the four noble truths, the two truths, the three jewels, the four immeasurables, the four aggregates, the six paramitas) and his self-questioning practices like talking to the “controller” and “truth teller” are not well introduced or explained. Consequently, they only would appeal to someone who already has a working knowledge of Buddhism or an affinity for Buddhism.

By far, the biggest turnoff is Littlejohn’s inability to formulate or relay an efficient, consistent message. His contradictions are maddening. In one chapter he says the problem is we’re addicted to living. In the next he says we’re on a path of self-destruction. In one chapter he says you must do each of the 12-steps completely. In the next chapter he talks about all the worms in the underbelly of AA and how many practitioners cherry pick which steps to do, but are still able to abstain. In one chapter he talks about why periods of inner silence are necessary. In the next chapter he talks about how inner silence is another addiction. In one chapter he laments his problem of no self-esteem. In the next chapter he talks about why certain AA practices that wrench your guts out and make you feel bad about yourself are necessary. Which message, I ask you, is right? It makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Littlejohn has a very beautiful website at http:/www.12stepbuddhist.com, that features a blog and a schedule of retreats. You’ll see that he has many raving fans, and that he’s helped many people. Maybe he can help you. Personally, the book and Littlejohn’s methodologies are not to my taste. I can’t get on the same page with him, so to speak, because he has too many impractical practices and too much mixed up thinking. Also, it didn’t lift me up to read Littlejohn’s constant referencing of his personal failures and everything else that doesn’t work. Sometimes the narrative sounds like a big whining complaint. I got myself to page 160, but couldn’t read another word.