Buddhist Sajja Vow for People in Recovery
by Paul Garrigan
Buddhist recovery – The Promise Never to Drink or Use Drugs
During my two decades of suicidal alcohol enthusiasm, I regularly made promises to myself, my loved ones, my therapists, and all the gods in the sky that I would change my ways. These pledges were always short-lived. It wasn’t that I was deliberately being deceitful while making these vows, it was just that I didn’t have the ability to keep them.
Eventually I was able to make a promise to stop drinking that I could keep. This happened at Thamkrabok temple over nine years ago when I took the sajja vow never touch alcohol again. The difference between this promise and all the other promises I had made in my life before this is it included the means to achieve it – that is why it worked.
What is the Sajja Vow in Buddhist recovery?
The Thai word ‘sajja’ can be translated as ‘genuineness’, ‘virtuousness’, or ‘truthfulness’. It also refers to the act of keeping our word. The sajja vow is a formal commitment to live an honest life. It is a serious undertaking that must be backed up by action in order for it to have any value.
The further we separate ourselves from reality, the more we tend to suffer. It is no real mystery why this happens – if we are out-of-sync with the way things are, we are going to keep up slamming up against life. The sajja vow is all about bringing our life into accord with reality. By living life on life’s terms, we not only suffer a lot less, but we also begin to discover true happiness and deep serenity.
Alcohol and drug abuse makes it impossible for us to develop an accurate picture of reality. These chemicals distort our thinking, and the process of addiction turns us into hungry ghosts. If we want to have any chance of a better life, we need to break free of intoxication.
Difference between a Sajja Vow and a Promise
When we commit to fitting ourselves in with reality, rather than trying to bend reality to fit our will, life automatically becomes much easier. For one thing, we are no longer swimming against the stream. Now that life is more manageable, the need to use alcohol or drugs disappears. Reality is better than any drug high, and once we clearly see this, there is no effort required in remaining sober and clean.
The monks at Thamkrabok promised me that if I maintained the sajja, my life would keep on improving. This has been confirmed by my own experience. By living as best I can in accord with reality, I am regularly delighted by what the universe serves up to me – this is so much better than being repeatedly disappointed because things didn’t go my way.
When I took the sajja vow, I just wanted the pain to stop, but this path has led me to a place of deep serenity and a secure feeling of being at home in the world.
How to Take a Sajja Vow
If you would like to formally make a sajja vow during your time at Hope, we may be able to arrange this for you at a local temple. It is important to first understand that the sajja is a serious commitment – it is not a promise you keep making and breaking. The power of the sajja is that it is one commitment you refuse to ever break – once you do break it, this power is gone, and you can’t get it back. Therefore it is not recommended you make this type of vow unless you feel confident you can keep it.
Here is a documentary about the use of the sajja vow at Thamkrabok temple. I share my own experience of the sajja at the 20:00 minute mark in the video