Vince Cullen Takes On “Hungry Ghosts” At New Life

Vince CullenVince Cullen recently led his second Hungry Ghost retreat at New Life. Residents as well as guests from outside spent 5 days exploring a wholly Buddhist approach to recovery.

Vince made use of a modern depiction of the Buddhist Six Realms of Existence as a model for addiction and recovery.  The ancient traditional principles and practices of Sajja (seeing the truth of our addiction & our commitment to change) and Sila (the Buddha’s original harm reduction & relapse prevention program) were presented and explored. Each day included varied types of meditation, including sitting, standing and walking.

The essential practices of Loving-kindness and Forgiveness, which Vince considers essential for healing hearts and minds, were woven into the daily schedule.  “It’s true that you can’t love anyone else until you can love yourself,” Vince says.  “So in the retreat we work on getting rid of guilt, shame and self-blame to cultivate love for self.”

For the entire period of the retreat, all participants were asked to commit to

Sila (Precepts):

    • To refrain from harming any living being
    • To refrain from taking what is not offered
    • To refrain from sexual and sensual misconduct
    • To refrain from false speech (including idle gossip, harsh and divisive speech)
    • To refrain from taking substances which disturb the balance of the mind (and may lead me into committing any of the above).

Vince believes that recovery can be can be a relaxed, comfortable and happy journey, not the constant turmoil and struggle some have experienced.  He says the more layers of Buddhist practice you include the happier your recovery will be. In the workshop he helps participants explore the conditions leading to happiness and unhappiness, as explained by the Buddha.

Vince did not know about Thamkrabok when he got sober in the mid-1990s. “It would probably have been a whole lot easier if I had,” he says.  Neither was he a Buddhist.  His Buddhism began when his wife bought him a basic text. Two years after he’d sat at his kitchen table and drank his last beer, a quirk of fate got him involved with East West Detox, a charity that accompanies addicts to Thamkrabok monastery for treatment. His practice deepened as he visited the monastery. He’s put on the novice Monk’s robes twice, once for 29 days working in “The Hey,” Thamkrabok’s treatment compound, and again for 32 days for the monastery’s annual walking pilgrimage.  An IT professional, he currently maintains both the official and unofficial Thamkrabok websites.

Vince’s distinctive name for his retreats–Hungry Ghost– comes from the fact that Hungry Ghosts, like addicts, can never get any real satisfaction for their insatiable hunger.  The retreats began in England when Vince invited well-known Buddhist Teachers to conduct retreats in which he was a participant.

Gradually he became aware that maybe he could teach Buddhist recovery and, despite some reservations about going ahead, scheduled a six-day event.  These events were well received by the UK recovery community and, through the years, have developed into the current format held in the UK and at New Life.

Vince says you do not have to be Buddhist to benefit from the Buddhist approach and that it is compatible with 12 steps and other Western recovery methods.

The New Life retreat was held in our “Listening Hall” in the forest.  This mud structure was completed since Vince conducted his last workshop here.  “It’s a wonderful space;” Vince says, “it’s separate from the rest of the Foundation, quiet–much easier for presentation and study.”

Vince believes New Life is important because if offers newly recovering addicts an opportunity to learn skills so they can actually live a new life. “At Thamkrabok, they take the Sajja, a sacred vow to refrain from addictive behaviors, but at this point they often don’t really understand all this involves.  At New Life, they get a deeper understanding of what the Sajja is and begin to develop tools so they can succeed.

We hope to welcome Vince back to New Life for a third Hungry Ghost retreat in the near future.


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