The future of Refuge Recovery: Should we rename our sanghas if Noah Levine retakes control?

Below is the full text of a post shared to the Refuge Recovery closed Facebook group on 2019-06-17. It is reproduced here for readability and in case the original is ever removed. It is an accompaniment to the STATEMENT OF INDEPENDENCE AND COMMITMENT TO THE SANGHA document, explained below and reproduced in full at the bottom of this article.

Update: If you want more evidence that Noah’s reclamation of the trademark is imminent, see his June 14, 2019 legal filing. I’m not a lawyer but this case seems air-tight to me. He’s ethically in the wrong, but legally bound to win.

Update
: After receiving 188 comments in 16 hours discussion was shut down on the Facebook post (requires group membership to view). If you’d like to add comments or discuss, please use the comment form below.

Hi everyone, I am reaching out today out of love and concern for the future of the people, the wisdom, and the movement that make up what we call “Refuge Recovery“. I think it’s time to discuss a difficult subject, but one that is now overdue. I know from talking to many of you that there is a lot of agreement about what we want and care about, and that if we all build on this consensus and work together, we can overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of having a kind, healing, effective, and safe dharma-based recovery program. A program that we all build and benefit from together.

[I apologize for the length of the text below, but feel care and completeness are vital if we are going to approach this subject wisely. This post, and the statement Google Doc are my work as an individual, independent sangha member and volunteer organizer.]

[The statement] is a proposal for the future of our sangha (community) that I think each of us should consider, and each local sangha should discuss and decide on for themselves. It’s a first step to self-determining our future in case we are forced into what seems like an impossible situation. The question is about what we call ourselves, and who we do or don’t consider our leaders.

The document culminates in a “Summary of Intentions“, three simple statements with enormous implications for how we nurture and preserve our community going forward. By signing the document, local sanghas declare that:

  • We are independent and our commitment is to the community and values of Refuge Recovery, not to the brand or individuals that created it.
  • We do not recognize Noah Levine as a teacher, leader, or owner of Refuge Recovery.
  • If Noah Levine takes control of the name Refuge Recovery and forces the non-profit to stop using it, we will stop using it as well.

The outcome of this decision is something that will need to be executed at the local level if the sad news I fear comes to pass, so I encourage meeting leaders and inter-sangha chairs to approach this question with whatever democratic and bottom-up decision-making tools you have at your disposal.

The goal, as I see it, is to clarify the will of the overall sangha by showing the overwhelming support that already exists for moving on from the hindrances that have held this program back and brought controversy and disgrace to what should be a safe and healing space. It’s possible I’m wrong, and the consensus isn’t as broad as I hope. In either case, it will be better for each of us to know where we stand and move on from there.

If your local sangha does agree, please copy the document (“File” > “Make a copy..”) and sign it with the name of your sangha, then add a link to it in a comment on the original Google doc. I will assemble a list of signatories and bring it to RefCon.

Please use wise speech when replying to this post

I encourage all of us to have wholesome, compassionate and patient discussions about these issues at a local level, where coming to consensus is most important.

As an online forum, the comments on this post will not accurately reflect the on-the-ground opinions of sangha members, and should not be taken as representative, whether they are in agreement or objection to the linked proposal.

I encourage anyone sharing their opinions to focus on what’s best for the sangha and for everyone’s recovery, both in terms of how to proceed as a community, and in terms of using wise speech in our discussion here. Please do not use personal attacks on each other or on any individuals for that matter. I believe we can have this conversation without resorting to insults and hatred. The decision at hand is procedural and organizational, not personal.

For those of you who see comments you disagree with, please remember that you do NOT have to debate with everyone who is wrong on the internet. Letting a wrong opinion sit alone, without support or nourishment, is a form of wise speech. Instead focus on supporting those you agree with and express your positive intentions through building consensus. That is how we will work together and solve the many challenges ahead of us.

Why is a statement needed?

As I understand it (as a non-lawyer), the law suit between Noah Levine and the current board of the Refuge Recovery non-profit (see links within the Google doc statement) centers on the question of who does and should control the trademark for “Refuge Recovery”. Both sides claim a right to use the trademark for their work, and both sides aim to stop the other from using it in the future. I will not try to summarize the arguments or come to any conclusions about who is right or wrong.

The important point for the future of “Refuge Recovery” is that in all likelihood whoever wins this legal battle will have full control of the trademark, and the other side will be forbidden from using it. Another key factor is that as with most civil litigation, the party that “wins” the battle may not be the one who is truly right, either ethically or legally, but simply whoever has enough funding to continue paying lawyer fees the longest.

Many of us have been hoping that the law suit would end in favor of the non-profit and board of directors, based on what may seem like the simple facts of the case, but this is not something we can or should take for granted. Noah’s lawyer has gone on record, in this very Facebook group, stating that he and his firm have been working free of charge, donating hundreds of hours to Noah’s case, and that he plans to continue doing so indefinitely. This enormous imbalance in resources puts the non-profit in a nebulous and precarious position when investing money donated to them into lawyer’s fees.

Given all this, I believe we need to accept and find equanimity with the very real possibility that the non-profit may be unable to defend their position, and may ultimately lose control of the “Refuge Recovery” name. Additionally, we need to make peace with and plan for the possibility that Noah may legally “take over” Refuge Recovery and claim leadership over the community, without first asking for our permission.

If we do find ourselves in that position, those of us who object to his presence as a leader will be faced with a terrible decision: Continue participating in an organization run by a problematic person or leave Refuge Recovery entirely.

Of course, these are not our only options, and I believe that by discussing this possibility in advance and building consensus about what we would do next, we will avoid much of the confusion and harm that could come from waiting until a moment of crisis to start the discussion.

So I propose those of us who agree sign on to this document now. If it turns out it was unnecessary, and the non-profit board retains control of the trademark, we will still have made clear our intentions and will have something to point to when when new members ask about the history of scandal. If the worst comes to pass, having this consensus already established will be a priceless tool in banding together and continuing our tradition under a new name.

I believe our sangha is stronger than this hurdle, and that we can easily survive this challenge with or without the “Refuge Recovery” name. In fact, I believe moving on may be a huge opportunity to shed this scandal and grow beyond it.

Why is this discussion urgent?

This is a good question, and the answer is unfortunately nebulous. That said, there are reasons to believe, both from the behavior of Noah and from the nature of the legal situation, that a resolution may be imminent. Using the coming days and weeks to have this conversation among our local sanghas is vital, as it is not something that should be rushed, and it takes time to discuss a subject like this properly.

Another consideration is the RefCon conference in Chicago on July 12-14. This event will be a flashpoint for the future of Refuge Recovery, and important decisions may be made there. I believe those of us attending that event will be in a much stronger position to represent our local sanghas if we have decided in advance what is most important, and building consensus on fundamental points of contention will improve the quality and effectiveness of the conversations that take place. For this reason I believe as many groups as possible should aim to make this decision before RefCon.

I’ll also point out that many of us have already been very patient, waiting over a year after the allegations against Noah became public. We held our silence as was requested by the board to avoid hindering the legal situation. But it has been long enough, and our patience risks turning into avoidance and denial as the situation is becoming more and more urgent.

I believe that despite the risks and inevitable stress these conversations will involve, it is wholesome for us to face the reality of the situation directly, with clear understanding and compassion for each other.

Thank you for your attention, and for all you bring to our sangha

To those who have read all these words, thank you. My hope is that this effort will bring peace and hope to our community rather than strife.

May the effort we put into this recovery program bring about the freedom of all those who suffer from addiction 🙏🏻

May the struggle for a democratic and independent sangha offer safety and togetherness to all 🙏🏻

May we all find peace with ourselves, with each other, and with all things, just as they are 🙏🏻

Following is a full copy of the Statement Google Doc as of 2019-06-17, for reference in case it becomes unavailable:

REFUGE RECOVERY: STATEMENT OF INDEPENDENCE AND COMMITMENT TO THE SANGHA

Local Refuge Recovery sanghas are encouraged to copy and use this document, or modified versions of it, for any purpose they wish. It is licensed Public Domain to encourage any and all uses. If your sangha chooses to sign this document, please add a comment with the URL so a list of signatories can be assembled.

Refuge Recovery _______ is an independent organization, a local Sangha in service of the recovery community. Our primary commitment is to the three refuges of the Buddha, the Dharma, and most of all the Sangha that we have built with our meetings and mutual support. We use the name “Refuge Recovery” as a shorthand for these teachings and this community.

We recognize the vital contributions of the many early founders of the Refuge Recovery program, who worked together to develop the concepts, the meetings, the program and the Refuge Recovery book.

While we acknowledge and appreciate the important work done by Noah Levine as the book’s primary author and founding director of the RR nonprofit, we support and uphold the guiding principle that Refuge Recovery is and should always be a peer-led movement. A movement over which no one person can claim leadership, ownership, or control.

In this light we formally reject the actions taken by Noah Levine to sue the RR non-profit for full control of the Refuge Recovery trademark, as well as his intentions to use his control of RR for personal enrichment in training a lineage of RR teachers — a profit-motivated plan that would undermine the principle that RR is a peer-led community.

Noah has treated the RR brand as his personal property rather than the shared trust that it should be. He has also misled the non-profit’s Board of Directors, along with the wider community, about his intentions to relinquish the control he continues to wield over Refuge Recovery as a trademark and community.

As such, we reject any claim to Refuge Recovery made by Noah Levine based on legal technicalities, and support the decision of the Board of Directors to remove Noah from the Board. We believe the Refuge Recovery community, and our sangha in particular, deserve honest and responsible stewardship, which we do not believe Noah Levine is capable of delivering at this time.

We accept the possibility that the current legal entanglement between Noah Levine and the Refuge Recovery non-profit may end in a situation where Noah regains control of the “Refuge Recovery” name and forces the current non-profit to change its name or shut down completely. If this tragic situation comes to pass, our sangha will act on our convictions, stated above, by refusing to associate with any commercial or non-profit organizations called “Refuge Recovery” that are controlled by Noah Levine.

If necessary, we will change our name and brand, either to match new branding chosen by the former RR Board, or to another name determined by our unique community.

In any event, our goal will always be to continue supporting those in recovery with meetings that uplift and connect us to the three refuges of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

SUMMARY OF INTENTIONS

  • We are independent and our commitment is to the community and values of Refuge Recovery, not to the brand or individuals that created it.
  • We do not recognize Noah Levine as a teacher, leader, or owner of Refuge Recovery.
  • If Noah Levine takes control of the name Refuge Recovery and forces the non-profit to stop using it, we will stop using it as well.

Signed,

Refuge Recovery ______ trusted volunteers, in consultation with our community.

Video: GARBAGE BAG BUDDHA: A Birthday Message

It’s my birthday and I’ll make saccharine Buddhist videos if I want to 👌🏻

May contain: My thoughts on the year that passed and what I’ve learned, unsubtle metaphors, Michoacano handicrafts, accepting and letting go, mind-bending earnestness.

Find more Buddhist and Refuge Recovery videos on my YouTube channel, like the Guided Breathing Meditation, and Oral History of the Refuge Recovery Book.
Continue reading “Video: GARBAGE BAG BUDDHA: A Birthday Message”

Refuge Recovery Breathing Meditation (guided meditation video)

This is a 20 minute, guided mindfulness of breathing meditation. By watching our breath, we can cultivate concentration and a sense of peace that will help us get through the hard moments in life. The script for this meditation comes from the Refuge Recovery program.

Continue reading “Refuge Recovery Breathing Meditation (guided meditation video)”

Refuge Recovery Lovingkindness Meditation (guided meditation video)

This is a 23 minute, guided “metta” (lovingkindness) meditation. In lovingkindness practice we cultivate a sense of friendliness, compassion and acceptance by mindfully wishing ourselves and others well. The script for this meditation comes from the Refuge Recovery program.

Continue reading “Refuge Recovery Lovingkindness Meditation (guided meditation video)”

Achievement Unlocked: Meditated for 365 days in a row!

screenshot of insight timer app showing 365 consecutive days of meditation
Proof from Insight Timer that I’ve kept it up for a full year 🙌🏻

If you like meditation, sobriety or Refuge Recovery, take a minute to celebrate with me: Today I hit 365 days in a row of meditation on Insight Timer! It’s possible 🤘🏻

Continue reading “Achievement Unlocked: Meditated for 365 days in a row!”

Refuge Recovery Forgiveness Meditation (guided meditation video)

This is a 23 minute, guided meditation that encourages you to ask for forgiveness, forgive others and finally to forgive yourself, with a brief introduction. The meditation is derived from the Refuge Recovery tradition with modifications.

Continue reading “Refuge Recovery Forgiveness Meditation (guided meditation video)”

Buddhist “Intention Setting Ceremony” for New Years (and Refuge Recovery)

Several candles laid out ceremonially with meditation bells and a copy of the Refuge Recovery book
A quick photo of the candles from our New Years intention setting ceremony at the Montreal Refuge Recovery meeting.

“Intention setting” is a concept you can find in a variety of Buddhist contexts, either as a daily practice done by an individual, or a communal ceremony performed by a sangha (community) of Buddhists. Often intention setting ceremonies are performed around the new year, as a more wholesome replacement for “New Years resolutions”.

This article describes an intention setting ceremony I synthesized for my Refuge Recovery group that meets each week. I’m sharing it for the sake of any Refuge Recovery groups, other Buddhist meetings, or anyone else who wants to try a ceremony like this!

Continue reading “Buddhist “Intention Setting Ceremony” for New Years (and Refuge Recovery)”

Refuge Recovery: An oral history of the book with Gary Sanders

Gary Sanders, one of the original founders of the Refuge Recovery program, sits down with me to discuss how the Refuge Recovery book was written collectively based on the meetings that were already happening in LA.

We discuss the program itself, the early days when the program was being developed by a group at Against the Stream LA, the process of collectively assembling the book and much more!

TL:DR; The book was not written by just one person, it was assembled by a group based on the the group experience of running years worth of Buddhist Recovery meetings. Whether we consider Noah our teacher or not, the RR book is a necessary and invaluable resource for our meetings and our lives.

Read on below to find links to everything mentioned in the video and a full transcription with timecodes!

Continue reading “Refuge Recovery: An oral history of the book with Gary Sanders”

Refuge Recovery meme: I was alone before

I love wholesome memes, and couldn’t pass up the chance to extoll the virtues of Buddhist practice and community to finally defeat addiction:

Animated image of dracula, labeled 'addiction" and saying "You couldn't stop me before", followed by an image of three people, labeled "meditation", "me" and "community". The person labeled "me" is saying "I was alone before"
Meme by me, Jer Clarke. Inspired by Refuge Recovery

Continue reading “Refuge Recovery meme: I was alone before”

Celebrating one year of sobriety with Refuge Recovery

Today marks the one year anniversary of my quitting pot completely and hopefully forever. On November 22 last year I packed up what I had left of it, gave it away, and haven’t looked back once with regret. Since then I also got sober from a bunch of other other things that were dragging me down, like alcohol, video games and porn.

photo of the refuge recovery book being read, with candles in the background.
Me reading the Refuge Recovery book last January. Accepting that addiction is suffering is the first step.

Living a clean life is easier than I thought it would be, and as far as I can tell, completely worth it. If you are currently in a place where you do things you know you shouldn’t, and wish you could stop, please know that it’s possible.

The challenges of doing what’s right are significant, but the suffering of doing what you know is wrong will always be worse.

refuge recovery logo

Maybe I could have made it here without Refuge Recovery and Refuge Recovery Montreal, but at this point it’s impossible to say. RR is an amazing set of Buddhist teachings about awakening from the suffering of addiction, as well as being a fantastic and supportive sangha (community) of fellow renunciants to practice and celebrate with. The RR community has been there both in person and online. If you are looking for help, please investigate their book and meetings. For a Catholicism-addled atheist like me, the RR program was a much-needed reprieve from the theistic approach shared by most of the 12-step programs.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me over the past year. To my family who is always there and trusting me to do what’s best, my friends who accepted my sobriety without making it weird and especially to the Refuge Recovery sangha who have welcomed and supported me.

Suffering in this life is unavoidable, but all beings have the potential to awaken and experience freedom from it.

May we be safe and well 🧡
May we be free of suffering ❤️
May we be happy and content 💙
May all beings live at ease 💟

image of a buddha statue wearing a rosary
Mexican Buddha prays the rosary too just in case 🙏🏻📿🇲🇽