Josh Korda

Meditation teacher Josh Korda speaks with us about how his work in addiction recovery is informed by his own experiences, traditional Buddhist thought, and modern science.

Craving, that’s what we struggle with. Whether it’s a light interest in having our relaxing afternoon continue to be relaxing, or the more damaging physical and psychological addictions that many of us are suffering from, craving is there. And there are a lot of ways we can deal with that craving, sometimes just ignoring it does the trick — but not always, and not for addictions. What is often needed to cope with these problems isn’t just one solution, we’re more complicated creatures than that. Instead, with our variety of inclinations, a variety of ways to help us may be more effective. There are traditional views and practices from Buddhism, support processes like 12 Step programs, and finding the right mix for the individual requires dedication, sincerity, and deep compassion.

Josh Korda has been meditating for over two decades and began his studies in Theravada Buddhism in 1996. He has been the teacher at New York Dharmapunx since 2005, and at the Monday night Brooklyn Dharma class. For the last three years Josh has been a visiting teacher at, a non-profit organization that trains hospice volunteers, and gives talks at Meditate New York. Having taught at, Josh has volunteered for many years as an attendant at their retreats. Josh received his initial teacher training with Noah Levine, and has had the honor to study with countless other spiritual practitioners, including Ajahns Geoff, Sucitto, Amaro, Brahm, Vajiro, Sharon Salzberg and Tara Brach to name a few. All of Josh’s dharma talks can be found at, which is followed by a large online community.

Special thanks to our friend Dave Smith for suggesting this interview with Josh.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Herbal Mint tea.


Web Links

Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Wood and Bamboo” from his CD, Traditional and Modern Pieces: Shakuhachi.

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  1. Bruce on January 30, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Dear Ted Meissner and Josh Korda – Thank you for episode 144. When doing 12 Steps and Buddhism to help recovering addicts, I wonder what concept of “Higher Power” is most meaningful. I read the book Incognito and found neuroscience says our subconscious mind makes our decisions, and our conscious mind is mostly a storyteller using words to explain what we have done and what is happening. Might “Higher Power” be our subconscious thoughts and emotions which lead us about through the day?

    I also am aware your body is made of 10 trillion or so cells. When you are healthy and at peace, your cells are taking very good care of each other. Your heart cells pump blood to all your other cells. Your red cells are always there to deliver blood to all your other cells. What causes and conditions lead to your ten trillion cells able to take such good care of each other? Might those causes and conditions be a meaningful “Higher Power”?

    And then there are the causes and conditions which had to be present for our cells to be able to care for each other. The scientist leading the Human Genome project wrote a book “The Language of God” in which he says “if the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in 100 thousand million million (1 part in 10 to the 17th power) the universe would have collapsed before it ever reached its present size. On the other hand, if the rate of expansion had been greater by even one part in a million, stars and planets could not have been able to form.” Maybe even atoms could not have been able to form. How did it happen this rate of expansion was so perfect? Might the cause of this rate of expansion be a meaningful “Higher Power”?

    I also like the idea that we are here because over the last 600 million years our single celled ancestors learned to live in groups and care for each other. And that now people are learning to live in groups – and with a few thousand more years of evolution, we may learn to care for each other as well as our ancestral cells learned to care for each other. The causes and conditions that lead to cells caring for each other, and we caring for each other, might be considered a “Higher Power.”

    Thank you for your interview. May the people listening find peace. thanks, Bruce
    May the people listening to your sho

  2. Ted Meissner on January 30, 2013 at 11:34 am

    HI, Bruce, and thanks for your insightful comments. The concept of a Higher Power, in a traditional 12 step program, is of course based on the presumption of a Christian world view. As Buddhists, and especially those with a more secular approach, that specific interpretation is a bit problematic and therefore unhelpful to us.

    However, we can consider — again, this is a different interpretation, not meant to replace or water down any existing ones — a Higher Power to simply be a reference to that which is out of our direct control What we inherit as our biological makeup, our environment, and our particular social circumstances at this moment are out of our hands. That’s simply acknowledgement of fact, but we can use that to help us distinguish where we spend our efforts to “heal and deal.” Change what we can, and avoid increasing our suffering by struggling against that which we can’t.

    • Bruce on February 3, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      Hello Ted, Thank you for your comments. I am glad my sense of a Higher Power is so close to your concept of a Higher Power. It does seem that many Buddhists would not like Higher Power to even be a part of the conversation. To me the concept of a Higher Power is helpful to get me out of my self centered thoughts. I might decide meditation is just about me meditating so I can feel good. If I were to watch more TV – I think I would see all those things I could buy – and think life is just about getting the things I want. The concept of a Higher Power gets me to think of others, and how I can help others – and with work on my mirror neurons – get to the point where their joy is my joy. How much happier I am when others are there to reflect my joy, and I there to reflect their joy. How happy I am to listen to the secular Buddhist and find others sharing my thoughts.

      Thank you for the Secular Buddhist,


  3. Candol on January 30, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Bruce, You’ve written a really lovely thing. I mean in that the i love the way you say that our blood cells take good care of each other and of us. However such an understanding sounds like you are asserting a self – the us you mention. As if you think that all the tissues and cells are there with some awareness of “us”.

    but as to what you say about a higher power, the answer, and its quite clearly argued, is in a book i am currently reading, called An Atheists Guide to Reality: Enjoying life without illusions. Alex Rosenberg is a philosopher. Probably a philospher of science since has a pretty good grip on scientific ideas.

    Anyway if i can try to cobble together the key idea that’s relevant here is that although it might be the case that the margin of error is nil for the results we see on earth, this does not mean we had to come into existence or that we are the only possible results of the big bang, or that we are the only result. (By we i mean earth, evolution of the planet and its creatures and you and me.)

    We live in a universe which apparently is one of many. These many are not parallel universes because all universes have the same uniqueness that we do. This is why its unlikely there are other people like us in this universe or in any other. Because of the incredibly large number of possibilities. I cna’t remember whether he says that that possibilities are infinite but i do remember him saying that if the possibilities are infinite then that has to mean that there is another universe like ours and another planet like ours and us getting around somewhere else too BUT even then that’s in another universe and we don’t have access to it. The thing is thinking of that margin or error that means that one should appreciate how difficult and unlikely it is that there are others like us.

    Because there are these numerous possibilities and because there are other universes (so the theory goes) then we don’t need the higher power explanation. IN fact the whole idea of our uniqueness comes down to the second law of thermodynamics which says more or less that, over time (with the loss of heat) all things become more disorganised (entropy). Its easy to see entropy in our world. Tip your organised glass of water onto the floor and you will see disorganisation prevail. The milk will keep spreading until the heat energy in the milk (the heat energy causes movement of the particles) is so reduced that its power is not strong enough to move the milk any further. But darwinian evolution is a better example. Knowing the historical record we can see how from one organism we have become billions and even though there are species, within species we are all different. So diversity is the order of the day due to a physical process that does not need a creator god. (What else can a higher power be).

    If i haven’t persuaded you or my explanation is insufficiently clear, i recommend the book, although the writer has a very charming way of saying that he is not trying to convince any believers and that his book is for atheists. Anyway you seem like you might be open to reading such a book because it directly addresses your point. You don’t even have to read the whole book to understand this explanation. Its dealt with within the first 10 chapters.

    I”ve now just moved on to the question of morality and nihilsm. Its such a fascinating book for the likes of me but i think it would be good if people like you could read it too.

  4. Bruce on February 3, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Hello Candol,

    Thank you for your reply. It is true I do speak of cells as if they have a self. I don’t think cells experience themselves like we experience our selves. We experience ourself through our neurons. We don’t think cells experience themselves at all – but it is interesting to consider what gets a cell to do what it does. We can say “chemical reactions”, but you could say “chemical reactions” are what get our neurons to produce neurotransmitters – so that may not tell the whole story. I like to address problems with a 2 (or more) column table, and the first column of this table might be “things we share with cells” and the second column would be “things we don’t share with cells.” It is interesting how many things we share with cells. We share the need to get oxygen, to get rid of our wastes, to have enough food, to exercise our abilities (use it or lose it – think of your muscle cells in a cast because you broke your leg. Your muscle cells atrophy when you don’t use them, you lose your ability to do a lot of things if you don’t exercise those capabilities).

    And in the second column you can list how we are different from cells. You can say “we have a self and are aware of our self.” But some buddhists say there is no self. One has written a book “No self, no problem.” So you might not want to say we differ from cells because we have a self (if you subscribe to the idea the there is no “self”, and neurophysiologists have not been able to identify a region of the brain that consistently lights up when on functional MRI when people imagine their “self”.

    Regarding “there is a God” or “there is no God”, I have tried the idea that there is no God out for a while – and I find I feel more separate from people and without purpose. So I am reading a book by the scientist who headed up the Human Genome Project. In his book The Language of God Francis Collins writes why he believes in God. He admits taking a leap of faith to believe in the Christian God. I would prefer if he would define God as “those forces and conditions that are present, and then beings are able to care for other beings.” Then there would be no need for a leap of faith. His belief in God would be scientifically provable by his definition of God (though this God would not have planned man at the time of the Big Bang as perhaps he believes.) If an atheist believed only in what science can prove, and if he defined God as “those forces and conditions that are present, and then beings are able to care for other beings” would he be an atheist?
    Thank you for your suggestion of An Atheist’s Guide to Reality. I will go take a look at it.

    May we find those ideas which bring us peace and joy.

    Thanks, Bruce

  5. Rod on February 4, 2013 at 8:51 am
    I found this discussion of the 12 step approach to addiction as compared to meditation quite interesting.

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