The 5th precept, medication and drugs.

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).

The 5th precept, medication and drugs.

Postby Alobha » Fri Jul 06, 2012 7:05 pm

Dhammawiki wrote:5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami

I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.


Hey everyone, this talk is about the fifth precept.
As of recently, the matter of the fifth precept has again come to my closer inspection.

Starting on a basic level, the fifth precept is most commonly referred to when talking about alcohol, too. We all have probably seen or been so drunk and mindless once in life - seen drunk people make very careless decisions, become aggressive and not watching the mind, acting in a way they often regret. From my point of view and experience, there is no debate whether alcohol leads to downfall or to wisdom.

Now, on a more subtle level there are a few things i still don't get about the 5th precept.
For example, i have heard of cases where monks who visit the dentist, don't take anaesthetics. It can be argued, whether anaestethetics that numb the feelin in one's teethnerves are regarded as drugs which lead to carelessness. The matter is not so clear as with drinking alcohol, however, if anaestethetics as a medication could break the fifth precepts, what about other forms of medication? In the US, marihuana is still used a medication for gravely ill persons. I have never taken any marihuana but i read people can get addicted to it, so that's problematic regarding the defilements.
Ketamine for example is a substance that is undergoing quite some research as a potential new antidepressant. And it's sold like a drug on the streets because of its effects to.

Another critical case i've come upon: Just a few decades ago, LSD and Psylocibin were used heavily in psychiatric research and there still is some research going on:
http://www.noetic.org/noetic/issue-fift ... d-of-life/
Apparently, Psylocibin used in the right setting and "the right way" helped people to cope with end-of-life stress, anxiety towards death and depression and suicidal thoughts. That's more then medication we regard as "real" medicine often achieve and those are meant to affect the mind and the mood, too.
Psylocibin also seems to have less physiological long-termin side effects (no physiological addictions or damage, just heightened blood pressure). I can't comment on how "true" the psychological changes are from own experience, but well - just like anasthetics can change perceptions of the body "for the better", it seems reasonable that other things can change the perceptions of the mind "for the better", too.

So. There are cases where the line between an intoxicating drug and medicine is really hard to see for me. From time to time, people with psychological disorders like Depression visit this forum and many people always advise them to undergo treatment and take medication. I advised people to do so, too.
And i feel this is quite a contradiction in its own way: Advising people to take medicine that alters the state of mind, but not advising them to take drugs that alters the state of mind. The concept is different, but the substance and the effect can be the same.
Another option would be to assume that some "drugsubstances" may not be leading to carelessness, but are just comparable to coffee. so where to draw the line really?

There were no Psilocybin, LSD or SSRIs during the time of the Buddha i guess, so how should we deal with it? Play the -just-to-be-safe card and avoid all of it? The anaestehtics at the dentist, the painkillers and narcotics in the hospital, the substances used in psychiatry and the LSD for "spiritual development" ?

I'm interested in your opinion!

Best wishes,
Alobha
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Re: The 5th precept, medication and drugs.

Postby Cittasanto » Fri Jul 06, 2012 7:34 pm

Hi Alobha,
One needs to be sure why the monks are refusing the anaesthetic, are they affraid of needles, or is there another issue they are concerned about which stops them using the anaesthetic? before thinking that is a good reason not to oneself, as the Vinaya provides the allowance for alcohol to be used as a preservitive as part of a medicine, and that has been interpreted to [] allow medicines as the Buddha didn't not allow any medical treatment, although he did not allow certain surgical activities which from memory were not strictly part of a medical treatment, but I do not have the litterature on hand any more and am waiting to be able to get it.

Edited, Thanks chris for posting realised a mistake :-(
Last edited by Cittasanto on Fri Jul 06, 2012 9:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: The 5th precept, medication and drugs.

Postby cooran » Fri Jul 06, 2012 8:51 pm

Hello Alobha, all,

Ven. Dhammanando responded in a previous thread on this topic:

Hi JC,
jcsuperstar wrote:so is the original pali, to not drink at all or to not abuse alcohol?
also isnt it specificly aimed at alcohol and not generic intoxicants? (thus not really against drug use?)



In the Theravadin understanding the fifth precept enjoins complete abstinence, not moderation. It is broken when one knowingly consumes even the smallest amount of alcohol. It is not broken if the alcohol is consumed unwittingly or is an ingredient in an essential medicine.

To what substances other than alcohol the precept might be applicable is a matter of contention, but the question to ask is whether the substance will lead to loss of appamāda, meaning non-negligence, heedfulness, diligence. Appamāda consists in the arising of the mental factors of mindfulness (sati), clear comprehension (sampajañña), and wholesome energy (kusala viriya). So, taking amphetamine, for example, will tend to increase one's energy but at the same time impede mindfulness and clear comprehension. In the absence of these two, the energy is sure to be akusala, and so amphetamine is an intoxicant. Cannabis is likely to impede all three mental factors, and so this too is an intoxicant.

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu
...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
“Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
— Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

viewtopic.php?f=13&t=87&start=0#p377

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Re: The 5th precept, medication and drugs.

Postby marc108 » Sat Jul 07, 2012 6:08 am

i think there's 2 things that are relevant.

first is the intention of the user... the intention behind using a psychoactive drug like ketamine in small doses as an antidepressent is very much different than using large doses specifically for recreational intoxication.

second, i think using the english translation 'heedlessness' is better than 'carelessness' and points to a somewhat different meaning... more along the lines of lack of attentiveness, lack mindfulness. The important part being what Bhante Dhammanando said in Chris's link re: the impeding of mindfulness and clear comprehension.
"It's easy for us to connect with what's wrong with us... and not so easy to feel into, or to allow us, to connect with what's right and what's good in us."
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Re: The 5th precept, medication and drugs.

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Jul 07, 2012 6:37 am

marc108 wrote:i think there's 2 things that are relevant.

first is the intention of the user... the intention behind using a psychoactive drug like ketamine in small doses as an antidepressent is very much different than using large doses specifically for recreational intoxication.

second, i think using the english translation 'heedlessness' is better than 'carelessness' and points to a somewhat different meaning... more along the lines of lack of attentiveness, lack mindfulness. The important part being what Bhante Dhammanando said in Chris's link re: the impeding of mindfulness and clear comprehension.


Not all rules are effected by motivation (which would be the case if the drug is not prescriptive) and the end result is the same.

carelessness & heedlessness I think an argument could be made for either, although I see it as a deliberate act of ignoring i.e. doing something because it doesn't matter, i.e. the motivation to do an act is due to a lack of care regarding what should be done, one didn't heed the warnings,
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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