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is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some? - Dhamma Wheel

is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
mynameisadahn
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is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby mynameisadahn » Mon Aug 13, 2012 4:17 pm

Hello,

I am interested lately in how Americans/other westerners view and relate to the 5th precept, forbidding intoxicants.

For some background - Personally I have a great attachment to alcohol in moderate amounts. I have 1-3 drinks a day, and generally I am very unhappy to go without (possibly this would be called "alcohol dependence" I don't know). I fully recognize this is a hinderance to progress in meditation, etc., and it clearly violates the 5th precept. It is just one of the more gross/obvious issues that I need to work on.

But for my question, is it your impression (as members of this forum) that western lay buddhists take the 5th precept seriously? My impression is that drinking is fairly well tolerated by many western lay buddhists. There is even one writer, Lodro Rinzler, who writes for the Huffington Post. He gives a very permissive view of alcohol and also marijuana use

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lodro-rin ... 54051.html

Please note, I'm not referring to Mr. Rinzler as an authority, just as a possible example of what I see as a permissive attitude. Given that he writes articles for the Huffington Post, I would perceive this as somewhat 'pop culture'.

Otherwise, I get the impression that many western buddhists see at least infrequent or occasional alcohol use as not being a problem. This would include my in-person meditation teacher, from the IMS perspetive, who at least on one occasion suggested that he might have a beer infrequently.

For these reasons, I don't get the impression that the 5th precept is taking exceedingly seriously by many westerners. Is this also your impression? Should they take it "seriously?" It does trouble me when portions of the pali cannon would seem to suggest that total compliance with the 5th precept is necessary. For instance, one of the six recollections refers to 'possessing the moral virtues held dear by the noble ones . . . unbroken, untorn, umblemished, unmottled . . .'

I am not asking this question with the intent of trying to justify my own non-compliance with the 5th precept. But I appreciate any discussion or thoughts on this topic. Personally, I don't know if I can actually recite the six recollections to myself with any seriousness, unless I am wholly compliant with at least the 5 precepts.

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reflection
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby reflection » Mon Aug 13, 2012 4:34 pm

In my experience it is quite dependent on the specific tradition or group. In some groups it is not taken very strictly, in others it is by most of the practitioners. So it's not really possible to generalize 'western Buddhism' on this matter. Neither do we need to, because we are responsible for our own actions. In my eyes the suttas are clear enough; they ask us not to drink. And the reasoning behind it is clear enough, to keep mindfulness high and sensual indulgence low.

I went with a very occasional (very infrequent, a few per year) drink for quite a while, but now stopped totally for quite a long time for the drunk feeling messes up mindfulness. It makes me very content and happy to know I follow all the 5 precepts the Buddha asked the laity to follow.

With metta,
Reflection

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LonesomeYogurt
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Mon Aug 13, 2012 5:09 pm

I think the permissive attitude some have towards alcohol consumption is one of the greatest tragedies in western Buddhism. I just don't understand it; the five precepts are the most basic and foundational aspects of our practice and the idea that some see them as disposable is heartbreaking. Alcohol causes so much sorrow and pain in this world and intoxication is the absolute antithesis of the Buddha's path. There is no excuse for practicing Buddhists to consume any amount of alcohol, and anyone who has lost their way enough to advocate or even tolerate such a shameful behavior is not one I would trust for any guidance on the path.

I hate to sound harsh or judgmental but I just don't see any possible leeway on the subject.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta


mynameisadahn
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby mynameisadahn » Mon Aug 13, 2012 5:23 pm

thanks for both your responses, so far. this is an issue that greatly vexes me when i read the pali cannon and try to bring this text into my daily life.

corrine
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby corrine » Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:09 pm

I do not understand the concept of certain precepts being 'optional'. Each of us can choose to follow the precepts or not, but 'optional'?

Just like any other set of rules. No one can make you follow rules. We choose to do so when we embrace a way of life. I understand that all of us are capable of failing from time to time, but that is different than picking and choosing which rules we will follow. Either we embrace a belief system, or not.

It is never easy to live life in a stone cold sober state. Which is what happens when we decide to refrain from all intoxicants. But I believe that it is only in doing so, that we are able to see anything as it really is.

Life is challenging. Intoxicants blunt some of the sharper edges. But isn't it our challenge to at least try to live in the present moment, fully aware of all that is in that moment? How can we do that if we have chosen to numb our emotions with drugs or alcohol?

I have lived a long life and have tried, many times, to escape my life through the use of all sorts of distractions, but, at the end of the day, none of that works. The only thing that has worked for me is to simply be where I am with all that that entails, including emotional and physical pain. Life is not always pleasant, but when we choose total sobriety, we are able to deal with what really is. Intoxicants are never helpful if they allow or encourage us to escape reality. And why else use them?

Just my view from the far side of life.

corrine

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:11 pm

Last edited by Bhikkhu Pesala on Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
• • • • (Upasampadā: 24th June, 1979)

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reflection
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby reflection » Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:35 pm


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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Buckwheat » Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:45 pm

I don't really like the form of the question in this OP. Is the fifth precept optional? Everything we do is a choice, and those choices have consequences. I thought the point of the precepts was to point out the five actions that are the strongest causes of suffering. If you kill, steal, fornicate, lie, or drink, you will suffer (and cause others to suffer). If you don't want to suffer or cause suffering, don't drink.

I don't always follow the 5th precept (I call them four precept days) largely due to social pressure. I drink less than I used to, and I plan to quit entirely in the near future. But if you really want to stop suffering, the 5th precept is not an option.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.

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LonesomeYogurt
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:51 pm

Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta


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reflection
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby reflection » Mon Aug 13, 2012 7:13 pm


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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Aug 13, 2012 8:51 pm

Hi
I take it seriously, the precepts are what we take upon ourselves, so if we take a vow not to do something we should not do it!
There is an idea that we can take this particular precept in moderation but the Buddha never advised us to do that, although there may be legitimate reasons to use intoxicating substances for a legitimate reason, such as the recent example of marajuana use for Rheumatic pains, or alcohol as a preservative in medicines in a thread on medical marajuana.
But this moderation idea could equally be applied to any of the other precepts.

At the end of the day I believe it is down to how seriously you take your own word, do you sign a contract with another intending to break specific parts? I don't and see no reason why I should do the same when it is a contract with myself for my own well-being.


He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

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Cittasanto
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Aug 13, 2012 8:58 pm



He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

mynameisadahn
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby mynameisadahn » Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:21 pm


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Hickersonia
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Hickersonia » Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:38 pm

I can't speak too much for how others think about alcohol and how it relates to their "Buddhist-ness," but I do know a number of Asian Buddhists that work with me and drink regularly and who were rather surprised when I told them why I had quit drinking.

Oddly, it is because of these folks that I found interest in the Dhamma in the first place. Ha!

Anyway, just speaking for me, it was just before Christmas last year when I realized that I was starting to refer to myself as a Buddhist -- and I decided at that time that in order to not be breaking the precept on false speech I had to also abide by the precept to refrain from intoxicants. Save for a single infraction, I have remained true to that intent -- and even that infraction was the result of peer pressure (a problem I have sense resolved).

I don't harp on others' choices to drink or not to drink, and I'm not often asked why I quit anymore because I stopped going to places where people consume the stuff as a matter of course. I even joke with my wife about it because she'll occasionally have wine and I'm OK with that.
Hickersonia
http://hickersonia.wordpress.com/


"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of
throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned."

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Cittasanto
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:54 pm



He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

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Monkey Mind
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Monkey Mind » Mon Aug 13, 2012 11:22 pm

I renewed my precepts back in March, and this time with a sincere intention to keep the 5th precept. Before this, I would accept the 5th on Uposatha days, and days before and after a retreat, but otherwise I was very dedicated to drinking in moderation. I was influenced by a belief that many or most Buddhists still drink alcohol. I thought quitting alcohol would be hard, it really wasn't.

Most obvious improvements: better moods, more energy, more enthusiasm for meditation, and when meditating a sharper "clarity".
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710

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Hickersonia
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Hickersonia » Mon Aug 13, 2012 11:30 pm

Hickersonia
http://hickersonia.wordpress.com/


"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of
throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned."

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pilgrim
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby pilgrim » Tue Aug 14, 2012 5:27 am

I don't see the 5th precept as optional but at the same time, I don't see the occasional beer or glass of wine as a serious breach. Everything we do in Buddhism has a purpose. The first 4 precepts are clear enough as a breach is damaging. The purpose of the 5th is to prevent one from losing mindfulness which leads to breaking the first four.

One uses intoxicants to get intoxicated. Intoxicants are not evil per se. I think the practice of not allowing a single drop to pass one's lips is a dogmatic attachment to the letter rather than the wisdom behind it. It reminds me of the practice of vegetarianism by some Mahayana Buddhists who would not eat a meal which was cooked in a pot that once was used to cook meat for fear of a few molecules left behind.

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manas
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby manas » Tue Aug 14, 2012 7:25 am

Gosh I must be lucky. My body can't physically tolerate alcohol, even in moderation. Every time I used to 'have a few', there would usually be some kind of illness or physical dis-ease one or two days later. In the end, I thought, "a few hours of pleasant feeling is not worth a day or two of sickness and/or pain", and I've never gone back to the stuff. So, my sympathies to those who can tolerate it. Must make it harder to give up. But for me, it was dead easy.

with metta.
Then the Blessed One, picking up a tiny bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monk, "There isn't even this much form...feeling...
perception...fabrications...consciousness that is constant, lasting, eternal, not subject to change, that will stay just as it is as long as eternity."

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pilgrim
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby pilgrim » Tue Aug 14, 2012 10:34 am



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