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

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

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

Postby Doshin » Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:41 pm

My first thought, when reading this thread. Are the posters as absolute/definitive, about the first precept (not to kill) ? Candlelights kills moth/mosquito/flees, you know...

Looking inwards, my next thought is that my view on precepts, is that I think of them as training steps. Things I have decided to be better at, or as a pointer in a direction I want to go; not how fast or how, just be better over time.

My next thought is, I have seen many versions of the precepts; to name one example, I've seen the first precept as "I take the precept not to kill", and "I take the precept to refrain from harming living beings". In the same way, you can find several versions on the 5'th precept, but commonly they all point roughly in the same direction. I think the important thing here is to look in the direction they point, and then relate to that, rather then splitting hair on the words.

I end up with thinking, that (at my place on my path), the right thing is to follow the middle way. To exemplify, with a fictive example around the OP's question.

Say a person is used to have 3-4 drinks each Friday and on social events. At first, the mere reflection on this, is actually a step on the training path, as now one would reflect on it in between, the middle way between not caring about it and don't drink at all. Next one might say "I can get by with 1-2 drinks", again middle way between do-nothing and don't drink. Remember, if you follow the middle way for some time, it becomes the one extreme.

To try to summarize.. I see the precepts as subjects, that you make a *personal* decisions to train, to keep getting *better* at. How one should train is a individual choice, and can not be generalized. I.e. there is only one that can answer your question, and I don't think it gets easy'er for you to find your answer, by seeking others answers on the subject. You might end up with a "democratic" reasoned opinion, "posters mainly says, and that makes sense" (would that be your answer ?).

I hope my view has no influence on your view ;)

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

Postby Ben » Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:55 pm

I agree with Bhikkhu Pesala.
The fifth precept isn't optional.
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Mawkish1983 » Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:42 pm

I take the fifth precept very seriously, perhaps moreso than the others. On the last occasion that I did drink alcohol, a year ago during a very rough time indeed, bad things happened. Before that I hadn't drank alcohol for years and I haven't drank it since.
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:31 pm

I think I need to clarify. It is expected that a devout Buddhist will undertake the five precepts, and if one undertakes the five precepts, then the fifth precept is not optional. There is no formula for undertaking the four precepts.

If someone has faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and takes the three refuges, its not obligatory to also undertake to observe the five precepts. Certainly it is recommended, and expected, but we should not say that it is obligatory to undertake and observe the five precepts.

Also, they are training rules. It is expected that ordinary Buddhists will break the precepts sometimes. In that case, one has broken the precepts as undertaken, and should renew that undertaking. Traditional Buddhists take the three refuges and five precepts at every opportunity. How well they respect and observe that undertaking will vary from one individual to the next.
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby equilibrium » Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:53 pm

"Optional" is just a word, a barrier, a filter or a plateau created by the mind.....is it an excuse in the making? or has someone reached a limitation where one cannot reach beyond?

The task in hand maybe an easy task for some but it can be an extremely difficult one for others to achieve....."optional" is there for those who cannot break through it and it maybe a temporary stage for some but a permanent one for others..............in the end, the challenge is the self!.....there are obstacles in the way......obstructions.

"Optional" doesn't really exist at all.....
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Silas » Tue Aug 14, 2012 6:55 pm

(hi, i'm very new here so i hope it's alright for me to poke in here -- i'm young, and under-educated i suppose, so i don't always do or consider what would be wisest to do.)

i don't drink alcohol because the effects aren't all that pleasurable to me. i have in the past but never got past general tipsyness. i do smoke marijuana on occasion, whether it's a small amount to calm my anxiety or enough to actually get very high and laugh with others. it's probably something i'm going to need to cut back on, but i don't feel i am attached to it. i can meditate and receive calming effects. i just enjoy marijuana as well. for a very strict adherent i'd suggest not smoking or drinking, but i'm not the best for advice.

caffeine is a drug, though there are probably many buddhists who enjoy soda and coffee.

we kill plants for consumption (and they are said to possibly feel pain if i remember right), and animals when necessary (though i would describe myself as flexitarian -- i've been weaning myself off meat, though it was never a large part of my diet).

no, by no means is it optional, and everyone can follow it however is best for their practice as long as they think it through and can understand it. if your reasoning behind not drinking is "because the fifth precept says not to" rather than "it conflicts with mindfulness" or some other such line, then i don't feel you really understand it -- it's good that you don't have alcoholism or some addiction! but it's best to really understand. if you don't strictly abide by the fifth precept "because you don't want to" or "because it's optional" or "because it doesn't matter" then i don't think that is good either.

UNDERSTAND your decisions and reasoning.

(i hope that wasn't stupid)
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby RMSmith » Tue Aug 14, 2012 8:21 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:Human beings are already intoxicated without taking one drop of alcohol. They are intoxicated and heedless, thinking when they are young that they will not get old, when they are healthy that they will not get sick, and when alive that they will definitely die and can do so at any moment.


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

Postby Cittasanto » Tue Aug 14, 2012 8:49 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:I think I need to clarify. It is expected that a devout Buddhist will undertake the five precepts, and if one undertakes the five precepts, then the fifth precept is not optional. There is no formula for undertaking the four precepts.

If someone has faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and takes the three refuges, its not obligatory to also undertake to observe the five precepts. Certainly it is recommended, and expected, but we should not say that it is obligatory to undertake and observe the five precepts.

Also, they are training rules. It is expected that ordinary Buddhists will break the precepts sometimes. In that case, one has broken the precepts as undertaken, and should renew that undertaking. Traditional Buddhists take the three refuges and five precepts at every opportunity. How well they respect and observe that undertaking will vary from one individual to the next.

:anjali:
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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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: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Annapurna » Tue Aug 14, 2012 9:21 pm

Buckwheat wrote:
I don't always follow the 5th precept (I call them four precept days) largely due to social pressure.



Dear, I can't think of any social pressure that would make me drink or do something else against my principles.

People do accept it after a first surprise and some questions.

Sometimes that's all they need to follow a better example!

Set the trend. Don't follow a trend. :twothumbsup:

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

Postby Cittasanto » Tue Aug 14, 2012 10:26 pm

Annapurna wrote:Set the trend. Don't follow a trend. :twothumbsup:

You can!

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

Postby mynameisadahn » Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:56 pm

Thanks all for the posts so far, including but not limited to Bhikkhu Pesala.

There are several different issues at play here. As I suggested in my OP, in my limited knowledge, it would seem that defending the 5th precept as a sort of 'flexible guideline' is somewhat untenable given the pali cannon. It is just a rule that one may or may not comply with, and sometimes one may break it and then reaffirm their commitment.

Maybe one could defend the general principle of 'drinking less' or drinking in great moderation, but at that point, I think one should acknolwedge they are not defending any actual interpretation of the 5th precept itself. They are maybe aspiring to sila but not following the rule. I think that this is also commendable, (advocating moderation) in its own way.
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Aug 15, 2012 8:21 pm

hi mynameisadahn
You need to remember what the precept is about. It is about not being careless (pamada) and developing heedfulness (appamada) see the chapter in the Dhammapada for an idea of how it is seen :)
Dhammapada Chapter 2 wrote:21.
appamādo amatapadaṃ, pamādo maccuno padaṃ.
appamattā na mīyanti, ye pamattā yathā matā.

Heedfulness is the path to the deathless, heedlessness leads to death.
The vigilant do not die, The inattentive are as if already dead.
22.
etaṃ visesato ñatvā, appamādamhi paṇḍitā.
appamāde pamodanti, ariyānaṃ gocare ratā.

Understanding this distinction, the wise are heedful.
Rejoice in vigilance, devoted to the noble abode of the breath.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
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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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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Buckwheat » Mon Aug 20, 2012 4:59 am

Annapurna wrote:
Buckwheat wrote:
I don't always follow the 5th precept (I call them four precept days) largely due to social pressure.



Dear, I can't think of any social pressure that would make me drink or do something else against my principles.

People do accept it after a first surprise and some questions.

Sometimes that's all they need to follow a better example!

Set the trend. Don't follow a trend. :twothumbsup:

You can!


Drinking is not against my principles. It is against the Buddha's principles. When I turn down a drink, it's due to peer pressure from the Buddha. :thumbsup:
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Tue Sep 04, 2012 10:06 pm

"You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again,
drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish." -- Baudelaire


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

Postby Rui Sousa » Thu Sep 06, 2012 10:27 am

Would anyone give a few drinks to a child?

If the answer is no, then Why not?

In my opinion because when a child is envolved it becomes very clear how harmfull that is. We rationalize and delude ourselves in thinking that it is OK to drink a few beers and feel a bit woozy. But if we are honest and respectful with ourselves we will see that even half a beer could makes us say or do stuff that are harmful to ourselves or to others.

The way I see it if we direct Metta to ourselves and try to be gentle and respectfull with all beings, ourselves included in that lot, the idea of drinking intoxicants will slowly die out.
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Hanzze » Thu Sep 06, 2012 10:48 am

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

I guess the word optional is not so fortunate. Much more importand is that one does mindful observe the precepts he wishes to observe. In doing so, one will sooner or later catch all the others, as they are not independent from each other. Or wouln't you not fear to violate the others while being indoxicated, causing a car exident, telling a lie...?
From my experiances the most importand precept is, that one abstains from lying. If you stop cheating your self, you will not have the problem to violate anything.

The precepts have many levels, so also indoxicating one self has many levels, levels which depend on your progress of awarness and your capacity to be honest and (appamada - The Practice in a Word) to your self.

There is a bad habit (I am not sure if also so in "western" communities) amoung South East Asian Buddhist Communities: They frequently ask about how much Silas one observes (keeps?!). When asked, I use to answer: "Do you want we to lie?"
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby DAWN » Thu Sep 06, 2012 11:55 am

"Strong man is not the one who every time beet the others
Strong man is the one who once beet him self" (c)dont know

When we cant destroy The Mara
Mara comes destroy The Dhamma
Sabbe dhamma anatta
We are not concurents...
I'am sorry for my english
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby mynameisadahn » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:13 pm

I appreciate the continued discussion on this thread, of which I was the original poster. However, I'd like to point out that it appears that some of the posts have lost track that I am not, myself, suggesting that the 5th precept is or should be "optional." My OP was more directed to whether western convert buddhists tend to view the 5th precept as "optional" or as question of degree. Not necessarily whether one should view it as optional, themselves (whatever that means).

For instance, I was reading a book by Jack Kornfield (of IMS) yesterday. He said the 5th precept could be translated as either a prohibition on any intoxicants or it could also be translated as only forbidding use of intoxicants to the point of intoxication.

Kornfield's view seems to depart other translators, like Bhikkhu Bodhi, who translate it as a prohibition. I myself am not an expert on Pali, and I cannot really evaluate which of these claims is superior. I am not familiar with Kornfield's expertise in this area, or where he gets this view of the Pali cannon. But this seems to be an important point, as at least one IMS co-founder sees the 5th precept as being somewhat looser than, say, what the monastic community seems to say.

In any event, I appreciate Kornfield's view because it appears to be based on a genuine attempt to interpret the pali cannon and account for it. Whereas other western convert buddhists may simply overlook the 5th precept, which is a different matter.
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby DAWN » Fri Sep 07, 2012 2:21 am

When we drink/smoke etc, we expect to be intoxicated, and when it comes, we fill good.

PS it's not for topis starter, it' in generar, about this problem

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Sabbe dhamma anatta
We are not concurents...
I'am sorry for my english
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Sep 07, 2012 4:24 am

I see the Precepts as Training Rules. Training Rules are part of practice, they are not optional. How much effort one exerts, how far does one take the Training and what angle one takes, is another matter.

I agree with Hanzze, it is unwise to just see the Precepts as superficial prohibitions. To me this attitude is not in line with the Dhamma.

What is a lot more worthwhile is exploring the depth of the killing, the extent of the lying, the all-pervasiveness of intoxication, the taking for granted, etc. But at the same time it is important not to add to it. It is hard to begin to discern the subtle without first letting go of the coarse.
_/|\_
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