The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

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

The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby adamposey » Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:28 pm

I've heard two interpretations of the precept of "abstaining from alcohol." Basically: "Don't drink at all." and the other interpretation of "drink, but don't get drunk."

I'm just curious what the texts say, and how we should reconcile this with cultural and geographical norms. For instance, I am a 3rd generation Italian . In my family alcohol is not consumed for the intention of getting drunk, nor for any kind of enjoyment, but simply because it is a fine part of our culture. In Italy itself the wine flows more freely than drinking water.

I understand the purpose of the rule, and I've heard the stories behind it, supposedly, but I still wonder if it is a rule that is perhaps more easy to follow in, say, India than it is in, say, Italy. Correct me if I'm wrong but the buddha only established this training rule after one of his followers was rewarded by villagers with alcohol for defeating a powerful naga, correct?

Related matter: What position, if any, do the buddhist texts take on tobacco? (I don't smoke, but I'm now curious).
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:40 pm

Greetings Adam,

The easy part first... tobacco is not a violation of the precepts.

OK... for the fifth precept..

Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami:
I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.


Now, I'm not entirely sure if 'intoxicants' is a modern or a literal translation, but the essence of it is that any consumable which reduces mindfulness (sati), reduces shame (hirī) and reduces the fear of wrongdoing (ottappa) constitutes a violation of the precepts.

If is not considered a violation however if the alcohol is consumed for medicinal purposes as part of a medicinal preparation.

So yes, the 'casual drink' is a violation of the precepts because it reduces these factors (even if only minimally), but not as severe a violation as getting completely trashed.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby adamposey » Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:49 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Adam,

The easy part first... tobacco is not a violation of the precepts.

OK... for the fifth precept..

Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami:
I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.


Now, I'm not entirely sure if 'intoxicants' is a modern or a literal translation, but the essence of it is that any consumable which reduces mindfulness (sati), reduces shame (hirī) and reduces the fear of wrongdoing (ottappa) constitutes a violation of the precepts.

If is not considered a violation however if the alcohol is consumed for medicinal purposes as part of a medicinal preparation.

So yes, the 'casual drink' is a violation of the precepts because it reduces these factors (even if only minimally), but not as severe a violation as getting completely trashed.

Metta,
Retro. :)


I don't know about the geographical makeup of India very well, but I suspect the Bhikkus might have had some trouble living in Italy or France. :P
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:59 pm

Greetings Adam,

adamposey wrote:I don't know about the geographical makeup of India very well, but I suspect the Bhikkus might have had some trouble living in Italy or France. :P


As long as the laypeople are educated on the precepts, they would not offer alcohol to a bhikkhu. Quite possibly they are offered alcohol in Italy and France on occasion by those who do not know better, but would have to decline the offer as unacceptable.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Individual » Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:10 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Adam,

The easy part first... tobacco is not a violation of the precepts.

OK... for the fifth precept..

Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami:
I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.


Now, I'm not entirely sure if 'intoxicants' is a modern or a literal translation, but the essence of it is that any consumable which reduces mindfulness (sati), reduces shame (hirī) and reduces the fear of wrongdoing (ottappa) constitutes a violation of the precepts.

Why wouldn't nicotine fall under this same criteria?
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby adamposey » Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:11 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Adam,

adamposey wrote:I don't know about the geographical makeup of India very well, but I suspect the Bhikkus might have had some trouble living in Italy or France. :P


As long as the laypeople are educated on the precepts, they would not offer alcohol to a bhikkhu. Quite possibly they are offered alcohol in Italy and France on occasion by those who do not know better, but would have to decline the offer as unacceptable.

Metta,
Retro. :)

Yes, in Italy the default is wine because the straight water isn't really drinking quality. Today this is made easier by bottled water, but even a few hundred years ago drinking the water in places like Italy or Mexico could make you quite ill. Wine was drinkable because the alcohol made it safe.. so.. people drank a lot of ales, wines, and other low-alcohol drinks because they kind of had to. Today this is more of a cultural truth than a necessity, but it IS still true that the wine in Italy flows much more freely than water. In fact, water in those places can be quite expensive to drink.

Also: Can we move this thread? I realize that the classical theravada section is not appropriate for this. Could it be relocated to the lounge, or dhammic discussion?
Last edited by adamposey on Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby adamposey » Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:14 am

Individual wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Adam,

The easy part first... tobacco is not a violation of the precepts.

OK... for the fifth precept..

Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami:
I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.


Now, I'm not entirely sure if 'intoxicants' is a modern or a literal translation, but the essence of it is that any consumable which reduces mindfulness (sati), reduces shame (hirī) and reduces the fear of wrongdoing (ottappa) constitutes a violation of the precepts.

Why wouldn't nicotine fall under this same criteria?


I almost feel like this is a precept that could be taken quite far in today's world. If we were to avoid intoxicants, or any kind of taken substance that would potentially reduce mindfulness, this would almost absolutely come to include refined sugar, or any kind of snack food, as well as caffeine, etc.,

I would say that these things reduce mindfulness by doing the opposite of what alcohol does. Rather than depressing the control centers of the brain these kinds of products provoke a state of anxiety in the body.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Tex » Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:40 am

Yes, smoking a cigarette is not a violation of the precept.

Briefly though, it's worth noting that the intention of the fifth precept is to avoid substances which can lead to heedlessness (of the other other precepts). While the act of smoking a cigarette is not a violation (and the act of drinking a beer is, because of its direct influence on us), when one becomes addicted to cigarettes he will inevitably find himself in situations where he cannot smoke.

Any hardcore smoker who has been stuck on a long plane flight knows exactly how quickly withdrawals set in, and how much shorter our fuse gets, and how much that can add to the challenge of practicing right speech.

Just a thought from an ex-smoker...

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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby pink_trike » Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:41 am

adamposey wrote:I'm just curious what the texts say, and how we should reconcile this with cultural and geographical norms.

Related matter: What position, if any, do the buddhist texts take on tobacco? (I don't smoke, but I'm now curious).


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... h08-6.html

Cultural or geographic norms are just habits of mind that have been concretized in the collective mind. Drinking beer and hard liquors is a cultural/geographic norm in the United States - my extended family drank hard liquor and beer though it was "not consumed for the intention of getting drunk, nor for any kind of enjoyment, but simply because it is a fine part of our culture"...it was indulged in the same way that wine is in Italy. No meaningful difference, except that Italy's drinking habits are differently romanticized.

Casual use of alcohol is inconsistent with the Dharma path because it overstimulates the sensory systems, and clouds awareness...which is the exact opposite of what the Dharma advocates and supports - calming the the senses and clearing/expanding awareness.

The making of fermented beverages is dated back to around 7000 BC - it was primarily used as a means for extracting essences from herb to create medicines and health tonics, or as a substitute for impure drinking water. Likely the casual use of these health tonics eventually came to overshadow their medicinal uses.

Re: tobacco...I'm not aware of any call to avoid it in Buddhism. From my own experience though, having smoked up to 3 packs a day when young and smoked for 10 years, there is an intoxication that takes place as a result of smoking. The more we practice, the more aware of it we become.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby jcsuperstar » Wed Nov 04, 2009 3:16 am

there are some monks in thailand that are very anti smoking, but rolled herbs to be smoked for medicial reasons is kosher for monks, and tobaco came to thailand as a medicine so well, its just a sort of game of pointing fingers to say this monk is bad this one is good, i've yet to see a thai person speak ill of ajahn chah, and he smoked so :shrug:
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Individual » Wed Nov 04, 2009 3:57 am

adamposey wrote:I almost feel like this is a precept that could be taken quite far in today's world.

Perhaps it should?
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Nov 04, 2009 4:40 am

Greetings Individual,

Individual wrote:
adamposey wrote:I almost feel like this is a precept that could be taken quite far in today's world.

Perhaps it should?


Well if you took the bhikkhus 227 precepts, I'm sure there'd be precepts that resemble what that might look like.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:31 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Individual wrote:
adamposey wrote:I almost feel like this is a precept that could be taken quite far in today's world.

Perhaps it should?


Well if you took the bhikkhus 227 precepts, I'm sure there'd be precepts that resemble what that might look like.


"While smoking has a negative effect on the body it has little or no effect on consciousness and thus from the Buddhist perspective has no moral significance. A person can be kind, generous and honest and yet smoke. Thus, although smoking is inadvisable from the point of view of physical health it is not contrary to the fifth Precept. Smoking is very common in all Buddhists lands although in 2005 Bhutan was the first country in the world to ban it. In Burma, Thailand and Cambodia monks commonly smoke, but in Sri Lanka it is considered unacceptable for them to do so in public. However, Sri Lankan monks will chew tobacco."
from: BuddhismAtoZ.com

The above quote from Ven. Dhammika is primarily referring to lay people and the 5 precepts. A monk has the 227 precepts. One that I can think of right off, is the prohibition on storing food and possessions other than the requisites. Cigarettes could be seen as violating this precept, if held or used by a monk or nun.

According to the Vinaya, food, which we all need to survive cannot be stored because it could become a possession to get attached to, but cigarettes are not something needed for survival. All the more reason, in my opinion, that monastics probably should not be possessing, storing, and smoking cigarettes.

I know Ajahn Chah is highly revered and I have also heard that he smoked cigarettes. Did he smoke all the way to the end? Or did he give up cigarettes at some point? If so, at what age?
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:58 am

Hi David,

I thought I recalled that at some point Ajahn Chah forbade his monks from smoking. Not because of the health or attachment risks, but because he didn't like the lay people in the poor area where his monasteries were located to be burdened by buying cigarettes for the monks...

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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Jechbi » Wed Nov 04, 2009 6:31 am

adamposey wrote:I'm just curious what the texts say, and how we should reconcile this with cultural and geographical norms.
I'm not aware of any sutta materials that advocate the "moderate drinking" approach to the precept, but maybe someone who takes that approach can point to such material?

With regard to cultural norms, I think it's amazing the reactions one gets when one chooses to give up alcohol, or when one suggests that giving up alcohol might be a good idea as a personal choice. In my experience, some people immediately assume you're advocating prohibition, and that you want to impose this non-alcohol-use policy on others. And that's just for starters.

The constant offers of a little glass of wine, or a beer, or (in some countries) a shot of vodka are impossible to avoid. Champagne on New Year's Eve, or at a wedding, or some other celebration. At a certain point it becomes downright anti-social to decline. I've seen monks (non-Theravada) leading toasts at social occasions.

What is this social fixation with alcohol? When you start to notice it and pay attention, it really is amazing. There are enormous social pressures to keep on drinking.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Mawkish1983 » Wed Nov 04, 2009 10:26 am

Jechbi wrote:There are enormous social pressures to keep on drinking.

Tell me about it. I now operate a policy of 'least harm'. In general I never drink. I live a long way away from my family so it's easy to stick to (and my friends understand and are cool with it). My family, on the other hand, automatically assume religion is somehow controlling my actions when I decline a drink and they always feel the need to have an 'intervention'. I've explained in depth why I don't want to drink but it's no use. My mother (for reasons I won't go into) hates religion deeply and I can see the heartbreak in her eyes when she suspects I am religious. So, when I'm with my family (a few times a year, not often) I initially decline a drink until doing so causes suffering, then I take a beer and make it last all night. One small bottle of beer stretched over many hours doesn't have much effect BUT obviously it's a breach of the fifth precept.

I consider it metta practice.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Ben » Wed Nov 04, 2009 10:47 am

Hi Mawkish
Hang in there mate. At some point, perhaps not now, you'll need to look at making a stand and get your parents to respect your decisions.
metta

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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby adamposey » Wed Nov 04, 2009 9:32 pm

Now, what logic is being used by the more northern monks who practice drinking? I think they call it "mindful drinking?"
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Kare » Wed Nov 04, 2009 11:37 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Adam,

The easy part first... tobacco is not a violation of the precepts.

OK... for the fifth precept..

Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami:
I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.


Sorry, but that translation is not good enough.

The best way of translating this sentence, is to start from the end.

samadiyami = I undertake
sikkhapadam = the training precept
veramani = of abstaining from

Now for the long compound:
suramerayamajjappamadatthana

This is a compound made up from sura + meraya + majja + pamada + thana

sura and meraya are two different alcoholic drinks. Sura may be a kind of beer, and meraya maybe some kind of cider. Anyway, both are alcoholic.

majja = either intoxication or intoxicant drink
pamada = indolence, carelessness, negligence, intoxication

majja and pamada are practically synonyms here

now for the last member of the compound: thana. This word means "condition".

So, suramerayamajjappamadatthana is literally "beer-cider-carelessness-intoxication-condition".

In order to make this into a more idiomatic English, we have to start from the end: "the condition of intoxication and carelessness caused by beer and cider"

So what then does the precept say? It says: I undertake the training precept of abstaining from the condition of intoxication and carelessness caused by beer and cider (or, alcoholic drinks).

This is the literal meaning of the precept. Not to abstain from the drinks, but to abstain from the condition of intoxication.

You may say that as soon as you drink, you will get intoxicated, so that the wise thing is to abstain from the drinks in order to abstain from intoxication. I fully agree on this point. The sensible thing is not to get drunk, and in order not to get drunk it is wise not to drink.

But if you know yourself so well that you know that you can take a small glass of wine or beer without getting drunk - and stop there! - the precept is definitely not broken.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 2:12 am

Where did you get the words "caused by" for your rendering? I don't see that in the Pali, but maybe it's implicit somehow? :thanks:
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