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).

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

Postby adamposey » Thu Nov 05, 2009 2:58 am

Kare 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.


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.


You sir, have just won the internet. Your lifetime supply of dhamma-munchies should be arriving any time.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby enkidu » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:17 am

As has probably been said countless times before, we easily rationalize allowances for our attachments.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby adamposey » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:11 am

enkidu wrote:As has probably been said countless times before, we easily rationalize allowances for our attachments.


I think it's very important to, for the most part, give up alcohols and other things. The reason I ask is because it is so culturally engrained that sometimes NOT having a drink would be rude. Or perhaps you're in a place like Italy where the default is to drink a small amount of alcohol. I don't think social drinking would be proper, nor would getting drunk.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 6:25 am

Kare wrote: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.

I'm skeptical about this translation of the traditional precept language. Maybe it's not just that sura and meraya cause pamada (which this translation presupposes), but rather that sura and meraya go hand-in-hand with pamada by necessity and are inextricably linked together, and that that reality will always be the thana from which to abstain? Which might read something like this: I undertake the training precept of abstaining from the condition of intoxication and carelessness and beer and cider (one unit, one thana). I don't know, I'm no Pali scholar, but my translation alternative doesn't appear to insert elements that aren't plainly there.

In any case, if discerning the true meaning of the traditional precept language is as easy as chopping up the root words and putting them back together with English translations, then I would like to know where the "caused by" part comes from in the translation offered in the quote above.

adamposey wrote:I think it's very important to, for the most part, give up alcohols and other things.


The problem that I see with this "moderation" interpretation of the precept is it is not in accord with clear sutta teachings, such as this one from AN 8.39:
Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.


:reading:
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:52 am

Jechbi wrote: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:


In composite words the word-elements can have different relations between them, and Sanskrit and Pali grammarians developed a detailed categorizing of those relations. English is a far more analytical language with few composite words, so the relations between the elements have to be expressed in other ways. I'd say that "caused by" is helpful for expressing the relation between those elements in English.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 12:04 pm

In this debate there are two different aspects that should be kept separate.

The first aspect is the precept. The second is our personal views.

The translation and analysis of the precept text should be objective, based on an understanding of Pali grammar.

And the precept is very clear. It talks about abstaining from intoxication. The second you get intoxicated, you are breaking that precept. Whatever else you do - as long as you are not intoxicated - you are not breaking than precept. It's as simple as that.

Some may feel that the precept should be stronger, and they might wish to lay down a prohibition about taking that drink that may lead to intoxication. And that may be a quite sensible interpretation. But the precept as we have it, does not say this, and to twist the translation in order to make the precept say what we want it to say, is nothing but pious fraud.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby adamposey » Thu Nov 05, 2009 1:12 pm

Jechbi wrote:
Kare wrote: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.

I'm skeptical about this translation of the traditional precept language. Maybe it's not just that sura and meraya cause pamada (which this translation presupposes), but rather that sura and meraya go hand-in-hand with pamada by necessity and are inextricably linked together, and that that reality will always be the thana from which to abstain? Which might read something like this: I undertake the training precept of abstaining from the condition of intoxication and carelessness and beer and cider (one unit, one thana). I don't know, I'm no Pali scholar, but my translation alternative doesn't appear to insert elements that aren't plainly there.

In any case, if discerning the true meaning of the traditional precept language is as easy as chopping up the root words and putting them back together with English translations, then I would like to know where the "caused by" part comes from in the translation offered in the quote above.

adamposey wrote:I think it's very important to, for the most part, give up alcohols and other things.


The problem that I see with this "moderation" interpretation of the precept is it is not in accord with clear sutta teachings, such as this one from AN 8.39:
Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.


:reading:


I have to wonder if, perhaps, that translation is mis=worded as well.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby PeterB » Thu Nov 05, 2009 1:19 pm

Kare wrote:In this debate there are two different aspects that should be kept separate.

The first aspect is the precept. The second is our personal views.

The translation and analysis of the precept text should be objective, based on an understanding of Pali grammar.

And the precept is very clear. It talks about abstaining from intoxication. The second you get intoxicated, you are breaking that precept. Whatever else you do - as long as you are not intoxicated - you are not breaking than precept. It's as simple as that.

Some may feel that the precept should be stronger, and they might wish to lay down a prohibition about taking that drink that may lead to intoxication. And that may be a quite sensible interpretation. But the precept as we have it, does not say this, and to twist the translation in order to make the precept say what we want it to say, is nothing but pious fraud.

With respect, I think that is sophistry.

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

Postby adamposey » Thu Nov 05, 2009 1:42 pm

PeterB wrote:
Kare wrote:In this debate there are two different aspects that should be kept separate.

The first aspect is the precept. The second is our personal views.

The translation and analysis of the precept text should be objective, based on an understanding of Pali grammar.

And the precept is very clear. It talks about abstaining from intoxication. The second you get intoxicated, you are breaking that precept. Whatever else you do - as long as you are not intoxicated - you are not breaking than precept. It's as simple as that.

Some may feel that the precept should be stronger, and they might wish to lay down a prohibition about taking that drink that may lead to intoxication. And that may be a quite sensible interpretation. But the precept as we have it, does not say this, and to twist the translation in order to make the precept say what we want it to say, is nothing but pious fraud.

With respect, I think that is sophistry.

:anjali:

The reason abstaining from alcohol strikes me as a weird precept is that it's not normal for the Buddha to have outlawed something completely for his followers.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 2:32 pm

PeterB wrote:
Kare wrote:In this debate there are two different aspects that should be kept separate.

The first aspect is the precept. The second is our personal views.

The translation and analysis of the precept text should be objective, based on an understanding of Pali grammar.

And the precept is very clear. It talks about abstaining from intoxication. The second you get intoxicated, you are breaking that precept. Whatever else you do - as long as you are not intoxicated - you are not breaking than precept. It's as simple as that.

Some may feel that the precept should be stronger, and they might wish to lay down a prohibition about taking that drink that may lead to intoxication. And that may be a quite sensible interpretation. But the precept as we have it, does not say this, and to twist the translation in order to make the precept say what we want it to say, is nothing but pious fraud.

With respect, I think that is sophistry.

:anjali:


Do you really think it is sophistry to strive for an exact and precise translation of the words of the Buddha?
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby PeterB » Thu Nov 05, 2009 2:36 pm

I think its sophistry to arrive at a translation which may be accurate to the letter but misses the spirit. The Buddha was a) A Buddha and B) Not a product of Northern European logic.

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

Postby Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:00 pm

PeterB wrote:I think its sophistry to arrive at a translation which may be accurate to the letter but misses the spirit. The Buddha was a) A Buddha and B) Not a product of Northern European logic.

:anjali:


Was he a product of Northern European puritanism?
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:34 pm

Hello Kare and Adam,
Kare wrote:In this debate there are two different aspects that should be kept separate. The first aspect is the precept. The second is our personal views.
I very much agree with you on this point. With respect, another aspect that should be kept separate is provocative language about other posters.

Kare wrote:Some may feel that the precept should be stronger, and they might wish to lay down a prohibition about taking that drink that may lead to intoxication. And that may be a quite sensible interpretation. But the precept as we have it, does not say this, and to twist the translation in order to make the precept say what we want it to say, is nothing but pious fraud.

Although I have a different understanding than you have, I do not regard my understanding as pious, nor as an attempt to twist the translation, nor as a fraud.

My personal view is that I think the precept should be exactly as it is, neither stronger nor weaker, and if I misunderstand the precept, then I will adjust my own understanding, not try to tinker with the precept. I assume you feel the same way, and I assume others here also are engaged in efforts to arrive at a closer understanding of Dhamma, not in some pious fraud, as you put it. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, please.

adamposey wrote:I have to wonder if, perhaps, that translation is mis=worded as well.
It very well may be, and I'm not going to defend it strenuously.

adamposey wrote:The reason abstaining from alcohol strikes me as a weird precept is that it's not normal for the Buddha to have outlawed something completely for his followers.

This reflects a misunderstanding of the precepts. Just as the Buddha did not "outlaw" lying or stealing or killing living beings, he did not "outlaw" taking intoxicants. Rather, the Buddha very compassionately pointed out that these behaviors harm ourselves and others. It is up to us how we choose to behave. The precepts are not the same as religious commandments or laws imposed by government.
________________________

With deepest respect, Kare, I would ask you to address this following concern that I raised earlier:
Jechbi wrote:The problem that I see with this "moderation" interpretation of the precept is it is not in accord with clear sutta teachings, such as this one from AN 8.39:
Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.

If it is true that the precept involves moderation rather than abstaining from intoxicants, then how do you square that with clear sutta teachings that point to abstention?

:anjali:
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby adamposey » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:53 pm

Jechbi wrote:Hello Kare and Adam,
Kare wrote:In this debate there are two different aspects that should be kept separate. The first aspect is the precept. The second is our personal views.
I very much agree with you on this point. With respect, another aspect that should be kept separate is provocative language about other posters.

Kare wrote:Some may feel that the precept should be stronger, and they might wish to lay down a prohibition about taking that drink that may lead to intoxication. And that may be a quite sensible interpretation. But the precept as we have it, does not say this, and to twist the translation in order to make the precept say what we want it to say, is nothing but pious fraud.

Although I have a different understanding than you have, I do not regard my understanding as pious, nor as an attempt to twist the translation, nor as a fraud.

My personal view is that I think the precept should be exactly as it is, neither stronger nor weaker, and if I misunderstand the precept, then I will adjust my own understanding, not try to tinker with the precept. I assume you feel the same way, and I assume others here also are engaged in efforts to arrive at a closer understanding of Dhamma, not in some pious fraud, as you put it. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, please.

adamposey wrote:I have to wonder if, perhaps, that translation is mis=worded as well.
It very well may be, and I'm not going to defend it strenuously.

adamposey wrote:The reason abstaining from alcohol strikes me as a weird precept is that it's not normal for the Buddha to have outlawed something completely for his followers.

This reflects a misunderstanding of the precepts. Just as the Buddha did not "outlaw" lying or stealing or killing living beings, he did not "outlaw" taking intoxicants. Rather, the Buddha very compassionately pointed out that these behaviors harm ourselves and others. It is up to us how we choose to behave. The precepts are not the same as religious commandments or laws imposed by government.
________________________

With deepest respect, Kare, I would ask you to address this following concern that I raised earlier:
Jechbi wrote:The problem that I see with this "moderation" interpretation of the precept is it is not in accord with clear sutta teachings, such as this one from AN 8.39:
Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.

If it is true that the precept involves moderation rather than abstaining from intoxicants, then how do you square that with clear sutta teachings that point to abstention?

:anjali:


Perhaps not as much a misunderstanding as a communication failure. Breaking the precepts would cause a bhikku to be apart from the order, no? As such that would be a kind of law. Now, I am not a Bhikku and as such I can do what I like without any rigid social repercussions clearly defined by a set of rules (for the most part). What I mean is that the training precepts do not strike me as "rigid" until you come to the one about alcohol. That is: In common translation the other precepts use words like "refrain" as opposed to "abstain" and so on. This makes the alcohol precept stand out to me as particularly strict and demanding against the backdrop of the others.

I also believe we should clearly define the results of not following the precept. In common discussion the attitude put forth by many is "drinking alcohol will hold you back from achieving nibbana." Which, to me, is about the equivalent of threatening a person with punishment.

I think an appropriate comparison is with meat. The precepts say to avoid killing a thing, and so many Buddhists choose to simply become vegan to reduce their "kammic footprint" as it were. This is a strict and rigid rule, one which the Buddha had to work around by giving some general rules about meat which are strict and rigid, but don't deny that meat is a part of the lives of many.

I'm just saying I was never struck by the Buddha as a strict teacher who typically used words like "abstain" except in extreme circumstances. Rather he seemed to be a principled teacher who understood the way of balancing the world's ways with being enlightened and working towards that goal.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:11 pm

Hi Adam, did you read the Five Faultless Gifts sutta that I referenced a few posts ago?
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:11 pm

Jechbi wrote:My personal view is that I think the precept should be exactly as it is, neither stronger nor weaker, and if I misunderstand the precept, then I will adjust my own understanding, not try to tinker with the precept. I assume you feel the same way, and I assume others here also are engaged in efforts to arrive at a closer understanding of Dhamma, not in some pious fraud, as you put it. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, please.


The expression "pious fraud" was a bit too strong, and I apologize for using it.

With deepest respect, Kare, I would ask you to address this following concern that I raised earlier:
Jechbi wrote:The problem that I see with this "moderation" interpretation of the precept is it is not in accord with clear sutta teachings, such as this one from AN 8.39:
Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.

If it is true that the precept involves moderation rather than abstaining from intoxicants, then how do you square that with clear sutta teachings that point to abstention?

:anjali:


The wording in that quote is the same as in the precept:

... surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti

In the composite word surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā the last element, -ṭhānā, "condition", is the main element. We can ask: "Which condition?", and then we find that -majjapamāda- is a qualifying element which describes the condition. "majjapamāda" consists of two synonyms (the heaping up of synonyms is very common in the Pali texts) saying approximately the same: "intoxication". We can then go further and ask: "What kind of intoxication?", and find that surāmeraya- (two alcoholic drinks) describe what kind of intoxication is meant. So the expression talks about the condition of intoxication from alcoholic drinks.

Let me make one thing clear: I do not advocate getting drunk. I very seldom taste alcohol, maybe a few times a year, and I hate getting drunk, so I stop after a small glass of beer or whatever. I find that this works for me, and that way I am not breaking this precept. I have, however, full respect for those who chose to abstain from all drinking (of alcohol). And I agree that the suttas also make it clear that we should abstain from getting intoxicated. But we should not make the Buddha more absolutist than what the texts really say. And I feel that those who twist the translations to make him more absolutist than what the texts really say, are doing us all a disfavor. Surely from the best of intentions, but still ...
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 5:14 pm

Kare wrote:... surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti

In the composite word surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā the last element, -ṭhānā, "condition", is the main element. We can ask: "Which condition?", and then we find that -majjapamāda- is a qualifying element which describes the condition. "majjapamāda" consists of two synonyms (the heaping up of synonyms is very common in the Pali texts) saying approximately the same: "intoxication". We can then go further and ask: "What kind of intoxication?", and find that surāmeraya- (two alcoholic drinks) describe what kind of intoxication is meant. So the expression talks about the condition of intoxication from alcoholic drinks.

Thanks, Kare. I have several concerns about this:

1) There are many other references besides this one that seem to support an "abstention" understanding. Chris pointed out some of them here.

2) In every training rule, it is the action that is addressed, not the result. The actions are killing living beings, or stealing, or (in the case of alcohol) taking. In every other one of these references, would you want to interpret them as pointing to the result rather than to the action itself?

3) In your translation that you have offered here, you separate out the notion of "intoxicated" from "alcohol" so that the abstention points to "intoxicated" rather than "alcohol." But I still don't follow exactly why this separation is implicit. Why is it impossible that "alcohol intoxicated" isn't all one unit, inseparable, from which to be abstained? If they all do belong together (not separated), then the only way to abstain is by abstaining from the action of taking the intoxicant.

4) If it is as clear-cut as you say, then why do so many other knowledgeable people interpret this differently? Do you really think that they are all just "twisting" this out of some ill-conceived good intention?
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Uncover, then, what is concealed,
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 5:49 pm

Jechbi wrote:
Kare wrote:... surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti

In the composite word surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā the last element, -ṭhānā, "condition", is the main element. We can ask: "Which condition?", and then we find that -majjapamāda- is a qualifying element which describes the condition. "majjapamāda" consists of two synonyms (the heaping up of synonyms is very common in the Pali texts) saying approximately the same: "intoxication". We can then go further and ask: "What kind of intoxication?", and find that surāmeraya- (two alcoholic drinks) describe what kind of intoxication is meant. So the expression talks about the condition of intoxication from alcoholic drinks.

Thanks, Kare. I have several concerns about this:

1) There are many other references besides this one that seem to support an "abstention" understanding. Chris pointed out some of them here.


I'm sorry, but those references are very unclear. Do you have a clear reference to a sutta text?

2) In every training rule, it is the action that is addressed, not the result. The actions are killing living beings, or stealing, or (in the case of alcohol) taking. In every other one of these references, would you want to interpret them as pointing to the result rather than to the action itself?


You are deducing this point from the words of the other training rule. That is good. So why not take the words of the fifth precept as they stand?

3) In your translation that you have offered here, you separate out the notion of "intoxicated" from "alcohol" so that the abstention points to "intoxicated" rather than "alcohol." But I still don't follow exactly why this separation is implicit. Why is it impossible that "alcohol intoxicated" isn't all one unit, inseparable, from which to be abstained? If they all do belong together (not separated), then the only way to abstain is by abstaining from the action of taking the intoxicant.


I think this depends on (at least) two factors: the quantity taken and the person who takes it. Most people will not get noticeably intoxicated from drinking a small glass of beer along with a good dinner, or from taking a sip of wine saying "Cheers!" to a good friend - and leave it at that. By keeping the precept open, the Buddha does not "criminalize" innocent acts like those. But if a person reacts quickly and strongly to alcohol, this person is wise not to drink at all. And the rest of us are wise not to drink more than that small glass at a rare occasion. I am, however, strongly convinced that as buddhists we can have that small and rare drink without any pang of conscience for breaking a precept.

4) If it is as clear-cut as you say, then why do so many other knowledgeable people interpret this differently? Do you really think that they are all just "twisting" this out of some ill-conceived good intention?


I think you'd rather put this question to those other knowledgeable people, asking them for a clear grammatical analysis of the text. If you can get such an analysis, and it proves to be based on a sounder grammatical analysis than my own, I am willing to change my mind on this question.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Nov 05, 2009 7:31 pm

Hi Adam,
adamposey wrote:What I mean is that the training precepts do not strike me as "rigid" until you come to the one about alcohol. That is: In common translation the other precepts use words like "refrain" as opposed to "abstain" and so on. This makes the alcohol precept stand out to me as particularly strict and demanding against the backdrop of the others.

The Pali is exactly the same for all five precepts (or 8 for 8 precepts)
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... #precepts5
XXX veramaṇī sikkhā-padaṃ samādiyāmi.
I undertake the training rule to refrain from XXX.

The translation there for the fifth precept is:
Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhā-padaṃ samādiyāmi.
I undertake the training rule to refrain from intoxicating liquors & drugs that lead to carelessness.

I have no comment on whether Kare's translation is more accurate. My Pali is not up to that and, frankly, I don't find the issue particularly interesting. The precepts are "sila 101", the bottom end of what one should aspire to in the area of virtue, and a small part of the effort required for liberation.

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

Postby enkidu » Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:17 pm

I suspect that as one puts the mind on kamma, less confusion arises with respect to precepts. I suspect the fruit of such effort is the joy of keeping precepts purely, whereas the fruit of the lack of such effort is the fear of keeping precepts impurely.
enkidu
 
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