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 Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:33 pm

mikenz66 wrote: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.

Metta
Mike


The real problem is rather this: Where are we going if we give incorrect translations canonical or semi-canonical status? Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 9:02 pm

Kare wrote:The real problem is rather this: Where are we going if we give incorrect translations canonical or semi-canonical status? Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?

You're presopposing that your personal translation (which supports your firm conviction) is the accurate translation and the rest are inaccurate. I'm skeptical about your translation. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in what the passage actually says. This may be a better topic for a thread in the Pali language forum of this board.

The issue seems to be whether the language points to "intoxicants" or to "intoxication." One of them is to be abstained from.

I don't wish to slander the Tathagatha, so I'll keep an open mind.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Nov 05, 2009 9:10 pm

Hi Kare,
Kare wrote:The real problem is rather this: Where are we going if we give incorrect translations canonical or semi-canonical status? Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?

Thats a separate issue. Since I don't have a good knowledge of Pali, I can't comment on whether your translation is more or less accurate than the translation I am used to, where the key phrase is:
"intoxicating liquors & drugs that lead to carelessness".

One could also start querying why "kāmesu micchācārā" is usually restricted to "sexual misconduct", rather than "sensual". Or why, in the 8 precept version of the third precept "abrahma-cariyā" = "not brahma-caria"
is interpreted to mean abstaining from sexual intercourse. Presumably it's all about context...

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

Postby Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:14 pm

Jechbi wrote:
Kare wrote:The real problem is rather this: Where are we going if we give incorrect translations canonical or semi-canonical status? Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?

You're presopposing that your personal translation (which supports your firm conviction) is the accurate translation and the rest are inaccurate. I'm skeptical about your translation.


You are right in being sceptical, and I'll gladly listen to any reasoned arguments against my understanding of the grammar in this precept.

A related question is of course how we interpret the precept. Translation is one thing - interpretation is something else. If someone choose to interpret the precept as total abstention from alcohol, that is OK for me, and I respect such an interpretation. As for myself, I choose to interpret the precept as abstention not only from alcoholic intoxication, but against intoxication from any drug as well. But I have to be honest and say that this is my choice and my interpretation, not what the text of the precept is saying.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Aloka » Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:57 pm

In Tibetan Buddhism, cigarettes, as well as weed and other drugs and alcohol (whatever the amount )are considered a violation of the precept concerning intoxicants...if one formally takes the 5 precept vows.

I'm quite surprised to find its not the same in Theravada !

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

Postby adamposey » Fri Nov 06, 2009 12:06 am

Aloka wrote:In Tibetan Buddhism, cigarettes, as well as weed and other drugs and alcohol (whatever the amount )are considered a violation of the precept concerning intoxicants...if one formally takes the 5 precept vows.

I'm quite surprised to find its not the same in Theravada !

:anjali:


It seems like it is, except for the cigarettes part.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Nov 06, 2009 12:11 am

Greetings,

adamposey wrote:It seems like it is, except for the cigarettes part.


Except that, as Kare points out, it's only explicitly refers to specific forms of alcohol.... not broadly based to "intoxicants". This is why earlier in this topic I said that "intoxicants" may be a modern, indirect rendering of the actual Pali.

It's interesting to see that drugs which were known in India at the time such as marijuana are not explicitly listed.

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

Postby poto » Fri Nov 06, 2009 1:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

adamposey wrote:It seems like it is, except for the cigarettes part.


Except that, as Kare points out, it's only explicitly refers to specific forms of alcohol.... not broadly based to "intoxicants". This is why earlier in this topic I said that "intoxicants" may be a modern, indirect rendering of the actual Pali.

It's interesting to see that drugs which were known in India at the time such as marijuana are not explicitly listed.

Metta,
Retro. :)


I've read that the Buddha ate hemp seeds, so I imagine if he was eating one part of the plant, he was probably familiar with cannabis flowers as well. Just to be clear and in the interests of full disclosure, I'm not advocating cannabis use here, but I have smoked a lot of weed in my day. Personally, I believe it's possible to use cannabis without becoming intoxicated or careless, and also for medical reasons, but many do not share my point of view.

I do find it interesting that cannabis is not prohibited. Of course, I've had this conversation with others before and usually somebody mentions something like "opium and a range of other drugs weren't explicitly prohibited either" or something to that effect. Those conversations usually end with me getting denounced as a bad Buddhist... but I've never formally taken or accepted the 5th precept, so I try to not let such things bother me. Although, I do abstain completely from drinking alcohol, using tobacco and other drugs (except cannabis). Alcohol specifically has very negative effects of me. So, for me personally it's best that I not drink at all.

Also, I agree with Kare's translation:
Kare wrote:So, suramerayamajjappamadatthana is literally "beer-cider-carelessness-intoxication-condition".


I'm not a scholar, but to me that basically means, don't drink so much that you become carelessly drunk. Which seems like sound advice.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Nov 06, 2009 2:32 am

adamposey wrote:Now, what logic is being used by the more northern monks who practice drinking? I think they call it "mindful drinking?"


Hi Adam

I'm not sure whereabouts exactly you are referring to with "northern", but considering that often the East Asian traditions are often called "northern Buddhism", I'd like to point out that Chinese monastics are just as strict about not consuming alcohol as Theravadins, from what I see. Moreover, they also basically include tobacco, and other intoxicants in the same category, too. I've only ever seen one Chinese monastic smoke cigarettes, but I think that he may have been one of the bogus monastics that the Communists put in the monasteries during the cultural revolution - in other words, not really a monastic at all. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, I'd say that a monastic drinking alcohol or smoking would very quickly be criticized heavily by the lay and monastic community.

Just thought I'd throw that in there. I guess it was worth writing, even if your original "northern" was referring to somewhere else! :)
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby PeterB » Fri Nov 06, 2009 8:19 am

mikenz66 wrote: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.

Metta
Mike

Precisely. I think that the Buddha's intention is clear here. He was not making a proclamation to be parsed and analysed. He was saying that certain activities would block or obscure our efforts to discover for ourselves the truth of what he was teaching. He said that deliberately harming others , misusing speech, indulging in or allowing the sexual exploitation of others, taking what is not freely given, and giving in to the desire to dull of perception of the world by substances that intoxicate will all tend to block those efforts. His guidelines are not only to do with what is ethical, although they are that, they are pragmatic. Certain behaviours have positive effcts for us, certain others have negative effects. That is how ( more or less ) much of the Buddhist world has interpreted the Buddhas words for more than two millenia. And its good enough for me.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Jechbi » Fri Nov 06, 2009 8:25 am

PeterB wrote:I think that the Buddha's intention is clear here. He was not making a proclamation to be parsed and analysed.

I agree with you. But I also agree with Kare when he writes:
Kare wrote:Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?


Please see this thread in the Pali language forum.

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

Postby PeterB » Fri Nov 06, 2009 8:39 am

Thanks for your reply Jechbi.

One of the ways it seems to me that we take an interest in what the Pali is saying in addition to a literalist interpretation of the words verbatim, is to see if there is a consensus that has emerged over the long centuries about what is being said. And I think that there is a consensus in the Theravada about the implications for how we actually behave in the light of this precept. From what Ven Huifeng says it seems that this consensus is shared by the Chinese Sangha/s too.
I think that the consensus view holds true even if the consensus is not 100%, and even if the logic is not watertight. Even indeed if it is the result of matters largely experiential. It will do for me.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Dhammanando » Sun Nov 08, 2009 5:17 am

Hi Adam,

Adam: 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,


“suraamerayamajjapamaada.t.thaanaa verama.nii sikkhaapada.m samaadiyaami.”

We have had one proposed translation of this from Kåre: “I undertake the training precept of abstaining from the condition of intoxication and carelessness caused by beer and cider (or, alcoholic drinks),” which he then interprets as enjoining moderation, or abstention from intoxication, rather than abstention from alcohol itself.

I disagree with both Kåre’s translation of the precept and his interpretation of it. Let me start by taking up his challenge to supply a grammatically plausible parsing and translation that would support the abstinence interpretation.

To do so I will use Nyanamoli’s rendering from his translation of the Majjhima Nikaaya, which I’m satisfied conveys the precept’s meaning faithfully:

“I undertake the rule of training to abstain from liquor, wine, and intoxicants, which are the basis of negligence.”

I don’t know how Nyanamoli himself arrived at this rendering, but I would do so like this:

1. First I would divide the compound ‘suraamerayamajjapamaada.t.thaanaa’ into two sub-compounds: ‘suraamerayamajja’ and ‘pamaada.t.thaanaa’. I take the relationship between these two halves to be an appositional one, wherein ‘pamaada.t.thaanaa’ states in brief what is to be abstained from, while ‘suraamerayamajja’ specifies it in detail. In English the relationship between the two halves will be indicated by some phrase such as ‘namely’, ‘that is to say’, ‘consisting in’ or (as Nyanamoli renders it) ‘which is/are’.

2. I agree with Kåre that ‘suraa’ and ‘meraya’ denote two kinds of alcoholic drink. In the commentaries suraa is said to be of five kinds: “flour liquor, cake liquor, rice liquor, liquor containing yeast, and liquor mixed with condiments.” And ‘meraya’ is likewise given as five kinds: “flower wine, fruit wine, sugar wine, honey wine, and that mixed with condiments.” Some modern scholars have arrived at other definitions based upon a survey of the use of these terms in the broader Indian context. But both approaches issue in the same general conclusion, namely, that taken together ‘suraa’ and ‘meraya’ encompass all alcoholic substances intended to be drunk for the pleasure of intoxication, while excluding alcohol intended for other purposes, for example as a paint-thinner or an ingredient in medicine.

3. Coming to ‘majja’, I see three plausible construals:
3.a. As an adjective qualifying both ‘suraa’ and ‘meraya’: “intoxicating liquors and intoxicating wines.”
3.b. As a noun used appositively with ‘suraa’ and ‘meraya’: “liquors that are intoxicants and wines that are intoxicants.”
3.c. As the third noun in an enumerative compound: “liquors and wines and substances that intoxicate.”

4. I take pamaada.t.thaanaa to be a genitive dependent-determinative compound in the ablative case: “from the basis/cause of negligence/heedlessness.”

5. I have no disagreement with Kåre regarding the remaining words in the precept.

6. And so on this parsing fairly literal translations might go:

A. “I undertake the rule of training [that is] abstinence from the basis of negligence, [consisting in] intoxicating liquors and intoxicating wines.”
B. “I undertake the rule of training [that is] abstinence from the basis of negligence, [consisting in] liquors that are intoxicants and wines that are intoxicants.”
C. “I undertake the rule of training [that is] abstinence from the basis of negligence, [consisting in] liquors, wines and intoxicants.”

Nyanamoli’s translation is then simply a more idiomatic rendering of C.

Translated in this way, clearly the precept is to be interpreted as involving abstinence from alcohol itself, and not the state of intoxication and negligence to which alcohol leads.

And so we have two grammatically feasible parsings of the precept, mine and Kåre’s, which issue in conflicting interpretations. That being so, clearly grammatical analysis by itself is not adequate to demonstrate the precept’s meaning. At best we can use it to rule out some of the more far-fetched proposals (e.g., Roshi Kennett’s interpretation that it means abstaining from selling alcohol).

Are there any other grounds for determining its meaning?

For those who trust the commentaries there can be no doubt at all that complete abstinence is enjoined, for in the commentarial view the consumption of even small amounts of alcohol is described as “involving blame” (savajja).

Likewise, for abhidhammikas there can be no doubt that complete abstinence is enjoined, for in the Abhidhamma the aaramma.na of the fifth precept is stated to be a ruupa dhamma. Alcoholic drinks are ruupa dhammas; intoxication and negligence are naama dhammas; therefore the object abstained from is alcoholic drinks, not intoxication and negligence.

For Sutta-only Theravaadins I suppose the matter might be a doubtworthy one, for I’m not aware of any Sutta passages that provide unambiguous support to either the abstinence or the moderation interpretation.

and how we should reconcile this with cultural and geographical norms.


I would say that the proper course is to evaluate these norms in the light of Dhamma, rejecting whatever in them is akusala and keeping in mind that the Dhamma goes against the stream.

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?


It’s true that this is the circumstance that led to the Buddha laying down the prohibition against alcohol for bhikkhus. However, as with any Vinaya training rule, its purpose is not to be limited to merely that of preventing the recurrence of the particular scenario that led to its being established. And in any case, this doesn’t have any bearing on the fifth precept for householders, which was expounded by the Buddha in a variety of ways and contexts.

Now, what logic is being used by the more northern monks who practice drinking?


Among some Tibetan Buddhists the logic goes something like this:

1. All kammically akusala actions are included in the list of ten unwholesome courses of action (akusala kammapa.tha): taking life, taking what is not given, misconduct in sense-pleasures, false speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, frivolous speech, covetousness, malice, and wrong view.
2. The consumption of alcohol is not included in the list of ten akusala kammapa.thas.
3. Therefore consuming alcohol is not in itself kammically akusala. (from 1 & 2)

But...

4. Since consuming alcohol was discommended by the Buddha, it must in some sense be blameworthy.
5. An act may be blameworthy either because it leads to akusala kammapa.thas or because it is itself an akusala kammapa.tha, or both.
6. Since consuming alcohol is not itself an akusala kammapa.tha, it must be blameworthy because (and only because) it leads to akusala kammapa.thas. (from 3 & 5).

But...

7. Not all consumption of alcohol is sufficient to give rise to the akusala kammapa.thas.
8. Therefore the fifth precept enjoins only abstention from consuming excessive alcohol, i.e., alcohol in such a quantity that the akusala kammapa.thas may reasonably be expected to result.

The Tibetan argument wouldn’t have been accepted by the Theravadin commentators, although they would have differed over the precise grounds for rejecting it. Buddhaghosa and Dhammapaala would have accepted points 1-6, but rejected 7-8, since it was their view that even the minutest quantity of alcohol leads at least to mental akusala. Buddhadatta and Sumangalasaami would have rejected premise 2, since it was their view that consuming alcohol is included in the akusala kammapa.thas under misconduct in sense-pleasures.

Best wishes,
Dhammanando
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Nov 08, 2009 5:33 am

Dhammanando wrote:For Sutta-only Theravaadins I suppose the matter might be a doubtworthy one, for I’m not aware of any Sutta passages that provide unambiguous support to either the abstinence or the moderation interpretation.


Hi Bhante,

Thanks for that detailed analysis!

How about Anguttara Nikaya 8.39 ? The English translation, at least appears to be unambiguous. Is the translation correct?

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

"Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants."
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Dhammanando » Sun Nov 08, 2009 6:13 am

Hi David,

David N. Snyder wrote:How about Anguttara Nikaya 8.39 ? The English translation, at least appears to be unambiguous. Is the translation correct?

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

"Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants."


I would say that it is less ambiguous than those suttas where one has to wrestle with the term pamaada.t.thaana, but not enirely unambiguous. If a reader wanted to insist on the moderation interpretation of the fifth precept he might argue that this sutta has no bearing on the question for it is merely stating what noble disciples do do, not what ordinary persons ought to do. In other words, he might treat the sutta as strictly descriptive, not prescriptive.

Best wishes,
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Nov 08, 2009 6:18 am

Thank you Bhante Dhammanando, for a clear and concise discussion.
If I may, I'd like to throw in a couple of thoughts viz some points raised therein:

Dhammanando wrote:...
Translated in this way, clearly the precept is to be interpreted as involving abstinence from alcohol itself, and not the state of intoxication and negligence to which alcohol leads.


Indeed. This is easily seen from reading the Pali, and identifying what is actually the object which is being abstained from.

And so we have two grammatically feasible parsings of the precept, mine and Kåre’s, which issue in conflicting interpretations. That being so, clearly grammatical analysis by itself is not adequate to demonstrate the precept’s meaning. At best we can use it to rule out some of the more far-fetched proposals (e.g., Roshi Kennett’s interpretation that it means abstaining from selling alcohol).


I wonder if Roshi Kennett's reading is, due to Zen influence, based upon the Bodhisattva precept (cf. Mahayana-brahmajala Sutra) of "restraint from selling alcohol"? and then reading that back into the earlier five precepts.

Are there any other grounds for determining its meaning?


We can see the sense of the northern Sthavira traditions through many texts in Chinese, whereby it is always alcohol that is being abstained from, and not intoxication.

Now, what logic is being used by the more northern monks who practice drinking?


Among some Tibetan Buddhists the logic goes something like this:

1. All kammically akusala actions are included in the list of ten unwholesome courses of action (akusala kammapa.tha): taking life, taking what is not given, misconduct in sense-pleasures, false speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, frivolous speech, covetousness, malice, and wrong view.
2. The consumption of alcohol is not included in the list of ten akusala kammapa.thas.
3. Therefore consuming alcohol is not in itself kammically akusala. (from 1 & 2)


I would also argue that in the earliest expressions of the "ten wholesome actions" that we have, actually, it was often "eleven", and "restraint from alcohol" was one of them. In other words, all five of the five precepts were included therein. Slightly later, we see that the list of eleven became ten. This can even be seen in later versions of the same text / sutra. (See Nattier, the Bodhisattva Path / A Few Good Men.) This may have several reasons, perhaps one is the schools that considered the first four precepts as "restraint by nature", ie. they are necessarily karmic offences, and consumption of alcohol as "restraint by obstruction", ie. not unwholesome by itself, but leading to unwholesome actions. Though, I am not sure whether this explanation precedes or follows the change from eleven to ten. In the end, early on, the Mahayana (and the groups from which it developed) also considered consumption of alcohol to be unwholesome.

But...

4. Since consuming alcohol was discommended by the Buddha, it must in some sense be blameworthy.
5. An act may be blameworthy either because it leads to akusala kammapa.thas or because it is itself an akusala kammapa.tha, or both.
6. Since consuming alcohol is not itself an akusala kammapa.tha, it must be blameworthy because (and only because) it leads to akusala kammapa.thas. (from 3 & 5).

But...

7. Not all consumption of alcohol is sufficient to give rise to the akusala kammapa.thas.
8. Therefore the fifth precept enjoins only abstention from consuming excessive alcohol, i.e., alcohol in such a quantity that the akusala kammapa.thas may reasonably be expected to result.

The Tibetan argument wouldn’t have been accepted by the Theravadin commentators, although they would have differed over the precise grounds for rejecting it. Buddhaghosa and Dhammapaala would have accepted points 1-6, but rejected 7-8, since it was their view that even the minutest quantity of alcohol leads at least to mental akusala. Buddhadatta and Sumangalasaami would have rejected premise 2, since it was their view that consuming alcohol is included in the akusala kammapa.thas under misconduct in sense-pleasures.

Best wishes,
Dhammanando


These things often involve various explanations of mind and mental states, a great example on how all that various Abhidhamma / Abhidharma "theory" is in fact directly applicable to daily actions, such as drinking or abstention from alcohol.

Thanks again for your post!
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby BlackBird » Sun Nov 08, 2009 7:25 am

I don't have anything to contribute.
But there are some very good posts going on in here.

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

Postby Jechbi » Sun Nov 08, 2009 8:05 am

Thank you Bhante, and thank you Bhante. :anjali:

I thought there might be some further explanation.
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby Kare » Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:15 am

Dhammanando wrote:Hi Adam,

Adam: 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,


“suraamerayamajjapamaada.t.thaanaa verama.nii sikkhaapada.m samaadiyaami.”

We have had one proposed translation of this from Kåre: “I undertake the training precept of abstaining from the condition of intoxication and carelessness caused by beer and cider (or, alcoholic drinks),” which he then interprets as enjoining moderation, or abstention from intoxication, rather than abstention from alcohol itself.

I disagree with both Kåre’s translation of the precept and his interpretation of it. Let me start by taking up his challenge to supply a grammatically plausible parsing and translation that would support the abstinence interpretation.

To do so I will use Nyanamoli’s rendering from his translation of the Majjhima Nikaaya, which I’m satisfied conveys the precept’s meaning faithfully:

“I undertake the rule of training to abstain from liquor, wine, and intoxicants, which are the basis of negligence.”

I don’t know how Nyanamoli himself arrived at this rendering, but I would do so like this:

1. First I would divide the compound ‘suraamerayamajjapamaada.t.thaanaa’ into two sub-compounds: ‘suraamerayamajja’ and ‘pamaada.t.thaanaa’. I take the relationship between these two halves to be an appositional one, wherein ‘pamaada.t.thaanaa’ states in brief what is to be abstained from, while ‘suraamerayamajja’ specifies it in detail. In English the relationship between the two halves will be indicated by some phrase such as ‘namely’, ‘that is to say’, ‘consisting in’ or (as Nyanamoli renders it) ‘which is/are’.

2. I agree with Kåre that ‘suraa’ and ‘meraya’ denote two kinds of alcoholic drink. In the commentaries suraa is said to be of five kinds: “flour liquor, cake liquor, rice liquor, liquor containing yeast, and liquor mixed with condiments.” And ‘meraya’ is likewise given as five kinds: “flower wine, fruit wine, sugar wine, honey wine, and that mixed with condiments.” Some modern scholars have arrived at other definitions based upon a survey of the use of these terms in the broader Indian context. But both approaches issue in the same general conclusion, namely, that taken together ‘suraa’ and ‘meraya’ encompass all alcoholic substances intended to be drunk for the pleasure of intoxication, while excluding alcohol intended for other purposes, for example as a paint-thinner or an ingredient in medicine.

3. Coming to ‘majja’, I see three plausible construals:
3.a. As an adjective qualifying both ‘suraa’ and ‘meraya’: “intoxicating liquors and intoxicating wines.”
3.b. As a noun used appositively with ‘suraa’ and ‘meraya’: “liquors that are intoxicants and wines that are intoxicants.”
3.c. As the third noun in an enumerative compound: “liquors and wines and substances that intoxicate.”

4. I take pamaada.t.thaanaa to be a genitive dependent-determinative compound in the ablative case: “from the basis/cause of negligence/heedlessness.”

5. I have no disagreement with Kåre regarding the remaining words in the precept.

6. And so on this parsing fairly literal translations might go:

A. “I undertake the rule of training [that is] abstinence from the basis of negligence, [consisting in] intoxicating liquors and intoxicating wines.”
B. “I undertake the rule of training [that is] abstinence from the basis of negligence, [consisting in] liquors that are intoxicants and wines that are intoxicants.”
C. “I undertake the rule of training [that is] abstinence from the basis of negligence, [consisting in] liquors, wines and intoxicants.”

Nyanamoli’s translation is then simply a more idiomatic rendering of C.

Translated in this way, clearly the precept is to be interpreted as involving abstinence from alcohol itself, and not the state of intoxication and negligence to which alcohol leads.

And so we have two grammatically feasible parsings of the precept, mine and Kåre’s, which issue in conflicting interpretations. That being so, clearly grammatical analysis by itself is not adequate to demonstrate the precept’s meaning. At best we can use it to rule out some of the more far-fetched proposals (e.g., Roshi Kennett’s interpretation that it means abstaining from selling alcohol).


Thank you for your analysis. Yes, your analysis is also possible. It is often possible to solve these large compounds in more than one way. The problem with your analysis, as I see it, is that it goes against the normal usage in Pali. The normal syntax for compounds is that the last element in the compound is the main element. In this case it is thana, the "condition" or "state" of being intoxicated.

The problem with my analysis is of course that it makes the precept less absolute than many people would like it to be. But the Buddha often gave rules that were more pragmatic than absolutistic, as for instance in the case of meat eating. Therefore, since the Buddha also in other issues was quite pragmatic, and since my analysis seems to be more in line with normal Pali syntax and usage, I still think this is the more plausible solution.
Mettāya,
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:21 am

I want to thank both Ven Dhammanando and Kåre for their excellent discussion of this issue.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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