Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

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

Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Oct 15, 2010 11:19 am

Neither I guess would the majority think " I am going to drink to the point of heedlessness " which is what the spirit of the 5th alludes to.
To interpret the 5th precept as a binding vow to teetotalism is a perfectly reasonable response.
However in my view seeing it as a guideline, a rule of training to use all we encounter with mindfulness is another reasonable response and one that is more in accord with experience of many who live in ordinary society.
Why is the current generation of Buddhists so keen to draw lines of minimum belief and behaviour for other Buddhists instead of talking responsibility for themselves ?
I wonder whether it reflects a need for certainty in an increasing volatile world.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 15, 2010 1:09 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Why is the current generation of Buddhists so keen to draw lines of minimum belief and behaviour for other Buddhists instead of talking responsibility for themselves ?
I wonder whether it reflects a need for certainty in an increasing volatile world.


Converts are often more strict than the natives.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Phra Chuntawongso » Fri Oct 15, 2010 2:18 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Neither I guess would the majority think " I am going to drink to the point of heedlessness " which is what the spirit of the 5th alludes to.
To interpret the 5th precept as a binding vow to teetotalism is a perfectly reasonable response.
However in my view seeing it as a guideline, a rule of training to use all we encounter with mindfulness is another reasonable response and one that is more in accord with experience of many who live in ordinary society.
Why is the current generation of Buddhists so keen to draw lines of minimum belief and behaviour for other Buddhists instead of talking responsibility for themselves ?
I wonder whether it reflects a need for certainty in an increasing volatile world.

I guess upon some reflection I would have to say that it is up to each individual as to how they interptret the precepts.
The other thing I must be mindful of is the fact that I am now a monastic.
As a lay person,when I took the precepts I would try my best(not always successfully)to keep my vows.WhenI was working I took all 5, mon-thurs and on sundays.On fridays and saturdays I left out the 5th precept.Not because I was going to drink,but because there was a good chance that I might and I did not want to break my vows if I could help it.
My wanting to keep them as best as I could probably stemmed from the fact that I had spent my teen years,fighting,stealing,lying etc and I was truly trying to be a better person and so for me they(precepts) became something to stick to.
As a monk the precepts are rules and there are varying consequences for breaking them.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby adosa » Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:05 pm

mettafuture wrote:But why do they like it? I'm not asking you specifically. I'm asking everyone. As a person who has never had a drink, I just don't get it.



Why? Because of prior contact leading to current craving. And anatta. Ultimately ignorance. But I'm still seeing quite a bit of judgement mind in your posts. Have you mastered contact/craving/suffering on all aspects?

kind regards,

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby paultraf » Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:45 pm

Hello,

I hope it's okay for a newbie to wade into this discussion...

I studied the Fifth Precept for a Master's dissertation entitled, 'Avoiding pamāda: An analysis of the Fifth Precept as Social Protection in Contemporary Contexts with reference to the early Buddhist teachings.'
http://www.chezpaul.org.uk/buddhism/MSt_dissertation.htm

From looking at the early texts, my impression is that the original guidance generally comes from the Vinaya from which cascade teachings for lay people. (It was the first time I had really explored the Vinaya – I found the stories that led to the rules very interesting! For translations I relied on Horner.) To make the work more practical, I carried out an online survey (on e-Sangha discussions, now offline) to see how people understood the precept and how they'd practise it in various social contexts. I was particularly interested to see if there were significant variations between different traditions.

Regarding the intended meaning, I focused on the notion of pamāda as it appears key; for the translation of this Pali term I've settled on heedlessness. On that basis, I think a cup of [black] tea is fine :smile: However, it indicates the very broad scope of intoxication (as described in suttas mentioned in this thread); in particular, some popular recreational activities, especially gambling, are not okay.

Regarding the notion of 'moderation', should the interpretation be: not to take alcohol or drugs 'to the point of intoxication'? In my readings, the texts of the Pali canon have generally settled on the rule that states not a drop. The only exception for this is for medicinal purposes. This comes from the account where alcohol was used in medicinal treatment for a bhikkhu named Pilindavaccha. Initially, on the advice of a physician, the Buddha allowed Venerable Pilindavaccha to take medicine that included strong drink mixed with oil, but the sick monk became intoxicated. So subsequently the rule for such medicines became stricter:
if neither the colour nor the smell nor the taste of strong drink appears in any decoction of oil, to drink oil mixed with strong drink if it is like this. [Mahavagga VI 13.1-13.2].


The Buddha also made a distinction between external application and internal consumption.

My own view of the precepts as a lay person are as rules of training, which are sincerely undertaken and renewed on a daily basis. The intention is to keep them fully and retain mindfulness of this commitment, but they're not commandments.

I'd be happy to try and answer questions about the research - methodology and findings. I'm sure a lot more could be done.

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Fri Oct 15, 2010 7:27 pm

I think I've read almost every reply in this thread, and I have yet to see a clear answer on why alcohol is required at all. From what I hear, there are a lot of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good, if not better, than their liquored-up counterparts. Why not drink those? My guess is that a lot of people have a minor dependency on alcohol. They rely on it to relax them, and to make them fit in and feel more comfortable in social environments.

But wouldn't it be better to find a natural way to calm and relax the mind that didn't rely on external drinks?

:meditate:

adosa wrote:
mettafuture wrote:But why do they like it? I'm not asking you specifically. I'm asking everyone. As a person who has never had a drink, I just don't get it.



Why? Because of prior contact leading to current craving. And anatta. Ultimately ignorance. But I'm still seeing quite a bit of judgement mind in your posts. Have you mastered contact/craving/suffering on all aspects?

kind regards,

adosa

Of course not. But I don't try to justify or find excuses for them either.

Paññāsikhara wrote:
mettafuture wrote:I really didn't mean for it to be that complicated.

If I had more room in the subject line, I would have put "Can a person who calls themselves a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?" If one chooses to undertake the 5 precepts, can they still drink alcohol in moderation? That's all I was wondering.


Okay, so somebody on one had chooses to makes the statement "I undertake the training to refrain from alcohol and intoxicating substances leading to negligence", but "can they drink alcohol in moderation"?

The precept is not "I undertake the training to refrain from becoming intoxicated", but "... to refrain from intoxicating substances".

And that's precisely my point.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 15, 2010 7:42 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:We are not all fortunate enough or perhaps meritorious enough Pannisikhara to live in the rarefied atmosphere of a monastery or under the Vinaya . Many of us have to rub along in the unrarified world of things as we find them....

Since, in my opinion, the fifth precept is actually rather easy to observe, I don't see the relevance of this statement. I haven't taken a drink for almost three years, but I've probably killed (insects), and certainly taken what was not given in various minor ways, and undoubtedly used false or harsh speech.

I haven't taken a drink because after my first retreat I didn't want to mess up the clarity of mind that I had at that point. I've occasionally noticed that accidental imbibing, such as alcohol from desserts, or second-hand smoke of dodgy origin, has a rather noticeable and unpleasant effect on my mind.

In the end it's a choice. These are simply recommended training rules that provide a starting point for the development of sila...

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 15, 2010 8:12 pm

mettafuture wrote:I think I've read almost every reply in this thread, and I have yet to see a clear answer on why alcohol is required at all. From what I hear, there are a lot of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good, if not better, than their liquored-up counterparts. Why not drink those? My guess is that a lot of people have a minor dependency on alcohol. They rely on it to relax them, and to make them fit in and feel more comfortable in social environments.

But wouldn't it be better to find a natural way to calm and relax the mind that didn't rely on external drinks?

Sensual pleasure is never "required". It's just something laypeople do.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby adosa » Fri Oct 15, 2010 8:21 pm

mettafuture wrote:I think I've read almost every reply in this thread, and I have yet to see a clear answer on why alcohol is required at all. From what I hear, there are a lot of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good, if not better, than their liquored-up counterparts. Why not drink those? My guess is that a lot of people have a minor dependency on alcohol. They rely on it to relax them, and to make them fit in and feel more comfortable in social environments.

But wouldn't it be better to find a natural way to calm and relax the mind that didn't rely on external drinks? :meditate:




It's not required, it's craved......like any other attachment. So it's best to have compassion for those that are still attached instead of judgement.

adosa wrote:
mettafuture wrote:But why do they like it? I'm not asking you specifically. I'm asking everyone. As a person who has never had a drink, I just don't get it.



Why? Because of prior contact leading to current craving. And anatta. Ultimately ignorance. But I'm still seeing quite a bit of judgement mind in your posts. Have you mastered contact/craving/suffering on all aspects?

kind regards,

adosa

mettafuture wrote: :group: Of course not. But I don't try to justify or find excuses for them either.


Who is justifying or finding excuses? So why haven't you stopped craving for (and acting on) those things in your life that cause you suffering?

Paññāsikhara wrote:
mettafuture wrote:I really didn't mean for it to be that complicated.

If I had more room in the subject line, I would have put "Can a person who calls themselves a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?" If one chooses to undertake the 5 precepts, can they still drink alcohol in moderation? That's all I was wondering.


Okay, so somebody on one had chooses to makes the statement "I undertake the training to refrain from alcohol and intoxicating substances leading to negligence", but "can they drink alcohol in moderation"?

The precept is not "I undertake the training to refrain from becoming intoxicated", but "... to refrain from intoxicating substances".

mettafuture wrote:And that's precisely my point.



Is it?


http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=2667

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 15, 2010 9:01 pm

adosa wrote: So it's best to have compassion for those that are still attached instead of judgement.


Are you implying that you have no attachments?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby adosa » Fri Oct 15, 2010 9:03 pm

Shonin wrote:
adosa wrote: So it's best to have compassion for those that are still attached instead of judgement.


Are you implying that you have no attachments?



Absolutely not!! I'm not sure how you read that. The subject is alcohol. "Still attached" to alcohol. Pardon me.

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 15, 2010 9:07 pm

Well then, let us all have compassion for each other's attachments and our own.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby adosa » Fri Oct 15, 2010 9:23 pm

Shonin wrote:Well then, let us all have compassion for each other's attachments and our own.



And I think that's been my point in this thread all along. We all have attachments and because someone doesn't have an attachment to alcohol doesn't make them more " Buddhist" then someone who does.

I prefer to have compassion for the person, not the attachment. For the struggle with attachment, not the object of the attachment.

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Fri Oct 15, 2010 9:30 pm

mettafuture wrote:I think I've read almost every reply in this thread, and I have yet to see a clear answer on why alcohol is required at all. From what I hear, there are a lot of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good, if not better, than their liquored-up counterparts. Why not drink those? My guess is that a lot of people have a minor dependency on alcohol. They rely on it to relax them, and to make them fit in and feel more comfortable in social environments.


I don't think anybody is saying that drinking alcohol is a requirement, only that sometimes people may have a pint or two with their mates because they want to and don't see it as that much of a danger to their practice. It's not much different from indulging in any other sense-pleasure (like drinking tea or coffee) except that excessive indulgence can lead to excessive carelessness. Would it probably be better if they didn't drink? Certainly. But is it on the same level as, say, killing, stealing, lying or committing sexual misconduct? I don't think so; unless, of course, one drinks and then breaks the other precepts due to their carelessness.

As I said before, one drink doesn't make me careless, and I don't beat myself up if I decide to have a pint with my mates or my girlfriend. I just note that I gave into this particular sense-pleasure and carry on with my practice. No excuses (I fully realize I broke the fifth precept), but no guilt, either.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Fri Oct 15, 2010 9:45 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:
mettafuture wrote:I really didn't mean for it to be that complicated.

If I had more room in the subject line, I would have put "Can a person who calls themselves a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?" If one chooses to undertake the 5 precepts, can they still drink alcohol in moderation? That's all I was wondering.


Okay, so somebody on one had chooses to makes the statement "I undertake the training to refrain from alcohol and intoxicating substances leading to negligence", but "can they drink alcohol in moderation"?

The precept is not "I undertake the training to refrain from becoming intoxicated", but "... to refrain from intoxicating substances".

They "can" do whatever they like, and "call" themselves whatever they like, but personally I would say that they are saying one thing, and doing something else, thus being either very deluded, a hypocrit or a liar.

If they didn't take that precept, I'd still personally say that they are a little foolish, but at least they wouldn't be saying one thing and doing another. I really have a strong dislike for hypocrisy.


Personally, I don't think that slipping up and indulging in a pint with your mates or girlfriend every once in a while necessarily makes you a hypocrite as much as, well, human. But if I'm wrong about that, then I'm just as much of a hypocrite as Sanghamitta. I occasionally go out and have a pint or two with my mates, even the 'Buddhist' ones. I even killed some ants that invaded my house and were laying siege to my refrigerator after I was unable to get rid of them within the confines of the first precept. I certainly felt terrible about it, but sometimes we're forced to make difficult decisions like that, and I made an 'unenlightened' decision to keep my food safe and my home ant-free.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Oct 15, 2010 9:46 pm

mettafuture wrote:But wouldn't it be better to find a natural way to calm and relax the mind that didn't rely on external drinks?


In Buddhism things can always be "better". It's better to observe precepts than not to. It's better to observe them strictly than loosely. It's good to observe five precepts, but even better to observe eight. It's good to lead a virtuous life, but better to live one of renunciation. It's better to ordain. It's better to be an ariya than an ordinary worldling. It's good to be a stream entrant, but better to be an arahant.

That's why this line of argument doesn't really settle much. No matter where you are on the path, there's always some way to be better. Someone is always nobler than thou.

yuttadhammo wrote:You'd really have to ask the Buddha, though it seems pretty clear to me... In fact, I think you are missing the point of what I said, which is that you can't argue on the basis of "occasional" or "moderate" since that is not how precepts work. Moderation renders the precept not a precept; one could equally ask, "what's so special about killing or stealing once in a while?" In all truth, probably not that much, but this doesn't take away from the fact that it's pretty darn good, both for your own mental development and for the benefit of other beings, to vow never to kill or steal.

Anyway, those activities you mention are included in the eight precepts, so while there obviously is some sort of distinction between them and alcoholic intoxicants according to the Buddha, bringing them up does nothing to further an argument in favour of moderation in regards to the fifth precept, unless you can show that the third and seventh of the eight precepts are also meant to be taken as guidelines for moderation, which I doubt is possible.

The Buddha's teaching is a specific path meant to lead one to a specific goal, and so there are specific rules to be followed for those following the path. I don't see what the problem is with suggesting that these rules be kept absolutely to the best of one's ability, both as a support for one's own practice, and as an example and support for the mutual observance by others in the community.


Bhante, I'm not disputing your point about the meaning of precepts. It was this one statement that gave me pause:

Simply put, how can one claim to be striving for sobriety (i.e. enlightenment) when one condones the use of intoxicants, claiming a state of non-harmful, moderate intoxication?


If we draw a general principle from this statement, we would be saying that it's wrong or hypocritical to be strive for enlightenment while still indulging in this or that sensual pleasure. If enjoyment of wine or beer is wrong on that count, so are all the other activities I mentioned earlier. But in that case, to be a lay Buddhist is to be a bad Buddhist, because almost by definition laypeople are those who have not given up certain worldly attachments.

Since the Buddha to my knowledge did not cast aspersion on sincere lay practitioners, the general principle doesn't hold and so it can't really be applied to alcohol use either. Now there are certainly other arguments against alcohol use -- such as the value of setting a better example for others and not supporting an unwholesome industry. Not to mention that the Buddha specifically singled out this particular conduct and made a precept about it.

It's just this one other argument that I'm quibbling over, as by implication it seems to be dissing a rather broad range of people.

:anjali:
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 15, 2010 10:01 pm

Jason wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:...
If they didn't take that precept, I'd still personally say that they are a little foolish, but at least they wouldn't be saying one thing and doing another. I really have a strong dislike for hypocrisy.


Personally, I don't think that slipping up and indulging in a pint with your mates or girlfriend every once in a while necessarily makes you a hypocrite as much as, well, human. ...

I don't think Ven Paññāsikhara is saying that "slipping up" is the problem. After all, these are "training rules". "Slipping up" is part of training... What I take him to mean is that if one is not going to take a precept seriously, what is the point in taking it at all?

To take a possibly less controversial precept, consider the precept to refrain from false speech. Do I break that? Of course! Do I try to learn from having broken it? Yes. Do I just say to myself: "Hh well, it's only a precept, samsara is tough..."? No.

Why is the fifth precept different from that?

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Fri Oct 15, 2010 10:25 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Jason wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:...
If they didn't take that precept, I'd still personally say that they are a little foolish, but at least they wouldn't be saying one thing and doing another. I really have a strong dislike for hypocrisy.


Personally, I don't think that slipping up and indulging in a pint with your mates or girlfriend every once in a while necessarily makes you a hypocrite as much as, well, human. ...

I don't think Ven Paññāsikhara is saying that "slipping up" is the problem. After all, these are "training rules". "Slipping up" is part of training... What I take him to mean is that if one is not going to take a precept seriously, what is the point in taking it at all?


Perhaps, but it seems that way to me the way it's worded, i.e., there's doesn't seem to be any qualification: if you take the precept and drink, you're "saying one thing and doing another."

And just for reference, when I say 'slip up,' I don't mean like an accident, but making a consciousness decision to do something knowing it violates one of the precepts for whatever reason. To be honest, I find it pretty damn hard being a lay-follower and not breaking one once in a while.

To take a possibly less controversial precept, consider the precept to refrain from false speech. Do I break that? Of course! Do I try to learn from having broken it? Yes. Do I just say to myself: "Hh well, it's only a precept, samsara is tough..."? No.

Why is the fifth precept different from that?


It's not, and that's my point. I think it's a little strong to say that a person who takes the precepts but breaks the fifth (or any other, for that matter) on occasion is a hypocrite. I take the precepts knowing that I'm probably going to break one on occasion, but I think that's better than not taking them at all, and I think Paññāsikhara would agree. What bothers, however is the part that comes after: "...but at least they wouldn't be saying one thing and doing another. I really have a strong dislike for hypocrisy."
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby yuttadhammo » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:01 am

I'm starting to think that an important reason the Buddha offered cut-and-dry rules of behaviour is so we wouldn't waste precious time debating such things in forums :)
Hold on yo your hat Bhante ,

Monk's don't wear hats, it's against our precepts.
because thats EXACTLY how the 5th precept works for many devout practising lay people who dont exactly go to the local temple and announce the fact.

Really? Then in what EXACT sense are they devout?
Its what makes the 5th different to the other precepts. One cant steal in moderation. One cant kill or lie in moderation.

Why not? Surely sometimes killing ants or mosquitoes won't destroy your chances of enlightenment? Or petty theft or fibs?
One can drink a glass of wine without being unmindful and many lay people do. Both in the west and in the east.

Yes, and you are missing the whole thrust of my argument with this statement.
A member of my household has written before about one of the most impressive lay people we know. He spends a good deal of the year on Vipassana retreats/ He is one of the most calm and compassionate and wise people I know. When he is not on retreat he has a glass of sherry every evening. His is not advocating that, or promoting that. The fact remains that his mindfulness and dedication to all aspects of Dhamma remain exemplary.

If you were a Buddha, your impression of this man would mean something to me... as it is, I can't see how this anecdotal story holds any weight in the argument, unless he happens to be so highly esteemed by the Theravada Buddhist world in general? I'm already negatively inclined towards him for not even being able to keep five basic rules of morality. Why is he drinking sherry again?
Life ain't always black and white.

No, you're right. And for that reason, the next thing we should do is abolish all traffic rules. From now on, as long as you are mindful and alert, everyone is allowed to drive on any side of the road at any speed, without the need for seat belts, traffic lights, or turn signals. Everyone should just use good judgement because, like your friend, they all have it and know exactly what is proper and what improper.

Monks have hundreds of precepts; not to drink alcohol is one of them. I've heard a rumour going around Thailand that monks are allowed to drink two fingers of alcohol. With that as a basis, one monk was arguing with me once, in much the same way as this forum, that this proves that the monastic rules are all about a person exercising their own good judgement, since two fingers in the lid of one's alm's bowl could get one stinking drunk. The problem? The two finger thing is a myth, probably started by monks who like alcohol. Monks can only take alcohol in medicines, etc., when there is no taste, smell or colour of the alcohol present (ie it has evapourated) (Mahāvagga VI.14.1).

Why should one see the fifth precept any different, given that it is perfectly clear from the grammar that one is choosing voluntarily to abstain from the alcohol itself, rather than some vaguely defined state of pamāda? The compound is pamādaṭṭhāna, which means something that is by nature a basis for negligence, and says nothing about the amount of alcohol or level of pamāda (which of course may be present even without drinking) as having anything to do with breaking or keeping the training rule.

One pernicious argument that seems to be going around is that we should not judge people for drinking in moderation, and therefore should ease up on our definition of the precepts. Obviously, the point of precepts is not to condemn others but, as I was trying to point out, such people, as with those who break any precept in moderation, are a bad example to others and a potential danger to themselves, considering how easily moderation becomes intoxication. It also smacks of spiritual laziness; if you can't keep simple precepts like these, how can you ever hope to find the way to free yourself from all suffering?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Dan74 » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:18 am

One pernicious argument that seems to be going around is that we should not judge people for drinking in moderation, and therefore should ease up on our definition of the precepts.


I've only ever offered something like the first part of the sentence above - "judging is unskillful". As for easing up on the precepts, generating ever deeper and stronger commitment to practice is vital in my opinion. So slacking off is the worst that can happen.

But priorities may differ. For some the 5th Precept will not rank high and yet they may practice extremely vigorously. Others may follow the precepts meticulously but their practice always stays skin-deep.

I think some room should be made for variation in this matter rather than a blanket approach. My understanding is that intention is the key.
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