Paññāsikhara wrote:Best to just not take that precept, I figure.
Is there the option of taking four precepts?
I have been wondering about this for awhile. Although I haven't taken the precepts formally, I endeavor to observe them -- still, I allow myself the rare glass of wine or beer on certain family and business occasions. So perhaps it would be better to wait until I can observe the fifth precept fully.
On the other hand, my general observance of the precept is probably more thorough than with several of the others. The difference is that with the others, I make unintended lapses whereas with the fifth I have made a decision not to refrain completely.
A couple of points to answer on this question.
I'm not sure about the usual Theravada POV, but knowing that you have connections with other traditions, I can say that in Chinese Buddhism, there is very early canonical support and therefore the actual practice of choosing whatever of the five one wishes to uphold. If it is taking precepts as a group, one simply does not recite that particular precept that one is not taking; or if by oneself, well just take whatever precepts one feels one can take.
Ultimately, precepts are more about one's own intentions. We needn't take them as either a "five or nothing" approach. One could skillfully make a particular adaption for one's own situation. There are also canonical bases for this, too, so it is not exactly something new.
For instance, one could begin the training in the first four precepts, and for the fifth maybe try something like: "Uphold the training precept of refraining from alcoholic and intoxicating substances from Sunday to Thursday"; and thus give yourself the weekend. This is good practice, gradually building up on one's ability to refrain. Or even cut it down to only Saturday as allowable for oneself. One may thus find that one has to skip on some social engagements, but participate in others. As time goes on, one may find that when the weekend or Saturday comes, one simply isn't interested in a drink at all. Gradually one moves into a full restraint mode, or close. At this point, one may make the resolution to "refrain from alcohol and intoxicants" completely.
Or, take the precept to refrain completely for a period of time, eg. one year, one month, or whatever. I remember as a Uni student - and I studied Engineering, which is notorious for crazy alcoholic behavior - myself and friends would sometimes take a break, and refrain for a while. One friend did it for a bet, he was rather an alcoholic undergrad, and even one month without drinking was a stretch! I did this a couple of times, for a couple of months each. Some time later, reflecting on this, I noticed that I was just as happy during that time of abstinence, and this helped make the decision to refrain completely.
This is a bit like the standard precept of refraining from sexual misconduct, then going to the eight fast-day precepts, and aiming for full restraint. In fact, some traditions do have a lay five precept option whereby the third precept is celibacy, even restraint with one's own partner / spouse. This may be particularly good for older couples, who wish to refrain married and happy in a strong relationship, but give more time to their Dhamma practice. (A bit like many societies wherein retirement is a time to turn more towards religious practice.)