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 mettafuture » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:30 am

adosa wrote: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.

Where am I judging? All I've said in this thread is 1) If someone undertakes a precept to refrain from drinking, I don't understand how they can continue drinking, or re-word the Buddha's precept to allow moderate drinking. 2) I don't understand why drinking is needed at all with all of the delicious non-alcoholic drinks that are available. I had a Horchata about 2 hours ago. Mmm, mmm, tasty!

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

Who is justifying or finding excuses?

Everyone who claims to undertake the 5th precept and yet continues to drink.

So why haven't you stopped craving for (and acting on) those things in your life that cause you suffering?

How do you know I haven't? I live by almost 8 precepts now.

I don't kill, steal, lie, or drink. I'm not a sexual deviant. I eat on a schedule. I don't dance, sing, wear perfumes, watch TV, or go to the movies as often. I do play games on my iPod touch, but I don't absolutely need to. And I sleep on a small air mattress.

Yes, there are things I could improve, and other things I could renounce, but I never claimed everything I was doing was right. But the people who claim to undertake the 5th precept, and yet continue to drink, think what they're doing is fine. They have yet to acknowledge the contradiction in their actions.

"I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness. Now let's go out and have a beer!"
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:33 am

yuttadhammo wrote: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 mettafuture » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:51 am

Jason wrote:
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.

But refraining from intoxicants is one of the precepts.

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 full realize I broke the fifth precept), but no guilt, either.

Why can't you drink water with your mates and girlfriend? Serious question. I don't understand why alcohol and social meet-ups so often go hand in hand. Or you could drink a smoothie. They're very tasty, and they don't have any alcohol that can get in the way of mindfulness, even a little.

Lazy_eye wrote:
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.

Yeah, but more people could at least try to take the first steps - the 5 precepts and the 8-fold path. On the path you have right intention and right effort. I acknowledge I have attachments to sense pleasures, and issues with ill-will, and this is why I actively try to cut down on my indulgences, and practice metta meditation daily. I intend to renounce the things that get in the way of my mindfulness, and I am putting forth the effort to do so.

A person who sees nothing wrong with drinking, and actively looks for excuses to continue drinking, isn't trying to stop. This is the difference. Most of the people in this thread who are defending alcohol use don't see anything wrong with drinking.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Sat Oct 16, 2010 2:12 am

mettafuture wrote:But refraining from intoxicants is one of the precepts.


Yes, I know. I'm pretty sure I mentioned that in the post you've just quoted:

    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.

Why can't you drink water with your mates and girlfriend? Serious question. I don't understand why alcohol and social meet-ups so often go hand in hand. Or you could drink a smoothie. They're very tasty, and they don't have any alcohol that can get in the way of mindfulness, even a little.


I can, and sometime I do, but sometimes I prefer to try a well-crafted beer from the local brewery.

I'm glad that you're able to be stricter in keeping this particular precept than I am. It's a good thing. I also realize that I'm not a very good 'Buddhist' in the eyes of many because I occasional have a glass of wine or a pint of beer, but hey, at least I'm not lying about it. :D

And here's a question for you, Why does this seem to bother you more than my admission to killing some ants?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Sat Oct 16, 2010 2:22 am

yuttadhammo wrote: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?


Considering what I've written above, I guess I'm SOL. :shrug:

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Sat Oct 16, 2010 2:33 am

Jason wrote:
mettafuture wrote:But refraining from intoxicants is one of the precepts.


Yes, I know. I'm pretty sure I mentioned that in the post you've just quoted:

    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.

I need to start making it clearer when I'm making general statements and not direct, personal, replies. I meant that comment for everyone in this thread. I already know you acknowledge the faults in drinking alcohol.

Why can't you drink water with your mates and girlfriend? Serious question. I don't understand why alcohol and social meet-ups so often go hand in hand. Or you could drink a smoothie. They're very tasty, and they don't have any alcohol that can get in the way of mindfulness, even a little.

I can, and sometime I do, but sometimes I prefer to try a well-crafted beer from the local brewery.

Have you ever tried a well crafted non-alcoholic beer?

I hear good things about these guys:
http://us.clausthaler.com/

I'm glad that you're able to be stricter in keeping this particular precept than I am. It's a good thing. I also realize that I'm not a very good 'Buddhist' in the eyes of many because I occasional have a glass of wine or a pint of beer, but hey, at least I'm not lying about it. :D

Pssht. I've known you for awhile, and I think you're a perfectly fine Buddhist. I don't think anyone is less of a Buddhist because they drink. I'm just saying if someone undertakes a precept, they should at least try to uphold it. And if they're not ready to uphold it, they shouldn't undertake it.

And here's a question for you, Why does this seem to bother you more than my admission to killing some ants?

Because I haven't gotten to that post yet. Lol. But I will.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Oct 16, 2010 2:36 am

I reading through this thread and I cannot help but think of the beer song:



As a child (maybe 5 or 6), luckily I decided that alcohol has a great capacity to make people stupid, seeing it was so in my family. At that age I chose not to drink. 55+ years later I have not seen anything to really change my opinion.

Is a social, moderate consumption of a beer - not leading to the above display of stupidity - an un-Buddhist thing? Probably not, but this is something that the individual is going to have to wrestle with for themselves. Maybe a discussion such as this can help sort out the issues, but I am not sure there are absolute answers.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Oct 16, 2010 4:40 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:Best to just not take that precept, I figure.


Venerable,

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.


Hi Lazy_Eye,

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.)
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Sat Oct 16, 2010 4:53 am

mettafuture wrote:I need to start making it clearer when I'm making general statements and not direct, personal, replies. I meant that comment for everyone in this thread. I already know you acknowledge the faults in drinking alcohol.


Gotcha. When people make comments while quoting something I've said, I generally assume it's directed towards me and respond in kind. Force of habit, I suppose.

Have you ever tried a well crafted non-alcoholic beer?

I hear good things about these guys:
http://us.clausthaler.com/


No, I haven't. None of the local breweries I've been to around here have one, but I'd certainly try one if they did. I think that'd be great. There's one in MI I know of that brews their own root beer, though.

Pssht. I've known you for awhile, and I think you're a perfectly fine Buddhist. I don't think anyone is less of a Buddhist because they drink. I'm just saying if someone undertakes a precept, they should at least try to uphold it. And if they're not ready to uphold it, they shouldn't undertake it.


Yes, I agree that one should do their best to uphold any precepts they've undertaken, and as much as I hate to admit it, I think Phra Noah is right to say that not doing so smacks of spiritual laziness. I'm just not sure I see the benefit in criticizing people who aren't perfect in their virtue yet, as if Buddhism isn't a gradual path (MN 107). Some of us are just harder to train, that's all.

If people knew what I was like before I started practicing Buddhism, they'd most likely be amazed at the amount of progress I've made. I was no Angulimala, but... :evil:

Because I haven't gotten to that post yet. Lol. But I will.


I can't wait. :D
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Oct 16, 2010 4:56 am

I recall that in one of Ajahn Brahm's talks he said that at one time he was puzzled why some of the Thai lay people took the precepts with little fingers folded down. When he enquired it turned out that this meant they were only taking four, not five precepts. Something like the Western convention of crossing one's fingers when making a promise... Subsequently he saw some people with even more fingers folded down... :tongue:

I don't believe the "fingers down" practise has Canonical support, but it's an interesting idea...

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Phra Chuntawongso » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:03 am

I have seen samaneras taking their precepts and not being "fast enough" to to take the vow not to eat after midday.
I guess the preceptor needs to slow a little :jumping:
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:13 am

The funniest precept gaff I saw was when our Abbot accidentally slipped:
Abrahma-cariyā veramaṇī sikkhā-padaṃ samādiyāmi.
into the five precepts.

There was a stunned silence until he corrected it to:
Kāmesu micchācārā veramaṇī sikkhā-padaṃ samādiyāmi.

I thought it would have been interesting if the lay people (mostly women) had had to go back home to their husbands and tell them "Sorry darling, no sex this week.."

Mike
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:18 am

Here's a general question: is taking a prescription narcotic a breach of the fifth precept? For example, I was given a prescription for oxycodone after my hernia surgery earlier this year, and while it can be considered 'medicine,' it was far more intoxicating than alcohol.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:27 am

Greetings Jason,

I think from memory, in the Vinaya there is some precedent set for something alcoholic being permissible when used for medicinal purposes.

People generally infer from this precedent that such prescriptions would be permissible.

Sorry that's a little vague...

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:34 am

Hi Jason,
Jason wrote:Here's a general question: is taking a prescription narcotic a breach of the fifth precept? For example, I was given a prescription for oxycodone after my hernia surgery earlier this year, and while it can be considered 'medicine,' it was far more intoxicating than alcohol.

Well, I think it comes down to intention, doesn't it? If one takes a medicine which has an intoxicating side-effect with the intention of recuperating from illness or surgery, then there is no breach of the precept. If, however, the medicine was taken for its intoxicating effect, then there would be a breach of the precept. At least, that is my understanding.
kind regards

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby cooran » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:36 am

mikenz66 wrote:I recall that in one of Ajahn Brahm's talks he said that at one time he was puzzled why some of the Thai lay people took the precepts with little fingers folded down. When he enquired it turned out that this meant they were only taking four, not five precepts. Something like the Western convention of crossing one's fingers when making a promise... Subsequently he saw some people with even more fingers folded down... :tongue:

I don't believe the "fingers down" practise has Canonical support, but it's an interesting idea...

:anjali:
Mike

Actually Mike, there are other ‘crossed fingers’ practices too.

In Bodhgaya, many of the Pilgrimage group took part in the 8 Precepts ceremony at about 7.00 a.m.

At about 2.00p.m. on the first day, they chanted the words to end the observation of the eight precepts, and the ladies put on their make-up and all went shopping for Saris.

Apparently, this was what they did as children back in their country of origin (only took the 8 precepts for a few hours), and were a little surprised at the reaction of some of the non-srilankans.

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Phra Chuntawongso » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:43 am

Ben wrote:Hi Jason,
Jason wrote:Here's a general question: is taking a prescription narcotic a breach of the fifth precept? For example, I was given a prescription for oxycodone after my hernia surgery earlier this year, and while it can be considered 'medicine,' it was far more intoxicating than alcohol.

Well, I think it comes down to intention, doesn't it? If one takes a medicine which has an intoxicating side-effect with the intention of recuperating from illness or surgery, then there is no breach of the precept. If, however, the medicine was taken for its intoxicating effect, then there would be a breach of the precept. At least, that is my understanding.
kind regards

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My Sayadaw was talking about this last night.Even in the Buddhas days opiates were used as medicines.As he pointed out,(and he was a doctor before ordaining)taking medicines like morphine for instance are fine if prescribed by a doctor,however main lining on heroin is not.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:52 am

Ben wrote:Hi Jason,
Jason wrote:Here's a general question: is taking a prescription narcotic a breach of the fifth precept? For example, I was given a prescription for oxycodone after my hernia surgery earlier this year, and while it can be considered 'medicine,' it was far more intoxicating than alcohol.

Well, I think it comes down to intention, doesn't it? If one takes a medicine which has an intoxicating side-effect with the intention of recuperating from illness or surgery, then there is no breach of the precept. If, however, the medicine was taken for its intoxicating effect, then there would be a breach of the precept. At least, that is my understanding.
kind regards

Ben


That's was my initial understanding as well, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe the fifth precept is stricter than that, i.e., it doesn't say, "I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness unless my doctor says it's OK." For example, what if I were to drink a glass of red wine because my doctor says it's good for my heart?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:56 am

In the Vinaya (not exactly the pancasila, but the best thing we have as far as details go) there are a large number of precepts that have exceptions in the case of illness, eg. keeping of various medicines, etc. Several Vinayas have explicit exceptions to the use of alcohol where it is a medicine for a sick bhikkhu, but not for one who is not sick.

eg. "As for alcohol cooked in oil, this refers to a medicine used in the Buddha's time for afflictions of the "wind element." The Mahāvagga (VI.14.1) allows this medicine for use only as long as the taste, color, and smell of the alcohol are not perceptible." - Thanissaro
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 16, 2010 6:13 am

Hi Jason, Venerable and all,

Paññāsikhara wrote:In the Vinaya (not exactly the pancasila, but the best thing we have as far as details go) there are a large number of precepts that have exceptions in the case of illness, eg. keeping of various medicines, etc. Without checking the Pali, several other Vinayas have explicit exceptions to the use of alcohol where it is a medicine for a sick bhikkhu, but not for one who is not sick.


Venerable summed it up best here, I think. I think you (we) need to use our common sense and be guided by the Vinaya and the commentaries and act accordingly. I also recall a private discussion I had with Ajahn Dhammanando on the subject of medicines with intoxicating effects and his reasoning (with support from the Vinaya and other texts) was that taking those substances for the intention of its medical benefit was not in breach of the precepts. By the by, I was actually interested to read not so long ago that an analysis of the studies which supported a glass of red wine for heart health, were found to have methodological errors which invalidated the findings.
kind regards

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