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 Jason » Sat Oct 16, 2010 6:17 am

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. 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


So according to precedents set in the Vinaya, a glass of wine for your heart is probably out, but an opiate for pain is OK?
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Jason » Sat Oct 16, 2010 6:37 am

Ben wrote: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.


I'm not really worried about it myself, just curious as to what other people think about it from a more technical standpoint.

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.


That's interesting. I've recently read studies suggesting that alcohol may have affects which can offset the benefits to your heart, but nothing suggesting that those studies were invalidated. For example, the National Institute of Health's website states that there's "some evidence that people who drink moderately may be less likely to develop heart disease than those who do not drink at all," and that alcohol may "raise the good kind of cholesterol," but notes that alcohol has also been linked to things like cancer, high blood pressure, raised triglycerides, liver disease, etc. Do you think you could find that study again (if it's online, that is)?
Last edited by Jason on Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Oct 16, 2010 6:46 am

Jason wrote:
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. 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


So according to precedents set in the Vinaya, a glass of wine for your heart is probably out, but an opiate for pain is OK?


Depends on how one reads it. One could also read it as saying that where alcohol is part of a medicine, it is okay. The specific example given is what was done at that time. A case of the spirit but not the letter. Some of the other Vinayas do not necessarily state that it cannot have the flavor / taste of alcohol (may be a particular Theravadin take on it).

If one's pain is so bad that one needs an opiate, that is some pretty serious pain. The sort whereby if one doesn't take a painkiller, they can't think straight. I'm not sure if comparing this to drinking for the heart is that spot on. If their heart condition is so bad that they need medication or they are in 24/7 heart trouble, probably a glass of wine isn't the right medication, either.

At risk of going off track, I heard that a lot of the idea of "a glass of wine is good for the heart" was recently debunked. Someone found that it was more about socio-economic situations, not the wine itself. Those who had the habit of regularly drinking red wine tended to be more affluent, and thus had better lifestyles as a whole. Once the red wine factor was figured into the study, and made socio-economic peer studies, they found that those who refrained from drinking still had the better health. (Maybe it's like arguing that driving a Porsche is good for you, because Porsche drivers tended to be happier. Of course, anyone who has enough money to buy a Carrera 4 should find that they probably don't need to worry about a lot of things that the average person has to deal with!)

My guess would be that regular meditation would probably also be very good for one's heart!!
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sylvester » Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:13 am

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. 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



Hmm, how sick does one need to be in order to qualify for this allowance? I think up until the mid-80s, MDs in the States were prescribing MDMA/Ecstasy at low doses for couples as part of "marriage therapy", whatever that meant. So, might such a loss of kamacchanda towards one's spouse count as an illness? :quote:

Where's that old ad in GQ promoting loss of consortium as a disease treatable by MDMA? :rofl:
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:27 am

Sylvester wrote:
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. 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



Hmm, how sick does one need to be in order to qualify for this allowance? I think up until the mid-80s, MDs in the States were prescribing MDMA/Ecstasy at low doses for couples as part of "marriage therapy", whatever that meant. So, might such a loss of kamacchanda towards one's spouse count as an illness? :quote:

Where's that old ad in GQ promoting loss of consortium as a disease treatable by MDMA? :rofl:


Loss of kamacchanda sounds like great progression on the path to liberation! :tongue:
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sylvester » Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:29 am

A suffering to end suffering. :woohoo:
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:38 am

Jason wrote: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.

Well, at least you tried. I probably would have done the same thing. When it comes to mosquitoes, for example, I always try to brush or blow them away first. But nothing is forcing you to drink alcohol.

Regarding intoxicating medicines: Volitional actions drive our kamma. When someone is taking medicine, their intention is to get well, not intoxicated. But when someone is out drinking with their mates, the intention is typically different. Again, in those circumstances, you don't HAVE to drink.

The precepts aren't commandments. You can choose to accept them, deny them, or blow them off. But if you choose to undertake them, why would you want to openly break them if you didn't have to?

Jason wrote:
Ben wrote:Hi Jason,
Jason wrote: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?

I wouldn't drink it. I would ask him for a non-alcoholic alternative. Garlic is good for your heart too.

Jason wrote:That's interesting. I've recently read studies suggesting that alcohol may have affects which can offset the benefits to your heart, but nothing suggesting that those studies were invalidated. For example, the National Institute of Health's website states that there's "some evidence that people who drink moderately may be less likely to develop heart disease than those who do not drink at all," and that alcohol may "raise the good kind of cholesterol," but notes that alcohol has also been linked to things like cancer, high blood pressure, raised triglycerides, liver disease, etc. Do you think you could find that study again (if it's online, that is)?

Alcohol ain't the only thing that can improve your health. Lol.

http://www.nativeremedies.com/articles/ ... sease.html

There are a LOT of medically proven natural remedies available.

So why not try them?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Sat Oct 16, 2010 8:27 am

Another thread that has ended up chasing its own tail, round and round.

I am assuming that most people who read this forum are chronological adults able to exercise their own judgement,
Which is exactly what I am advocating that people should do re the fifth precept.
It is clearly a topic which arouses strong feeling and in some cases causes a e lapse into judgemental thinking and even a kind of of bullying tone. Some of the responses in my view breach right speech in their intemperance, Which is ironic when they are advocating temperance. Frankly I am getting pretty sick of logging on to Dhamma Wheel and finding some po-faced person telling someone else that they are not a Buddhist or are a second class Buddhist because they do such or dont believe such. Its like a bunch of Jesuits have taken over.
I have had nearly 40 years to think about these matters since I first took the precepts and I have reached a settled view. I frankly dont care much if anyone takes a different view.
I would suggest though before leaving the dog to chase its own tail that those who feel that they have a Buddha given right to judge others should examine their own motives. You worry me far more than those who have the occasional drink. I would guess that some of you have had bad experiences with alcohol yourselves or with those close to you.
Whatever the reason I suggest that you look to yourselves rather than pontificate to others,
Apart from anything else pontification is always counter productive.
Something that I have deliberately not mentioned because I didn't want to influence the debate by subjectivity is that I have not drunk alcohol for those 40 years. But I know far better and more conscientious Buddhists than me who do have the occasionally drink . There is a naive and childish view found on this forum that drinking a glass of wine will invariably intoxicate and lead to craving. Well it doesn't and it doesn't,,, not necessarily. There is an individual physiological response to alcohol just as there is to all we eat and drink.
Part of being a functioning adult is knowing what will effect us as individuals in terms of mindfulness.
Not telling others how they will or should react. I think a great deal of growing up is needed by the western Buddhist community in a number of areas. This and sexuality are two of them.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Oct 16, 2010 9:23 am

Sanghamitta wrote: I think a great deal of growing up is needed by the western Buddhist community in a number of areas. ...

Sure, but if you're so sure of your views why complain about others expressing theirs, and why not actually address what they said?

For example, I said that in my view the fifth precept is actually rather easy to keep compared to the others (unless you have a physical dependency). Your post seems to agree with that, so I don't really see why you find this discussion so distasteful.

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Sat Oct 16, 2010 9:46 am

I dont find the discussion distasteful per se Mike. I am more than happy to read the views of others concerning why they think a teetotal view is the only logical way for them.
What irks me the notion that those who take a different view need lecturing and putting right.
Its the hectoring tone. The need to correct. The puritanical need to question the values of others that i find distasteful.
I agree that the Fifth precept is the easiest to keep. precisely because it doesn't deal in absolutes ( and that is a view shared by many of the more experienced Buddhists )and allows for mature reflection.
What irks me is the same as what irks me on the Rebirth threads.

I accept literal post mortem Rebirth, but see it reduced by some to an acme. A criterion that allows some members to decide that other members are not in the club.
In the same way I do not drink but I refuse to stand by when not drinking becomes another means of judging the sheep from the goats and to feel smug and superior. And smugness and superiority drips from some of the replies.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 16, 2010 11:17 am

Hi Jason

I eventually found it:

The Heart Foundation does not recommend the following.
1. Consuming milk or dark chocolate for the prevention or treatment of CVD. Due to
processing to remove the bitter taste, most chocolate is a poor source of antioxidants,
and contains saturated and trans fats.
2. Drinking coffee for the prevention or treatment of CVD. If consuming coffee, drink only
paper-filtered, percolated, café-style (espresso) or instant (regular and decaffeinated), in
preference to boiled (such as Turkish-style) or plunger coffee. Consume less than five
cups per day.§
3. Drinking red wine or other types of alcoholic drinks for the prevention or treatment of
CVD.
http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteC ... _FINAL.pdf

Which is located in this document library:
http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/Profe ... fault.aspx
The media release (May 2010): http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteC ... %20May.pdf
And reported here (where I originally encountered it): http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/wellbei ... -uwev.html
kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 16, 2010 11:22 am

Hi Valerie,
Sanghamitta wrote:And smugness and superiority drips from some of the replies.

With respect, I don't see that on this thread.
kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Oct 16, 2010 12:20 pm

Ben wrote:Hi Jason

I eventually found it:

The Heart Foundation does not recommend the following.
1. Consuming milk or dark chocolate for the prevention or treatment of CVD. Due to
processing to remove the bitter taste, most chocolate is a poor source of antioxidants,
and contains saturated and trans fats.
2. Drinking coffee for the prevention or treatment of CVD. If consuming coffee, drink only
paper-filtered, percolated, café-style (espresso) or instant (regular and decaffeinated), in
preference to boiled (such as Turkish-style) or plunger coffee. Consume less than five
cups per day.§
3. Drinking red wine or other types of alcoholic drinks for the prevention or treatment of
CVD.
http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteC ... _FINAL.pdf

Which is located in this document library:
http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/Profe ... fault.aspx
The media release (May 2010): http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteC ... %20May.pdf
And reported here (where I originally encountered it): http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/wellbei ... -uwev.html
kind regards

Ben


Cheers, Ben. Some of the content here may just appear in one of my classes next week!
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Oct 16, 2010 12:20 pm

Sylvester wrote:A suffering to end suffering. :woohoo:


Poor Sylvester! :group:
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 16, 2010 12:34 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:Cheers, Ben. Some of the content here may just appear in one of my classes next week!
It was a pleasure to be of assistance, Venerable!
:namaste:
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sylvester » Sat Oct 16, 2010 12:38 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:
Sylvester wrote:A suffering to end suffering. :woohoo:


Poor Sylvester! :group:



Alas, Bhante, I wish I could be the object of your commiseration. Sadly, I'm still firmly in the grip of "it". Goodness knows if I'll be able to drop enough of it in time for my retreat next week...

Unless, of course, you're suggesting I divert some of "it" towards tantric practices?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:31 pm

Ben wrote:Hi Valerie,
Sanghamitta wrote:And smugness and superiority drips from some of the replies.

With respect, I don't see that on this thread.
kind regards

Ben

I was tempted to reply by highlighting Ben....but I dont want to be hoist with my own petard by being hectoring ...best to move on I think. :smile:
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:38 pm

Hi Valerie

If there is anything that you believe requires moderator attention, please feel free to hit the report button associated with the post in question and fill in the dialogue box.
If the offending post was written by a moderator and you believe that it requires a review by the admins, please feel free to go through the complaints procedure that is outlined in the Announcements section. Both process, from my point of view, appears to work well.
kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
Buddhist Life Stories of Australia

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Sat Oct 16, 2010 4:20 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:I would suggest though before leaving the dog to chase its own tail that those who feel that they have a Buddha given right to judge others should examine their own motives. You worry me far more than those who have the occasional drink.

I'm not trying to judge anyone.

Again, these are the only points I'm trying to make:
  • The 5 precepts aren't commandments, but they are very clear in what they recommend, and the 5th precept clearly recommends we at least try to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs.
  • The typical Buddhist undertakes 5 precepts. If you've undertaken the 5th precept, you should at least try to refrain from drinking.
  • You don't HAVE to drink. If you need something to improve your health, there are a lot of natural remedies and herbs available. If you need something that tastes good, there is a whole assortment of non-alcoholic beers and other drinks.

I would guess that some of you have had bad experiences with alcohol yourselves or with those close to you.

I haven't. At worst I've seen people get a hangover or sick from it.

Whatever the reason I suggest that you look to yourselves rather than pontificate to others,

I have looked to myself. I see problems, and I'm actively trying to fix them.

But do you see a problem with drinking? Why does anyone need to drink at all when there are so many non-alcoholic alternatives? Why do they need the alcohol?

There is a naive and childish view found on this forum that drinking a glass of wine will invariably intoxicate and lead to craving.

In a very subtle way, it can get in the way of mindfulness.

Even 1 or 2 drinks can decrease inhibition, judgment, and reaction time.
http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/cmed/alcohol/short-term.htm

Well it doesn't and it doesn't,,, not necessarily. There is an individual physiological response to alcohol just as there is to all we eat and drink.
Part of being a functioning adult is knowing what will effect us as individuals in terms of mindfulness.
Not telling others how they will or should react. I think a great deal of growing up is needed by the western Buddhist community in a number of areas. This and sexuality are two of them.

No one is telling you or anyone else to do anything. The only thing I'm suggesting is that if you aren't ready to undertake the 5th precept, you shouldn't undertake it, or try to reword it in a way that allows moderate drinking.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Sat Oct 16, 2010 4:27 pm

I dont drink Mettafuture. I took the precepts for the first time almost 40 years ago and did not drink much before, and not at all since.
BTW I was not "ready "40 years ago and my understanding of the precepts was not a once and for all matter. It is ongoing and continuous. Just as my Going For Refuge is a daily transformative process.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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