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 Lazy_eye » Sun Oct 17, 2010 12:28 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote: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 sounds like a practical and workable approach. I've done something similar in switching to a vegetarian diet.

Didn't realize engineering students could be such hard partiers! At my school, they were better known for bringing calculators along when going out to dinner. Settling the bill often took as long as the dinner itself. :tongue:

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.)


Makes sense.

Many marriages fail in the later years when sexual attraction fades or disappears. Focusing on dhamma practice could provide a happier alternative to the quest for eternal youth.

:anjali:
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:57 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby adosa » Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:48 pm

Mettafuture,

Is there nothing that you crave or cling to, and then act on? It's the same with others. Haven't you observed this with your mind? They (we) sometimes turn to things we shouldn't because of past habits leading to craving leading to becoming. Personally I struggle with it sometimes as dukkha can become too much at times and I would rather socialize with friends for a break. What's so hard to understand about that? Is it right? No. Am I making an excuse for it?.....well you'll ultimately be the judge it seems.

Maybe you are more wholesome than I am. I really don't care. A very wise man once said something to the effect....."It's not what they have or haven't done, it's what you have or haven't done."

Maybe this sutta will make my point. Read it, please and it may help your progress.

http://www.vipassana.info/005-anangana-sutta-e1.htm


adosa (a four precept holder...working on the fifth but evidently failing)
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby PeterB » Mon Oct 18, 2010 12:31 pm

As I am sure Adosa knows the " very wise man" was the Buddha himself..Dhammapada 4 7....who said " What others do or do not do is not my concern ..what I myself do and do not do, that is my concern ".
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby bodom » Mon Oct 18, 2010 2:12 pm

PeterB wrote:As I am sure Adosa knows the " very wise man" was the Buddha himself..Dhammapada 4 7....who said " What others do or do not do is not my concern ..what I myself do and do not do, that is my concern ".


Welcome back Peter.

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The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Tue Oct 19, 2010 5:13 pm

adosa wrote:Is there nothing that you crave or cling to, and then act on?

Of course. For example, I'm a big fan of technology. But the Buddha never suggested we refrain from using it. After undertaking the 5 precepts, I make a conscious effort to refrain from the things I said I would refrain from.

My point is very simple. If you're not ready to undertake the 5th precept, don't undertake it. But if you do undertake it, you shouldn't try to bend or reword it in a way that permits moderate drinking.

Personally I struggle with it sometimes as dukkha can become too much at times and I would rather socialize with friends for a break.

Why can't people socialize while drinking a non-alcoholic beverage? Just yesterday I was out with a group of people. They ordered alcohol, and I ordered a Sprite. It's really not that hard to pick something different from the menu. Or is it? Maybe I'm missing something. And again, I'm not judging anyone. I honestly don't get it, and I'm trying to better understand the need for alcohol.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 19, 2010 5:37 pm

Constantly repeating that you dont get it suggests that in fact you ARE forming a judgement of other peoples behaviour. Why SHOULD you "get it " ? How is it your business what others do ?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 19, 2010 5:53 pm

PeterB wrote:As I am sure Adosa knows the " very wise man" was the Buddha himself..Dhammapada 4 7....who said " What others do or do not do is not my concern ..what I myself do and do not do, that is my concern ".


I think that this cant be quoted too often.

Taking the precepts is often done in a group, but it is not a group activity. We each take them for ourselves alone. It is entirely a matter between ourselves and , perhaps , our Dhamma mentors.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Tue Oct 19, 2010 6:19 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Constantly repeating that you dont get it suggests that in fact you ARE forming a judgement of other peoples behaviour.

To judge something is to express an opinion or "judgement" about it, and I have yet to say whether I personally think drinking is right, wrong, good, or bad.

Why SHOULD you "get it " ? How is it your business what others do ?

If I don't understand why alcohol and social interactions so often go hand in hand, why shouldn't I be allowed to ask for an explanation?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 19, 2010 6:26 pm

You can ask until you are blue in the face if that seems useful to you. Exactly what do you expect by way of a reply ? On a Buddhist website a detailed description of the delights of alcohol ? Why not go to a Vegetarian website and repreatedly ask why people eat pork chops ? Probably very few people who post on this forum drink much at all...many not at all. Exactly what are you wanting ? To have teetotal or semi teetotal people explain to you why people drink...does that seem rational to you ?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Tue Oct 19, 2010 6:45 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:You can ask until you are blue in the face if that seems useful to you. Exactly what do you expect by way of a reply ?

A better understanding.

On a Buddhist website a detailed description of the delights of alcohol ?

I didn't ask for that. All I wanted to know was why alcohol and social meetups so often go hand in hand. It seems like a fairly simple question.

Why not go to a Vegetarian website and repreatedly ask why people eat pork chops ?

I doubt there would be many people defending pork chop meals on a vegetarian website.

Probably very few people who post on this forum drink much at all...many not at all. Exactly what are you wanting ?

A simple answer to a fairly simple question.

To have teetotal or semi teetotal people explain to you why people drink...does that seem rational to you ?

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

Postby Sobeh » Tue Oct 19, 2010 9:53 pm

Not the faults of others, nor what others have done or left undone, but one's own deeds, done and left undone, should one consider.

~Dhammapada -verse 50- (Pupphavagga - Flowers)
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby adosa » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:04 pm

mettafuture wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:You can ask until you are blue in the face if that seems useful to you. Exactly what do you expect by way of a reply ?

A better understanding.

On a Buddhist website a detailed description of the delights of alcohol ?

I didn't ask for that. All I wanted to know was why alcohol and social meetups so often go hand in hand. It seems like a fairly simple question.

Why not go to a Vegetarian website and repreatedly ask why people eat pork chops ?

I doubt there would be many people defending pork chop meals on a vegetarian website.

Probably very few people who post on this forum drink much at all...many not at all. Exactly what are you wanting ?

A simple answer to a fairly simple question.

To have teetotal or semi teetotal people explain to you why people drink...does that seem rational to you ?

Yes.



I have no idea why I'm doing this but for the third time I'll try......Contact/Craving/Clinging/Becoming. Is that simple enough? I suppose not because it must be seen in action within one's own mind for it to be understood.

Is there nothing you cling to? If so why don't you just stop? Anatta possibly to some degree? Whatever it is you cling to wouldn't you say it leads to becoming? And isn't that what we are striving to cease? Why would this be different for anybody else no matter what the object of clinging is?

That's my last crack at answering your question which I guess has morphed from "Can a Buddhist drink in moderation?" to "Why do alcohol and socializing so often go hand in hand?"

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:49 pm

Sobeh wrote:Not the faults of others, nor what others have done or left undone, but one's own deeds, done and left undone, should one consider.

~Dhammapada -verse 50- (Pupphavagga - Flowers)

"Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the fifth gift, the fifth great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & priests. And this is the eighth reward of merit, reward of skillfulness, nourishment of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable, & appealing; to welfare & to happiness."

~Abhisanda Sutta

adosa wrote:
mettafuture wrote:I didn't ask for that. All I wanted to know was why alcohol and social meetups so often go hand in hand. It seems like a fairly simple question.

I have no idea why I'm doing this but for the third time I'll try......Contact/Craving/Clinging/Becoming. Is that simple enough?

Carefully look at my question, and look at the answer you gave.

Is there nothing you cling to?

Like I said, I love me some technology.

If so why don't you just stop?

Because I agreed to live by 5 precepts, and I'm not breaking any of them by enjoying technology.

Why would this be different for anybody else no matter what the object of clinging is?

Because one is breaking a precept and another one isn't.

That's my last crack at answering your question

But you haven't answered it. You gave some vague pseudo-Buddhist answer, and then started asking me a bunch of questions. It's a REALLY simple question. When people go out to socialize, why do they all usually order an alcoholic beverage? Does it improve the quality of the conversation somehow? Is it easier for people to be around each other when they're a little intoxicated?

which I guess has morphed from "Can a Buddhist drink in moderation?" to "Why do alcohol and socializing so often go hand in hand?"

Yes, because many "moderate drinkers" usually drink during social meet-ups, and I'd like to know why. I'm not demanding to know why. I'd just like to have a better understanding.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 19, 2010 11:22 pm

I give up.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:41 am

Greetings MF,

mettafuture wrote:
which I guess has morphed from "Can a Buddhist drink in moderation?" to "Why do alcohol and socializing so often go hand in hand?"

Yes, because many "moderate drinkers" usually drink during social meet-ups, and I'd like to know why. I'm not demanding to know why. I'd just like to have a better understanding.

Perhaps I can help. Alcohol is a 'social lubricant'. It has pleasurable psycho-physical effects even in small quantities. It helps people to relax, feel 'good' and a little less constrained by inhibitions. In some cultures, there is a social norm to consume alcohol in some social situations. My experience over 25 years has been that there is decreasing pressure on me in this society to drink during social gatherings.
kind regards

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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:53 am

Ben wrote:Greetings MF,

mettafuture wrote:
which I guess has morphed from "Can a Buddhist drink in moderation?" to "Why do alcohol and socializing so often go hand in hand?"

Yes, because many "moderate drinkers" usually drink during social meet-ups, and I'd like to know why. I'm not demanding to know why. I'd just like to have a better understanding.

Perhaps I can help. Alcohol is a 'social lubricant'. It has pleasurable psycho-physical effects even in small quantities. It helps people to relax, feel 'good' and a little less constrained by inhibitions. In some cultures, there is a social norm to consume alcohol in some social situations.

Thank you.

That's all I was asking for. Now it makes a little more sense.

My experience over 25 years has been that there is decreasing pressure on me in this society to drink during social gatherings.
kind regards

Ben

Same here.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Oct 20, 2010 2:42 am

I'm glad Ben gave you that answer because otherwise I was going to have to. :smile:

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

Postby yuttadhammo » Wed Oct 20, 2010 6:02 am

mettafuture wrote:"Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the fifth gift, the fifth great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & priests. And this is the eighth reward of merit, reward of skillfulness, nourishment of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable, & appealing; to welfare & to happiness."

~Abhisanda Sutta


Yes, that was the wonderful sutta I was thinking of. It made me cry when I started taking the precepts to know the positive effect it would have on others as well.

I don't think anyone has examined the actual Pali of the fifth precept in this thread, and perhaps doing so would help encourage understanding, as well as soften some of the hard feelings here (apologies if I have helped cause them):

The precept is "surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇīsikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi".

samādiyāmi = I take upon myself

veramaṇīsikkhāpadaṃ = a course of training that is the abstention

surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā = from surā and meraya which are intoxicants and bases for negligence.

To me it seems two things are clear from this formation:

1) as already said, there is no room for moderation; one takes the substances or one abstains from them.
2) one is taking the precept upon oneself.

So, I think if the question were "can someone keep to the five precepts and still drink in moderation?", the answer would be no. I am not sure if anyone here still disagrees with that, but I hope we can all see that the Pali is quite clear.

But in regards to the OP, I don't think the answer is so clear. Personally, I can't imagine calling myself a follower of the Buddha and not at least trying to follow the precepts he laid down, but I can imagine (and know many) others who admire the Buddha and try to follow his teaching, but fail even in the five precepts due to their personal kilesa. Many others admire the Buddha in some way or other but don't even try to train themselves in these five, either because they don't see the importance, or are just plain lazy. I would hope it is clear that drinking in moderation falls into one of the latter two categories.

I don't think anyone here would denounce those who are trying but failing to follow the Buddha's teaching as being "not Buddhist"; for those who are not trying because they are just plain lazy, I think there is room to ask, "in what sense are they Buddhist?" but the answer might be that faith in the Buddha is enough to make someone Buddhist. It depends on your definition.

The only other category, then, is those who don't see the importance in keeping the precepts, or in keeping them all the time. Moderation in drinking, they say, is not intoxicating (which of course is a value judgement), and therefore not harmful to the practice of the Buddha's teaching. Again, it is pretty much up to whether you call such person Buddhist - someone who you could say agrees with the dhamma but not perhaps the vinaya.

In conclusion, I think the problem is not the "drinking in moderation" part of your question. The problem is your use of the term "Buddhist", without defining what you mean by it for us. Once you can do that, I hope this will help give you the answer for which you are seeking :)
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 20, 2010 6:08 am

Nice post, Bhante!
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby bazzaman » Wed Oct 20, 2010 6:57 am

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