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 yuttadhammo » Wed Oct 20, 2010 7:12 am

More Pali, just in case :)
majjanti tadubhayameva madaniyaṭṭhena majjaṃ, yaṃ vā panaññampi kiñci atthi madaniyaṃ, yena pītena matto hoti pamatto, idaṃ vuccati majjaṃ.


The meaning of "majja" is: the very pair of those (surā and meraya) are "majja" in the sense of being intoxicants, or whatever other substance there is that is an intoxicant, by the drinking of which one is intoxicated and heedless, this is called "majja".

pamādaṭṭhānanti yāya cetanāya taṃ pivati ajjhoharati, sā cetanā madappamādahetuto pamādaṭṭhānanti vuccati, yato ajjhoharaṇādhippāyena kāyadvārappavattā surāmerayamajjānaṃ ajjhoharaṇacetanā "surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhāna"nti veditabbā.


The meaning of "pamādaṭṭhāna" is: by whatever intention one drinks them, swallows them, that intention is called "pamādaṭṭhāna" through being a cause for intoxication and heedlessness. From the passing through the bodily orifice due to the purposeful swallowing, the intention in swallowing surā and meraya should be understood as "surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhāna".

-- KN KhP 2. sikkhāpadavaṇṇanā purimapañcasikkhāpadavaṇṇanā


Hope I got the translation right.

In light of this, I think it would be also wrong to advise any medicine causing intoxication be taken by those keeping this precept. The allowance for monks specifically states, as quoted twice now, that alcohol-based medicine is for use only as long as "na vaṇṇo na gandho na raso paññāyati" - the colour, smell and taste are not evident (Mahāvagga VI.14.1), meaning that at the time of taking there is no alcohol left (it having evapourated). What's funny is that, according to Thanissaro, "from this point, the Vinaya-mukha argues that morphine and other narcotics used as pain killers are allowable as well."

I don't have the Vinaya mukha (a Thai summary of and commentary on the Vinaya) handy, but it hardly seems to follow; the reason for the Buddha disallowing colour, smell and taste of alcohol is obviously not because of the colour, smell and taste themselves, but because of his immediately preceding injunction: "na, bhikkhave, atipakkhittamajjaṃ telaṃ pātabbaṃ." Which means, "oil with excess majja mixed in is not to be ingested." Here the medicine is the oil, not the majja - the latter being simply a necessary ingredient in the cooking (pāka) process that evapourates by the end, so the only way this could suggest allowing morphine is in regards to a case where morphine was a necessary part of the mixing process of a different nonintoxicating medicine, through which process the morphine was rendered impotent.

On a path where death is to be faced with courage, where is the room for painkillers to dull sickness, let alone a glass of sherry to dull anxiety?
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Oct 20, 2010 7:46 am

And there's the rub Bhante.....you are assuming that you know why another person who you do not know would have a glass of sherry..as an anxiolytic. The reality for people of a certain age who have had a glass of sherry on occasion over a long period is that is that the amount of alcohol would have a negligible effect on their metabolism which has long ago adapted to that intake.
I dont drink coffee, on the rare occasions when I do I experience an elevated pulse rate. Someone who drinks coffee on a regular basis, even if they stop for periods , for example when on retreat, are likely to experience no discernable physiological response at all.
Please lets not assume a knowledge of psychopharmacology that we may not have in order to make a point.
Young people in social situations and perhaps some older people may well use alcohol as a disinhibitor. That however does not cover all the uses of alcohol in differing subjects in a variety of contexts.

It still comes down in my view to the same principle, lets worry about what we do. Not about what she/he does.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby mettafuture » Wed Oct 20, 2010 3:27 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:It still comes down in my view to the same principle, lets worry about what we do. Not about what she/he does.

This thread isn't about getting in people's personal business. It's about whether or not the 5th precept, when undertaken, leaves room for moderate drinking. In conclusion, it doesn't.

If one chooses to undertake the 5th precept, and yet continues to go out on Friday nights for alcohol, they're basically saying "I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness. Now let's go out and have a beer!"

Everyone here is free to do whatever want. It's not any of my business, or the business of anyone else. But if you want to be honest with yourself, you shouldn't undertake the 5th precept until you're at least willing to give up drinking for the sake of drinking. There are still a lot of other excellent teachings to practice contemplate. The Buddha did teach a gradual training after all. Not everything has to be tackled at once.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby yuttadhammo » Wed Oct 20, 2010 3:46 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:And there's the rub Bhante.....you are assuming that you know why another person who you do not know would have a glass of sherry..as an anxiolytic.

That wasn't at all the point of my post, but since it does seems to rub you the wrong way, you're right, I don't know why anyone who calls themselves a devout Theravada Buddhist would have a glass of sherry at all. My (ancillary) point there was that taking sherry to calm the nerves has no place in Buddhist practice. If there is any other reason to drink sherry, I can't imagine it would fare any better.
It still comes down in my view to the same principle, lets worry about what we do. Not about what she/he does.

I don't think anyone here is worrying about what others do... We are having a rational discussion about certain behaviors and the consequences thereof. Some of us are, I think, concerned that people will misunderstand the Buddha's teaching and therefore spread what is not dhamma as being dhamma, or what is not vinaya as being vinya, and that is why I spent the time translating the Pali passage, which I hope you read and understood.
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Oct 20, 2010 4:18 pm

Ah yes life's wee mysteries and why people do what they do. And they do dont they ? They really do.
Here we are with everything all worked out and given to them on a plate with proper Pali translations and no ambiguiity, and I'm blowed if folk dont go and act in totally illogical ways. its a puzzle. Perhaps they are lazy. Perhaps they imbued with original sin... Its a darned cheek...And a slippery slope. One glass of sherry and next thing they are all running out of the Wat a rapin' and a murderin'...its just plain wrong...and if they are in Thailand or Burma no doubt shouldering aside the throng of Bhikkhus who have slipped out for a smoke. But that's ok because the Buddha didn't know about tobacco so they are free to puff themselves mindfully into an early grave with a clear conscience.

Personally I am going to take responsibility for myself and encourage others to do the same....
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Re: Can a Buddhist drink alcohol in moderation?

Postby yuttadhammo » Wed Oct 20, 2010 7:54 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Personally I am going to take responsibility for myself and encourage others to do the same....


Me too :)
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