We’ve had a few interesting posts on the website this past week concerning the fifth precept:
‚ÄúI undertake the training rule to abstain from drinks and drugs that cause heedlessness.‚Äù
That seems pretty straightforward, and in ancient times, it probably was as simple as it seems. But is it still valid?
Note, this discussion took place at http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/99 (The one about the other precepts)
A Reader recently Wrote:
I have disagree with the notion this precept is telling the practitioner to abstain from all drugs. The best medical studies show that moderate amounts of alcohol and caffeine have beneficial consequences. Why should Buddhist precepts contradict new discoveries in science? If Buddhism is about reality and its true nature, I think it’s time to live the spirit of the precept (avoid that which, for you, could lead to heedless behavior) rather than the letter. This would mean a person with a genetic predisposition towards addiction (heedlessness) might have to weigh the benefits vs. obstacles of drinking or using a drug much more carefully than one who can easily handle, say, a glass of wine every day (especially if prescribed by a doctor) or an occasional marijuana joint. Also, you said this precept even covers caffeine, but weren’t Zen Buddhist monks known for their use of green tea? In short, this precept seems to be more about avoiding heedlessness, not about which substances you choose to use. Under a strict reading of the precept, even chocolate contains a drug that could lead to heedlessness. I think the key focus should be on one’s behavior subsequent to taking a drug or drink. If the behavior leads to suffering, stop using ‚Äî if not, why stop?
I am personally still not convinced about the benefits of alcohol that some studies have shown; I think that the tendency to overdo it outweighs any small potential health benefits. It’s just too easy to start down the path to a real addiction problem. That’s just my opinion.
‚Äúthis precept seems to be more about avoiding heedlessness, not about which substances you choose to use.‚Äù
No, I absolutely disagree on this. It specifically mentions intoxicants, there is no vagueness about it. I think in this case it is very clear that they mean intoxicant-induced heedlessness. General ‚Äúsober stupidity‚Äù is another matter entirely, and there are plenty of prohibitions against that sort of foolishness in Buddhism.
I personally don’t drink alcohol (ever) or take any kind of non-medicinal drugs. I do, however, love my caffeine, whether in coffee or soda. I see little harm in it, but I can see where it might affect concentration while meditating. I’m not going to justify it; I know it’s not the optimum situation. Someday I may choose to work on breaking that habit, but right now, I see bigger problems that I need to focus on. As with everything in Buddhism, it’s up to you to work out what is best for you.
It’s not for me to condemn imbibing occasionally in small quantities. The precept itself is pretty clear on the subject, but if science were to unequivocally prove that small amounts were good for you, then Buddhism would adapt to allow it‚Ä¶ or maybe not in this case since it can still lead to addiction.
To Which That Reader Responded:
You wrote: ‚ÄúI personally don’t drink alcohol (ever) or take any kind of non-medicinal drugs. I do, however, love my caffeine, whether in coffee or soda. I see little harm in it, but I can see where it might affect concentration while meditating.‚Äù
By the same token, I see little harm in drinking a glass of wine that has been recommended by my personal physician. We never see harm in taking that which with we are comfortable. Plus the precept is a 2,500-year-old suggestion ‚Äî not a commandment. While the wisdom of not abusing drugs cannot be argued, the people who promulgated this precept knew little about the effects of intoxicants compared to modern research. And, I have to add, there IS some vagueness in a sense about the precept given that it is so old. Very few ancient sayings have survived intact so we really don’t know how it was originally presented ‚Äî ask any honest Bible scholar. The best we can do is ask: Does it make sense given what we know. When we ‚Äúclose the book‚Äù and say ‚ÄúNo further discussion‚Äù or ‚Äúin this case, it is very clear‚Äù we risk making Buddhism into a fundamentalist religion. Obviously, this case is not very clear, or this disagreement (and I see it as a merely friendly disagreement) would not exist.
Also, ask yourself: If green tea was OK for ancient Zen practitioners, why should you worry about trying to quit caffeine?
Science has unequivocally proven small amounts of alcohol are beneficial, therefore, my Buddhism has adapted. This is not my opinion, several studies over a number of years have shown the benefits of moderate alcohol in fighting heart disease and (with wine) increasing antioxidants. Granted, overuse is unhealthy but that is true in the use of any natural substance ‚Äî food, alcohol, drugs, plants, etc. My 21st-century adaptation of the precept is:
‚ÄúI undertake the training rule to abstain from misusing drinks and drugs that cause heedlessness.‚Äù
By the same token, I try to space my daily wine apart from zazen meditation (same for green tea) because I do recognize that even a glass could interfere in a small way but that’s a far cry from eliminating it from my diet. I also try not to eat heavy meals near this time since the chemicals in foods can also affect meditation. It’s all about moderation (feel free to append this to my previous comment).
Comment on this post at either this post:
Or the original: http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/99