To Brew or not to Brew… The Fifth Precept

So lots of talk lately on the Buddhablogosphere regarding the precepts, especially the Fifth. Being that my blog is titled “Home Brew Dharma”, I believe I need to add my 2 cents.

Here is what the Buddha said: “A noble disciple gives up wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis for negligence, and abstains from them. By abstaining from wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. By giving to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression, he himself will enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression.” (AN 8:39, IV 245-47)

 So, seems pretty clear. If you want to be a noble disciple, you need to give up the booze and drugs. Why? Because of the consequences. There isn’t anything inherently bad in any type of intoxicant, it’s the consequences of taking said intoxicants that is the issue here. Intoxicants lead to mindlessness when abused, and the Buddha was trying to get people to be more mindful. This is hard enough to do when sober, let alone hammered. 

Back in the Buddha’s time, it was the rice-wine guzzling, opium smoking low lifes that he was targeting. You see, it’s impossible to follow the eight-fold path while you’re intoxicated. Pretty simple. You can’t be mindful when you’re wasted. Not a big surprise. And it’s hard to have right concentration when you’re staring up at the ceiling of an opium den contemplating the purpose of your pinky toes.

 It’s not only while someone is intoxicated though either. Alcoholism affects a person’s entire life. It brings them immeasurable suffering, but it also affects the people in their life, and society as well. The same thing with habitual drug users. There is no doubt to the far-reaching suffering that lifestyles such as these create.

 What about those of us that practice moderation? Where do we fall in? Is it possible for me to come home, and enjoy A beer? I think so. Remember right intention? I think that applies to the situation at hand. Are you drinking just to get wasted? Or are you treating that one beer like you would anything else in life; something to be savored, and something to be mindful of. I think a case can be made for a more skillful approach to drinking.

When I say I’m going to have a Scotch, I don’t mean a bottle of J&B. What I mean is I’m going to pour an ounce or two of some Glenlivit over some ice, and sip on it for an hour or so. See the difference? Where is the “fear, hostility, and oppression” in that? What are the consequences of my sipping on that ounce of Scotch? I’ll probably enjoy it. I won’t become intoxicated, or even slightly buzzed. Sure, I probably won’t have ultimate right concentration while I’m doing it, but I’m not in that state now, and I doubt many of the bloggers are either while they are busy blogging.

 I’m not trying to change Buddhism to fit my needs. I’m not trying to make excuses. And for those of you who have given up drinking altogether, great (as long as you are doing it for the right reasons). I do agree that intoxication will throw you off your path to finding your own Buddha nature. But I also don’t think that having a beer every now and then disqualifies me from being a Buddhist, especially if I approach it in a skillful manner.

 And as far as drugs are concerned, I think Maynard James Keenan said it best, so I’ll end with a quote of his: “I think psychedelics play a major part in what we do, but having said that, I feel that if somebody’s going to experiment with those things they really need to educate themselves about them. People just taking the chemicals and diving in without having any kind of preparation about what they’re about to experience tend to have no frame of reference, so they’re missing everything flying by and all these new perspectives. It’s just a waste. They reach a little bit of spiritual enlightenment, but they end up going, ‘Well, now I need that drug to get back there again.’ The trick is to use the drugs once to get there, and maybe spend the next ten years trying to get back there without the drug.”



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