Precept #5: Refrain from taking intoxicants

[ Follow Ups ] [ Post Followup ] [ Buddha's Village Forum ] [ FAQ ]

Posted by Tim C. ( on April 21, 2000 at 23:26:43:

Dear Friends:

I recently read in a posting by Sergio (entitled "Altar Instructions (requested)") the following passage:

"In the case of not taking intoxicants, you can negotiate alcohol as a social need. For example I didnít promise not drinking alcohol, but I promised do not get drunk. This is because I have a social need, which has been accepted for westerns. But cigarettes, drugs or any other substance toxic to your body is not allowed, including marihuana. If you are not ready to give up any of these substances, then you CANNOT take refugee."

The reason I am bringing this passage into debate is for two reasons: (1) I believe that this is an inaccurate Western interpretation of the 5th Precept, (2) because I have two certificates on the subject: one associate level certificate for Addiction and Alcohol studies, as well as one for advance level Addiction and Alcohol studies.

The first thing I want to make note of when talking about "intoxicating substances" is that ALCOHOL, NO MATTER HOW MUCH IS CONSUMED IS CONSIDERED A MIND-ALTERING SUBSTANCE--AN INTOXICANT. This is not just a personal opinion but a scientific as well as clinical understanding. Being that I never drink alcohol, I can likewise argue that there is not a "social need" to consume alcohol--maybe there is if you are at a bar, a nightclub, or a frat party. In general, though, I can attest to the fact that (unless you are an active alcoholic and are in need of some intervention and treatment) you have a decision of whether or not to consume alcohol. And, as a Buddhist, I believe that if the semantics and translation is correct, one should refrain from consuming alcohol because it is a intoxicating substance, whether consumed in moderation or in excess.

Secondly, I want to question the interpretation of cigarettes being an intoxicating substance. (I must quickly admit that I am a smoker, and not proud of it, and know that it is a personal problem which I will overcome). CIGARETTES ARE NOT AN INTOXICATING SUBSTANCE, they are an addictive substance that fall under the classification of such substances like caffiene--coffee and tea. Clinically speaking, though, there are not professionals in the field who suggest that by smoking a cigarette that one becomes intoxicated--if this was the case, everyone smoking a cigarette while driving would be pulled over, arrested, and booked for "Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)."

I do not argue the fact that other drugs, including marijuana, are intoxicating substances and should be abandoned when entering the Path.

One final note on The Five Precepts: I once read an interesting commentary on the Five Precepts. What this commentary explained was that all Five Precepts can never be entirely observed, that we need to be aware of how we violate these precepts on a daily basis in un-intentional ways. The commentary spoke of 1st Precept (to refrain from killing) by saying that we kill things on a daily basis. When you walk through grass you are killing bugs, blades of grass, and other microorganisms...if you are sick and you take an antibiotic, you are likewise killing small organisms. The point of the commentary was that these Five Precepts will be violated by practitioners in un-intended ways, and that it is neccessary for all of us to recognize this. To the best of our ability we should refrain from these behaviors, but our body in an of itself will violate these Precepts. With regard to the 5th Precept, it was noted that we become intoxicated by delicious foods, by having sex, etc. All these worldly pleasures (speaking beyond just alcohol and drugs) are intoxicants and we will fall under the influence of intoxication from these--so likewise we should be aware of this, aware of how un-intentionally we violate these Precepts on a daily basis.

Basically, what the author was getting at is that consciously we should aviod all of these acts, and should not intentionally violate these precepts, but at the same time be mindful of the fact that in un-intentional ways we will violate these.

I believe that I have spoken enough, and I want to say that I offer no disrespet to Sergio. I believe that there was a great wealth of knowledge in his posting; however, the idea of alcohol being an intoxicant based on how much is consumed is a notion which the field of Addiction and Alcoholism professionals must challenge. Likewise, as an individual who never drinks and lives in the West (not as a hermit and still in college for that matter), I must also challenge the notion that there is a social neccessity to consume alcohol. This is just not the case.

Thank you for your posting, Sergio, and I do have to say that I did learn a lot from it. I was likewise impressed and greatful for the time an effort you obviously put into composing that posting--for sharing your knowledge with us all.

Take care, Friends


Tim C.

Follow Ups:

Post a Followup




Optional Link URL:
Link Title:
Optional Image URL:

[ Follow Ups ] [ Post Followup ] [ Buddha's Village Forum ] [ FAQ ]