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The Fifth Precept (Intoxicants)

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  • Stefan,

    I made a mistake in my writing. I wasn't at all clear what I meant about seeing a trend forming. I didn't really mean here on this site. I see rationalizations for all sorts of negative behaviors become more and more prevalent every day where I work and live. Even the "powers that be" seem to be losing sight of any real morality and are shifting more toward a "what feels good at the time" sort of approach. Really, in this global information age, I do see it all over the world. This is likely a condition for my more statutory view of late regarding the precepts. I would never, being mindful, encourage someone to follow rules and precepts blindly. However, I have to wonder a bit when one has chosen to take those precepts and then decides to question the boundaries of them only afterward. Of course reevaluation of one's choices is natural and happens all the time. Yet I maintain that one has to look at one's relationship to the purpose for taking those precepts in the first place, and then deciding on a course of action. There's no reason anyone should feel they have to take the precepts unwillingly. No one should ever be chastised here or anywhere else for not taking them at all. What I am really driving at is if you are going to take them at all, probably best to take them seriously when you do. Of course this is all just my view of things.


    • J-Lo,

      You have such a grim perspective of the world. This is Samsara, its nature doesn't change, it may fluctuate or you're just noticing it better now. Perhaps it's the result of climbing, a town looks different from a hill than it used to look from within. The increase in dispassion is natural, but don't let it turn to resentment.

      As for the precepts, they are first of all for the purpose of training. The intention and commitment to understand them is important, but I doubt they can be perfectly understood in the beginning. When I started keeping the precepts I indulged willingly in drinking (heavily), lying for different reasons (that seemed fair), fishing, insect genocide, illegal downloads, bus free-riding etc. In one way or another I was breaking most precepts. But as I undertook them I began studying them, with studying I gained understanding of them and finally with some understanding I am able to keep them much better than 2 years ago.

      With metta,


      • Nice post Daniel. It's the murky bits at the boundaries of the precepts where I do all my work with Sila, so the boundaries are changing all the time for me. It's a path, right? And if you read some of the early discourses you see many of the monks behaving ever so badly. Enough for the Buddha to give them a discourse or two. Thus has it ever been.



        • @ Daniel- Grim perspective? Resentment? I'm not sure where you're getting this from. I assure you my view of the world and its nature hasn't changed much in the past 20 years. I am aware of samsara and to some extent, the nature of things. You're reading far too much into whatever I said that gave you those ideas.

          I've never had a problem keeping the precepts since the day I decided to keep them. Don't misconstrue this as haughty and arrogant. It is black letters on a white field, plain and matter of fact. I assumed that everybody (more or less) took the precepts pretty seriously by the time they decided to take them on as part of their everyday life. I know that from some, keeping certain ones would be a challenge and that is understandable. Yet a lazy approach of "we'll see if I can keep them today" just doesn't sit well with me and IS precisely the sort of trend I have observed and mentioned earlier in the thread. Excuses and rationalizations to cover past or future transgressions. I think it is natural and fine to have moments of weakness or mindlessness. Things will happen. What I don't agree with is making excuses for, or excusing in advance, these things based on the above. Knowing that we will make mistakes should not be a license to break the precepts because one feels like it today, on in this or that situation. This is all for one who is practicing diligently. I think to put a title "5 Precepts Keeper" next to one's name bears strong implications that one intends to seriously keep the precepts. Now I am aware that I have stated my hypocrisy in killing certain spiders. Yet I could easily stop doing that today and I don't make excuses for it. I have even "saved" a few at great risk of peril to myself.
          Where does compassion trump discernment? Just as every human with faculties intact is able to realize enlightenment, so one would think it much easier for that same human to keep some simple rules (only 5) toward that goal, unless the precepts are only a status symbol or part of a collection of spiritual possessions. One can say that mine is a grim perspective, but I just see it as reality. I don't project emotional adjectives like grim, low, sad, etcetera onto it.


          • Well this passage sounded grim and potentially resentful to me (but I may have a habit of misintepreting you):

            I see rationalizations for all sorts of negative behaviors become more and more prevalent every day where I work and live. Even the "powers that be" seem to be losing sight of any real morality and are shifting more toward a "what feels good at the time" sort of approach. Really, in this global information age, I do see it all over the world.
            And about the precepts, your perspective sounds a little strict. I mean dilligence and intention to practice keeping the precepts is the first most important thing and it is true that the precepts are black on white, but we are not. The precepts are training rules, even monks are still working to perfect them, so I disagree that they are simple rules. It is simple not to kill a human being, not to rob a bank, not to tell malicious lies, not to take high risk drugs and not to cheat on someone you love ... but the precepts go much further than that. For example, you may find it easy to abstain from physically harming another, but much harder to abstain from speaking harshly at times. I think the importance lies in the intention to get better at practicing and keeping them, not the attempt to try and keep them 100% from the first day. In this sense I see the "5 Precepts Keeper" as the willingness to learn and advance on the path, rather than a badge of puritanism or a mark of success or status.

            Anyway, I think you might be reffering more to the attempt of people to bend the precepts to fit their needs and it doesn't work that way. Is this it? We must learn to bend to meet the precepts, not the other way around.

            With metta,


            • Dear community,

              Thank you very much for your comments.

              I remembered these lines from Ajahn Sumano's book "Meeting the monkey halfway" (speaking about the five precepts):

              (...) By training our hearts and minds to live within these guidelines, we become less and less inclined to step beyond them. For instance, the simple act of refraining from drinking - even just a sip of wine during celebrations, as at a wedding, when such an indulgence is considered acceptable or even expected - provides a positive statement of graceful restraint. But more than that, it reinforces conscious behaviour and makes us less open and vulnerable to the same temptation when the next, less auspicious, occasion arises.
              If I was to go to a celebration, I wouldn't drink anything. But this occasion is different, because a friend presents self-made wine. However, I don't expect heavy karmic consequences from drinking a sip of alcohol at a party. I maybe drink really just one sip there, and then never again. Such occasions, i.e. friends inviting to drink their self-made intoxicants, don't happen too often in my life. So I am not afraid of falling back into old habits, and drinking just one sip, instead of many, as probably most of the other guests will, is also a positive statement of graceful restraint, I think.


              • A way to respectfully enjoy wine while non-drinking, is to pour a small amount in a glass, swirl it, and breath in the bouquet. You can then talk about the bouquet just like a wine connoisseur!

                This allows you to keep the precept and not cloud the mind, yet still fit in somewhat with the party.

                Just an idea.


                • Thank you for that idea Luke (although I don't understand what you mean by "breathing in the bouquet"?), and thanks again to all the other comments here. So many replies to my rather secondary question. Wow, this forum is really alive! :-)

                  With metta,


                  • Dear Sangha,

                    Off-Topic: First of all i would like to take the opportunity to say that i am very happy to be here and to have the opportunity to write to all of you. I have listened to the talks of the Ajahns for several years now. As those years went by i decided to go further and be a part in the sangha.
                    I am Marko, by the way. Hi!

                    So lets get to the topic:

                    I recently discovered my passion for blog-writting and i am about to establish a small one. The first article deals with my personal experience of keeping the fifth precept in a difficult environment.

                    What do you think:

                    Buddha, Precepts and a little bit of Rock n´Roll

                    Dear Reader,

                    there are 5 precepts for laypeople in Buddhism, as some of you might already know. These precepts are not a divine set of rules or commandments, they are rather a collection of guidelines for creating a more virtues and happy life. Furthermore they are creating a more solid foundation for meditation and so forth.

                    But lets rewind, shall we?

                    The precepts are:

                    1.I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
                    2.I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
                    3.I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
                    4.I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect and false speech.
                    5.I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

                    I dedicated my time and effort to establish these guidelines for my own life in the last years. But there is one minor/bigger problem:

                    I am in a rock n´roll band. At first for me and i think as you read those lines for you too, it seems a little bit of an contradiction. But let me explain.

                    The precept of refraining from drinking lots of lots of alcohol was the toughest one. I mean, as you can imagine, it is very unlikely in this world to be sober at a gig or after it.

                    So i asked myself, what would happen if i stop drinking when playing a concert?

                    Would it get boring?

                    Would i get more and more isolated from the rest of the people attending?

                    Would i even stop enjoying it?

                    Let me tell you, at first these types of question were a hindrance to enjoying what was there. But after a while, they faded away and it was quite a unforgettable experience.

                    Sure, you can ask why…

                    Because i had more energy doing what i have to do while on stage performing. I felt more connected to what i do and to the people in the room. My stress level was way more down to earth. To put it short: I felt i could do my job better.

                    So why is it that many people, as a famous monk once said it, are more “4-precepts buddhists” ?

                    I think mainly because society is so comfortable with drinking alcohol and taking other drugs. “Lets have a drink tonight” “You are not drinking, is everything okay?” “One glass is healthy” … Everybody heard one of those or even all those lines a thousand times in their life.

                    It is very tempting to drink with friends, families, co-workers etc. and it is even stigmatized not to do it.

                    So what can you do to realize that drinking can be a big problem?

                    I asked myself a simple set of question and compared the answers:

                    How many evenings were unforgettable because i drank?

                    How many evenings did i forget because i drank?

                    And how many evenings were ruined because i drank?

                    Last but not least:

                    How many tomorrows were unforgettable ?

                    The last one is very easy. None… They somehow still bring me headaches.

                    So to come to a conclusion. The famous: Sex, Drugs and Rock n´Roll can be renamed to this.

                    Buddha, Precepts and a little bit of Rock n´Roll

                    So what do you think of the article? Is it tasteful? I am a little bit nervous, because it is my first time writing about buddhist matters...

                    With metta and have a great day,




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