Buddhism and alcohol
February 22, 2021 4:00 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone point me to writings/reflections on the role, purpose, history, efficacy, of abstaining from drugs (or weed) and alcohol from a Buddhist perspective?

I'm not looking from a substance *abuse* perspective but writings from the standpoint of what it means to see things clearly, how the things that distract us get in the way of clarity...whatever thoughts on the matter I can find. Self-regulation as opposed to total abstention is okay too.

There are a lot of writings out there but usually written from the standpoint of Buddhism supporting recovery, and I'm more interested in how deliberate awareness fits into Buddhism as a whole and thinking about what it means to confront things directly, engage with the world, etc. etc.

Thanks, Metafilter.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Looking more for articles than books, but open.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:03 AM on February 22

Best answer: Like him or hate him, Brad Warner brings his form clarity to this issue.
posted by Xurando at 5:55 AM on February 22

"Refraining from intoxicants" is often how it's worded in Buddhist language. It's one of the precepts. So if you google that, you may turn up a fair amount. But here's a talk on the topic by the wonderful vipassana teacher Gil Fronsdal.
posted by swheatie at 6:47 AM on February 22 [3 favorites]

Domyo Burke (a Zen teacher) has a podcast episode on understanding people's behaviour via the six realms teaching, and touches on the Hungry Ghost realm as the domain of addictive pleasures, including using alcohol and drugs to change state, as a cycle of continual dissatisfaction and seeking of fulfilment through sensual pleasure.
posted by Balthamos at 7:36 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

I see what you mean about search results having a focus on addiction/recovery. I was able to find a couple of things by removing the words recovery and addict from my search phrases.

Here is one essay.

"It may well be that a mature, reasonably well-adjusted person can enjoy a few drinks with friends without turning into a drunkard or a murderous fiend. But there is another factor to consider: namely, that this life is not the only life we lead. Our stream of consciousness does not terminate with death but continues on in other forms, and the form it takes is determined by our habits, propensities, and actions in this present life. The possibilities of rebirth are boundless, yet the road to the lower realms is wide and smooth, the road upward steep and narrow. If we were ordered to walk along a narrow ledge overlooking a sharp precipice, we certainly would not want to put ourselves at risk by first enjoying a few drinks. We would be too keenly aware that nothing less than our life is at stake. If we only had eyes to see, we would realize that this is a perfect metaphor for the human condition, as the Buddha himself, the One with Vision, confirms (see SN 56:42). As human beings we walk along a narrow ledge, and if our moral sense is dulled we can easily topple over the edge, down to the plane of misery, from which it is extremely difficult to re-emerge."

And this piece doesn't explicitly talk about substance use, but it does address sensual craving.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 7:36 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oop, I missed your request to not focus on resources focused on addiction/recovery, which is how Hungry Ghosts are often interpreted. However in my opinion the Hungry Ghost realm as a metaphor is still useful beyond more extreme examples of being a junkie or alcoholic, as it allows us to think about sensual craving on a spectrum, from eating a little bit more than you really need to prioritising one's own comfort over others' when making decisions about how to act. Where is dissatisfaction arising, and what do we think we are actually doing when we use substances or other sensual pleasures to "fill" that void? What are we avoiding/rejecting? What cycles are we perpetuating?
posted by Balthamos at 7:41 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Yeah I think the term you want to Google on is “fifth precept”.

Here’s something from Tricycle.

Something from Insight Meditation Center.

From Inquiring Mind.
posted by matildaben at 8:50 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

My teacher often refers to this specific story (found by googling: Buddhist monk goat alcohol):

a popular Buddhist saying, during the era of the Buddha a monk was visited by a woman who wanted to seduce him. The woman threatened to commit suicide if the monk did not do at least one of three things she demanded: to have sex with her; to kill a goat for a party; or to drink the alcohol that she had brought for him. The monk thought very deeply and considered the options. He thought that losing his celibacy or killing an animal was a cardinal sin taught by the Buddha. On the other hand, not taking an action would result in the suicide of the woman. So, he decided to drink the alcohol because at that time Buddha has not taught anything specific about alcohol. But when he got drunk, he killed the goat and also had sex with the woman. This incident prompted the Buddha to prohibit drinking among his disciples saying that alcohol interferes with rational thinking

It is right there in the pratimoksha vows, not to take intoxicants. (As mentioned above)

Personally... I have found even one light drink at 5pm ruins my 9pm meditation and the deeper I get in my practice the more glaring this is. Like my mind is slow and sluggish by factor of 1000.

Personally I have not taken the pratimoksha vows since I won’t take a vow I may break but the deeper I get into practice the less interested I am in alcohol but I drink at times to be social. And I only drink after my meditation and never before.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:45 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]

If you're interested in historical perspectives, James Benn's book Tea in China discusses debates on these issues from the Tang Dynasty.
posted by mustard seeds at 2:20 PM on February 22

Best answer: In "When Things Fall Apart," Pema Chödrön writes:

"This is where renunciation enters the picture— renunciation of the hope that our experience could be different, renunciation of the hope that we could be better. The Buddhist monastic rules that advise renouncing liquor, renouncing sex, and so on are not pointing out that those things are inherently bad or immoral, but that we use them as babysitters. We use them as a way to escape; we use them to try to get comfort and to distract ourselves. The real thing that we renounce is the tenacious hope that we could be saved from being who we are. Renunciation is a teaching to inspire us to investigate what’s happening every time we grab something because we can’t stand to face what’s coming."
posted by cp311 at 7:47 PM on February 22 [4 favorites]

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