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I've been to a nice restaurant (pictured below) where the bar was decorated with statues of the Buddha. Given the 5th precept and all; this seemed a bit odd. Would it be correct to surmise that the 5th precept is understood in different ways among Buddhists? enter image description here

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    The golden guy on the lower left isn't Buddha, but Budai (aka Hotei), who was an eccentric Chan monk and the Japanese god of happiness, although some traditions identify him with the future Buddha. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/Budai). The Gautama Buddhas are all literally above intoxication in the photo. So you could view this as being correct and not disrepectful of either the Buddha or contradicting The Precepts. If you wanted to. – user50 Jun 24 '14 at 15:49
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    @KevinJohnsrude, that's an interesting observation (regarding Hotei). I'm going to post it as a separate question so it will be easier for interested people to locate the information. – Robin111 Jun 25 '14 at 10:29
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In Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, the 5th precept is interpreted mostly as 'do not get intoxicated by alcohol and drugs' for non-ordained practitioners, meaning that it's up to you to know how much you can drink without affecting your mind. Ordained monks are still supposed to take the literal interpretation of the 5th precept and fully abstain from alcohol and mind-intoxicating drugs (except on the bi-weekly purification ceremony known as Tsog).

Of course, many people really don't know exactly how much they can consume until their minds get affected. That's why the more literal interpretation of the 5th precept is recommended: put it simply, if you don't know how your mind gets affected by alcohol/drugs, then abstain from it.

Also note that the whole point of the 5th precept is not to impose any kind of 'puritan morality'. It's just because if your goal of becoming a Buddhist practitioner is to train your mind, it's a bit pointless to consume anything that makes you less aware, less mindful, and pay less attention. Morality is not the point here!

As for the 'right' or 'wrong' way of using Buddha statues as decoration, that's a really tough question. If the bar owners are beginning practitioners, I would say that they should take their refuge vows a bit more seriously and refrain from using representations of the Buddhas as 'decoration'. If they are enlightened beings, then I would say this would be just a very clever trick to get people interested in Buddhism: by looking at the statue of a Buddha, someone without any connection with Buddhism might ask what the statue is about and get interested in the Buddhadharma — so forging a connection with the Dharma that way. They whole point of having representations of the Buddha all over the place is not to remind existing practitioners, but to get non-practitioners interested in asking more questions about it and eventually developing an interest in the Dharma :) But, to be very honest, I would be wary of using that argument to place Buddha statues in a bar...

If the bar owners are not practitioners at all, then, well, I'd say the same applies. Somehow they made a connection with the Dharma — somehow the Buddha statue appealed to them. And somehow this very weak connection with the Dharma will endure — if not in this life, then in the next. So I'd be happy to see that someone who is not a Buddhist at all to pick, among millions of different choices, a statue of the Buddha as a worthwhile 'decoration'. There will be some benefit to them :)

  • Gwyneth is correct. So as to the OP's original question, the answer is No, Buddhist practitioners (laypersons) do not necessarily need to abstain from alcohol. They do need to practice being mindful, so too much alcohol would likely get in the way of that. – likethesky Jun 25 '14 at 1:24
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This is oftentimes an intensely debated precept.

Yes, the fifth precept is understood differently by different people, i.e., sometimes people interpret it to mean abstaining from all drugs or all intoxicants. It usually always includes abstaining from intoxication and heedlessness from alcoholic drink though; some people may interpret this as allowing them to drink in moderation.

If I had to guess, the person that was responsible for putting those Buddha statues in that bar thought they were cool and has no idea about the precepts.

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I think it's an interesting question and certainly different people have different views. Royokan the Japanese Zen poet wrote about getting drunk amongst his writings about being a dedicated zen practitioner

"I send one of the children to buy some country wine/ And after I'm drunk, toss off a few lines of calligraphy."

(referenced from the same wiki article)

I don't think that anyone would doubt Ryokan's commitment with or without a glass of sake.

  • Royokan may have had a commitment to Zen as he wished to interpret it, but that has nothing to do with the Fifth Noble Precept, or, indeed, the Buddha's teachings. – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 4:35
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That's a row of Chinese Buddha's and Bodhisattva's, so this appears to be a Chinese restaurant.

Monastics have always been held to the strictest standards-- there was a very concrete, this-worldly consequence for breaking the precepts-- you would be kicked out of the sangha (or more likely punished by some other means).

Where the rules are less straight forward is for lay followers. Upasaka are encouraged to follow the five precepts, but if they can't then they are urged to follow just 4, if not, then 3, and so on. And if they can't follow any precepts, lay followers are urged to at least take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. I take this to mean that ethics in Buddhism is a practice where you start where you are and over time you get better, as opposed to ascribing to all the rules and following them rigorously on day one.

As for if this is offensive, depends on where you are. I would guess this is offensive in Sri Lanka and Thailand. As a US convert, it doesn't bother me at all, this restaurant didn't do this with the intention of offending old ladies in Sri Lanka.

But in the US, I give them credit for actually being aware of customs regarding home shrines-- it is not uncommon to see suggestions that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas be put in the highest place in the house. This makes me think the person who put them there is a believer and not just decorating with curios.

  • Just to be clear - a monk or a nun is not kicked out of the Sangha just for breaking one of the Five Precepts. Monks and nuns have a thousand additional rules. But four of them, the parajikas, or rules of defeat, are so serious that a monk or nun who breaks one of the four is no longer a monk or a nun, and cannot be a monk or a nun in this lifetime. The four parajika are: Committing murder (the killing of a human, in the womb or out); Stealing; Having sex (masturbation is a lesser offense); Claiming to have one of the four attainments knowing that he or she does not. – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 4:29
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Rather than the "fifth precept", I find it stranger that it seems to transgress "right livelihood".

Sankha's answer notwithstanding, I like to (I am happy to) see a statue of the Buddha if I walk into a restaurant.

A few of the "10 bulls" commentaries imply that Buddhism and alcohol can, perhaps they hope, co-exist. For example,

X
Entering the City with Bliss-Bestowing Hands

His humble cottage door is closed, and the wisest knows him not. No glimpses of his inner life are to be caught; for he goes on his own way without following the steps of the ancient sages. Carrying a gourd he goes out into the market; leaning against a stick he comes home. He is found in company with wine-bibbers and butchers; he and they are all converted into Buddhas.

Barechested and barefooted, he comes out into the marketplace; 
Daubed with mud and ashes, how broadly he smiles! 
There is no need for the miraculous power of the gods, 
For he touches, and lo! the dead trees come into full bloom.

Some versions of that show him with a "gourd". When I first saw that I thought it meant a "wine container", because this is how it was published in Paul Reps' book:

Comment: Inside my gate, a thousand sages do not know me. The beauty of my garden is invisible. Why should one search for the footprints of the patriarchs? I go to the market place with my wine bottle and return home with my staff. I visit the wine shop and the market, and everyone I look upon becomes enlightened.

But the footnote in this reference says that in the sentence, " Carrying a gourd[2] he goes out into the market, leaning against a staff[3] he comes home", the gourd is a "Symbol of emptiness (sunyata)".

  • It is sad to see mistranslations such as that. It is fortunate that the footnote had a better translation, and that you noticed it. – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 4:33
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All Theravada Buddhists abstain from Alcohol. This is well explained in "THE FIVE PRECEPTS" which is a very good read on the 5 precepts.

The fifth precept reads: Surā-meraya-majja-pamāda-ṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi, “I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented and distilled intoxicants which are the basis for heedlessness.” The word meraya means fermented liquors, sura liquors which have been distilled to increase their strength and flavor. The world majja, meaning an intoxicant, can be related to the rest of the passage either as qualified by sura,meraya or as additional to them. In the former case the whole phrase means fermented and distilled liquors which are intoxicants, in the latter it means fermented and distilled liquors and other intoxicants. If this second reading is adopted the precept would explicitly include intoxicating drugs used non-medicinally, such as the opiates, hemp, and psychedelics. But even on the first reading the precept implicitly proscribes these drugs by way of its guiding purpose, which is to prevent heedlessness caused by the taking of intoxicating substances.

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It's disrespectful to use buddha statues for decorative purposes in bars or anywhere else. It creates bad Karma for the person who does it. Yes, the 5th precept covers both drugs and alcohol consumption for non medicinal purposes.

  • The Fifth Precept does not distinguish between medicinal and other purposes. It also does not specifically mention drugs, though this is a reasonable extrapolation. – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 4:31
  • Drugs are covered in the phrase "majjappamadatthana" and I believe allowance is given for medicinal purposes in another place in Vinaya. Can't recall the exact place. – Sankha Kulathantille Jan 6 '18 at 6:20
  • "majjappadamadatthana" is referring to sura-mereya. So the precept does not specifically cover anything else that is majjappadamadatthana, besides Surameraya. I have heard from monks (I don't know the place either) that there is an allowance for marijuana for a specific illness. That there needed to be an allowance for it suggests that the normal case was that it was not allowed. – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 17:16
  • No, Sura-meraya is given as an example. The real spirit of the precept is majjappadamadatthana. Therefore any substance that causes heedlessness is covered. – Sankha Kulathantille Jan 6 '18 at 20:49
  • "Spirit" in the context of a translation means it's not the actual literal words. So the correct response would have been, "Yes, you're correct, but I think the spirit of the passage means ..." – Tharpa Jan 7 '18 at 19:31
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In Buddhism, drinking alcohols itself is not considered to be a sinful action. However, when you get drunk and lose control of your mind, you go around and hurt yourself and/or someone else. That would be a bad karma to do so, which is why drinking alcohol or taking drugs are actions that should be abstained.

However, Buddhists who are elders or those who enforce rules in their own community may actively prohibit their fellows to not take alcohols at all at their discretion.

  • "Sin" (an offense against God) is not, strictly speaking, part of the Buddha's teachings. But the Fifth Precept prohibits the drinking of alcohol. The reason elder Buddhists may enforce the rules in their own community is because they are following the teachings of the Buddha. – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 4:36
  • I would argue that the fifth precept does not exactly prohibits the drinking of alcohol, but rather to avoid or abstain from drinking of alcohol to the point of losing the control of one's mind. Since each individual has different tolerance level of alcohol before he/she becomes drunk, it would be easier to avoid alcohol altogether as part of the training/practicing mindfulness. – frostshoxx Jan 8 '18 at 21:46
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All practicing Buddhists abstain from alcohol. It is disrespectful to the Buddha for a restaurant to display a statue of the Buddha in such a setting, but sadly that type of thing is all too common.

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