“Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings.”

To be clear, I am trying to figure out the spirit behind the 5th precept. To see how far it spans and what exactly constitutes intoxication.

To dispel any doubt about his reasons for prescribing this precept, the Buddha has written the explanation into the rule itself: one is to refrain from the use of intoxicating drinks and drugs because they are the cause of heedlessness (pamada). Heedlessness means moral recklessness, disregard for the bounds between right and wrong. It is the loss of heedfulness (appamada), moral scrupulousness based on a keen perception of the dangers in unwholesome states. Heedfulness is the keynote of the Buddhist path, "the way to the Deathless," running through all three stages of the path: morality, concentration, and wisdom. To indulge in intoxicating drinks is to risk falling away from each stage. The use of alcohol blunts the sense of shame and moral dread and thus leads almost inevitably to a breach of the other precepts. One addicted to liquor will have little hesitation to lie or steal, will lose all sense of sexual decency, and may easily be provoked even to murder. Hard statistics clearly confirm the close connection between the use of alcohol and violent crime, not to speak of traffic accidents, occupational hazards, and disharmony within the home. Alcoholism is indeed a most costly burden on the whole society.

-- A Discipline of Sobriety (by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Where do addictions enter the equation? Drugs other then alcohol?

These do not seem to be covered by the explanation (assuming the claim is true, which I do not know of).

What about intoxicating love? Where do we draw the line between lust and intoxication?

What about intoxication and ignorance? Is there even a difference?

Thank you

  • the word 'addiction' or its synonym are absent in the the formula of this precept and so, as already pointed out by Sankha Kulathantille in his answer, the precept is not about addiction, Ven Bodhi in my opinion very accurately described the purport of this precept (please don't delete without notification) Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 9:27

4 Answers 4


The 5th precept is not about addictions. It is referring to taking substances that lead to heedlessness, whether you get addicted to it or not.

Love/sexual misbehavior is covered under the 3rd precept. Again, it's not about addiction.

The intoxication discussed under the 5th precept is chemically muddling your senses. Especially the mind. Ignorance plays a role in wanting to do that. Once you are intoxicated, it leads to more ignorant acts.


Its very simple.

If your goal is the spiritual path, you must do well to not harm yourself, or other people mindlessly. Alcohol used for intoxication is not good for this purpose. If you're looking for a good time just generally, socially, it is okay in small amounts. You won't do much wrong because it is moderate. In this regard, I also have something to say about abstaining from alcohol. You can still have a nice time without it and don't need to depend on it unless it is a social stigma. This includes things like excess of love or lustful feelings. If you are mindful of what you want to do, you will understand what to do. :)

With alcohol/drugs, there is a tendency to go mindless and do "weird" things. Without alcohol/drugs, you have your senses firmly with you and you can control your actions well.

Which part of this did you not understand?

Its not a rule. It is a basic understanding or reasoning of what your goal is, and what your action should be.

Thus, it very clearly depends on which path you are taking, either spiritual or material. The path is the goal.

PS: I see NUMEROUS questions about the precepts on this site. Don't get too technical about what is mentioned and what is not mentioned in the texts. That will become endless interpretation. Measure yourself and your goal and you will automatically know the actions you need to take up.


What about intoxicating love?

it's the cause of all suffering. AFAIK

The 5th precept in my country translation is avoid the food and drink that can cause intoxicate and addiction. Some people believe the smoking is not one of the consideration because it's not a food neither a drink, even though it is caused addiction. And small amount of alcohol would not cause the intoxicate.

It's all can be arguable and I don't think the winner also hold the right answer. So, the best I think we look at the original purpose of following the precepts like you mentioned above "In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings." And know what the best for us.


Intoxicants usually refers to alcohol and drugs. But it can also refer to the five pungent herbs: onion, garlic, leeks, chives, asofoetida. Supposedly, these act as aphrodisiacs. So, they are banned by one of the minor bodhisattva precepts in the Brahmanet Sutra.

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