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I have heard that the 5th precept was not a core of Buddhism, it was created later by the Buddha after some monks returned drunk from alms because they had something with alcohol (accidently I believe)

My first question is: Is this story true?

Many Buddhist school claim that the problem with alcohol is that it can cloud the mind and make it easier for breaking the other (more important) precepts. Based on that some schools are ok with lay people drinking in moderation, with the commitment of not getting to a point of losing control of their acts or doing something they will regret.

So, is drinking with moderation (socially) breaking the 5th precept?

  • I think that the second part of your question is an exact duplicate of Is moderate drinking acceptable in Buddhism? therefore only the first question (about monks) is on-topic. – ChrisW Jan 16 '15 at 14:02
  • Also if it's about monks then isn't it more to with the vinaya, than with the 'five precepts'? – ChrisW Jan 16 '15 at 14:04
  • Yes ChrisW, The 2nd question is kind of a duplication. I suggest we keep it open to see the answers regarding how this precept was created! :) – konrad01 Jan 16 '15 at 14:26
  • How about deleting the last three paragraphs of the question and replacing them with, "Is this story true? And/or is there a canonical/scriptural description of when and why this precept was given to laypeople?" and adding the reference-request tag (and maybe the theravada tag)? – ChrisW Jan 16 '15 at 14:32
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I believe this is the story you are referring to. It's a great story explaining the origin of the monks' rule to avoid alcohol. It also shows a bit of the Buddha's sense of humor.

This is from "The Bhikkhus' Rules: A Guide for Laypeople" http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/ariyesako/layguide.html

"The drinking of alcohol or fermented liquors is [an offence of Confession.]" (Paac. 51; BMC p.402)

The origin-story concerns Ven. Saagata who conquered a fierce naaga — a type of serpent with magical powers — by his meditation-developed psychic powers. The townspeople heard about this feat and wanted to make some sort of offering to him, upon which the 'group-of-six' bhikkhus impudently suggested that they all should give him alcohol. When he arrived on his almsround every household offered alcohol and he finally collapsed, drunk, at the town gate and had to be carried back to the monastery. He was laid down in a stupor with his head towards the Buddha but in his drunkenness he turned around so that his feet pointed at the Buddha.[97] The Buddha called attention to his changed behavior, remarking that he certainly could not oppose "even a salamander" in such a state.

The Buddha also said:

"Bhikkhus,... there are these four stains because of which samanas and brahmans glow not, shine not, blaze not. What are these four? Drinking alcoholic beverages... indulging in sexual intercourse... accepting gold and money... obtaining requisites through a wrong mode of livelihood." (A.II,53) (AB)

Again, this explains the monks' rule regarding alcohol. Regarding laypeople and the 5th precept, I'm not sure I understand your meaning of the significance of something having been created "later by the Buddha". Perhaps a Buddhist scholar could identify the timeline of the 5 precepts; but my simple way of thinking of it is that they were created by the Buddha during his lifetime and whether it was in the first years of his teachings or the last; it was a valuable teaching to help lay people make their lives simpler (less suffering) by avoiding bad deeds. And avoiding alcohol is helpful for many people to stay mindful enough to observe the other 4 precepts.

Whether observing the 5th precept means avoiding even a drop of alcohol or just avoiding drunkenness or "heedlessness" by laypeople varies by tradition.

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The precepts were not created all at one time but instead they were created every time a problem arose like "monks drinking" for example. The precepts aren't commandments but instead they are simply statements that say: "If one behaves like X then Y will happen". In other words, drinking alcohol will lead to one's suffering. If one doesn't want to suffer then one can follow the 5th precept. Lay or monastic, if one drinks alcohol in moderation then one will suffer in moderation and if one drinks socially then one will suffer socially.

  • The precepts aren't commandments, but they are more than simple statements of cause and effect. They are rules. I recommend that Buddhist householders read the Vinaya, in order to dispel the misconception that the Buddha was averse to laying down rules. – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 3:54
  • Saying they are absolute rules that can never be inappropriate in certain situations is needlessly superficial. No need to understand any more about the situation, just let the rule think for you. – Lowbrow Jan 6 '18 at 5:13
  • Of course The Buddha laid down rules, who said he didn't? – Lowbrow Jan 6 '18 at 5:18
  • "The precepts aren't commandments but instead they are simply statements that say: "If one behaves like X then Y will happen" logically implied that he didn't. Speaking the truth is not "needlessly superficial", it is simply accurate. – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 5:20
  • If you ever actually practiced his teaching in any way that Isn't superficial then maybe you would know what I was saying and I never said that what I said is what the Buddha said, seriously? Are we just resaying what was written or are we interpreting what was written? We are interpreting what is written not just repeating words with no curiosity to the meaning! We find the meaning when we practice the Eightfold Practice and I don't see how you could possibly be doing that correctly. Maybe you should ponder that. – Lowbrow Jan 6 '18 at 15:05
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Intoxication is prohibited but sometimes don't we drink medicine and thus HAVE to get intoxicated?

I remember reading somewhere in Buddhist sutra that it is OK to be intoxicated for medicine. Common sense would agree. If one is ill, taking care of the body--one's vehicle for Awakening--is the highest priority.

For example I remember my teacher Master Nan saying that when past masters had "Zen sickness" (a feverish state of intense, overwhelming, unstoppable creativity) their teachers often got them drunk to help them fall asleep and snap out of it. When they woke up, they had progressed past the stage safely.

Thus, the next question is how much is OK if not sick and trying to walk the fine line of intoxication and still be "Buddhist"?

Scientifically speaking, reversatrol is most potent in red wine. There is research that says that it reverses aging and is neo-cardiac in nature (builds and repairs heart cells!)!! There is plenty of scientifically verified evidence about this, look it up.

I believe that taking it with such an aim is medicinal because one's intent is to heal the body--not to become intoxicated.

Thus, what does it come down to? The 2nd part of the Eightfold path: Right Intention. Remember that the Buddha forbids intoxication NOT medication.

But if you find that you are using alcohol "medically" or "socially" and have become reliant on it for sleep, etc. ... then recognize that as a form of chronic intoxication! There is no independently valid reason for it. You gotta think about it and decide what is going on... if you're doing it merely for pleasure or if there is some benefit.

Despite all this, I myself do not do ANY sort of intoxication, drinking or smoking and try to eat only what is necessary and specifically nutritional (foods can be considered an intoxicant as well!), keenly aware of the things that I am putting in myself and why.

At the worst, I use herbal tea to refreshen myself and warm my hands. Proper meditation and yoga are powerful techniques as well which obviate the need for most worldly addictions including TV, weed, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. I say this with experience because I used to be heavily involved in such a year ago when I did not have stable practices.

Summary: So use your thinking muscles and remember that the Buddha forbid intoxication but also forbid self-harm and upholds taking care of your body and mind (but not babying it or getting it addicted, which is intoxication).

"And how does a monk know moderation in eating? There is the case where a monk, considering it appropriately, takes his food not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on bulk, nor for beautification, but simply for the survival & continuance of this body, for ending its afflictions, for the support of the holy life, thinking, 'I will destroy old feelings (of hunger) & not create new feelings (from overeating). Thus I will maintain myself, be blameless, & live in comfort.' This is how a monk knows moderation in eating." -- AN 3.16

If drinking alcohol is for the survival/continuance of your body (e.g. red wine) then it is OK. If it is to intoxicate, then it is not.

  • I'm sorry but we are talking about the Buddha's teachings and in those teachings booze is certainly not medicinal for the mind. Using alcohol to dull some creative imbalance or any problem in the mind or body is what is called running from the problem rather than facing it. Turning to alcohol is seriously incorrect practice in any meditation tradition or religion. Monks and serious mediators have been known to die before running from their problems or breaking precepts. – Lowbrow Jan 17 '15 at 17:56
  • I suggest you read my answer again. Of course the general rule is true for almost all exceptions. Alcohol as medicine for Zen sickness (back then they didnt have sleeping pills) was common though. This exception will not be faced by most practitioners anyway. Running away from certain problems, in this case Zen sickness, can be a solution--Hakuins solution being another--rather than tunning into the problem and making hyperactivity worse than it already is.. – Ahmed Jan 17 '15 at 18:00
  • "And how does a monk know moderation in eating? There is the case where a monk, considering it appropriately, takes his food not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on bulk, nor for beautification, but simply for the survival & continuance of this body, for ending its afflictions, for the support of the holy life, thinking, 'I will destroy old feelings (of hunger) & not create new feelings (from overeating). Thus I will maintain myself, be blameless, & live in comfort.' This is how a monk knows moderation in eating." -- AN 3.16 – Ahmed Jan 18 '15 at 5:19
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    "Study into the cardioprotective effects of resveratrol is based on the research of Dipak K. Das. However, he has been found guilty of scientific fraud, and many of his publications related to resveratrol have been retracted." - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resveratrol#Cardioprotective_effects . Alcohol is a hard drug that kills 60k per year in the US (CDC). When you buy alcohol you support an industry built on suffering. IMO alcohol robs one of compassion. If your PCP (primary care provider) says you need a drink a day that's between you and her but few MDs would recommend it. – Brian Mar 30 '15 at 22:06
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    Ahmed, you are entitled to your opinion as to the acceptability of drinking red wine, but it has nothing to do with the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha was clear: A disciple of his does not drink fermented or distilled beverages (i.e. alcohol). – Tharpa Jan 6 '18 at 3:56

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