The fifth precept is

I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness

but I have read interpretations that translate it as

I undertake to abstain from intoxicants

Are there any references in the Buddhist scriptures about the fifth precept having a broader interpretations that refer to intoxicants of different forms - not just chemical stimulants?

I'm interested in views of any schools as I imagine the interpretation of the precept may be different between them. I'm also interested in any references to more modern teachers who take this broader approach if anyone knows of them.

  • I think most Theravada teachers take headlessness as the keyword there. So keeping to the fifth precept means not consuming anything that leads to headlessness except in the case of medication. May 2, 2015 at 19:47
  • 1
    by canonical do you mean Theravadin? May 3, 2015 at 0:45
  • @yuttadhammo I was aiming to get an answer from any established school. So including but not exclusively Theravadin. I'll amend my question to clarify May 4, 2015 at 15:48
  • @ChrisW You're right I was inspired by that answer but I'm also interested because of my own practice and from what has been said to me in the past on this kind of issue. I might fill in the details for this question but I see if this current edit attracts any attention first May 4, 2015 at 15:53
  • In my opinion, alcohol and drugs cause intoxication and heedlessness. However, nicotine and romantic relationships, while being possibly intoxicating or addictive, would certainly not cause heedlessness. Although, I understand that some might disagree with me, with regards to romantic relationships. :-)
    – ruben2020
    May 4, 2015 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


A modern teacher who takes a very broad approach is Thich Nhat Hanh. I became familiar with his "Five Wonderful Precepts" at a Seon temple where his translation of the precepts is used regularly. This is his translation of the Fifth Precept:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family and my society, by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant, or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

These are from his book "For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings"

From "The Mindfulness Bell" newsletter, dated Spring/Summer 1990, Thich Nhat Hanh gives an in depth interview about his translations of the 5 precepts (which were in a slightly less detailed version back then).

Someone who practices the Fifth Precept could not say "This is my body, I can do anything to it. I have the right to." They cannot say that because they know that their body belongs to all their ancestors, themselves, and the future generations.

He talks about the interconnectedness of all things; how the grain used in the production of whiskey and meat can lead to starvation in the world when people don't have enough grains to eat. That particular idea may be arguable to some. But I think his statement below (also from The Mindfulness Bell) is really a key point for those who aren't quite ready to accept the Fifth Precept:

So mindfulness is the base of all precepts. Drinking a glass of whiskey with mindfulness is already practicing the precepts, because if you drink with deep mindfulness, you will live with the reality of the world and you will stop drinking very soon.


First of all dear user - "Crab Bucket"

Remember this before taking advice from our online community.

In lord Buddha's last few moments a question was asked by a monk from lord Buddha. "After you who should be our leader" The answer was, "My teachings are timeless,anyone with the will can learn and realize the truth by themselves.after my death my teachings will be your leader"

What i want to say is, as lord Buddha himself said that the teachings are timeless.Be careful of the people who claim to have a modern view about things

(who might teach you a much different but a equally logical path,Because it will be logical for sure but it is not Buddhism!If you follow that you are no longer a follower of lord Buddha,you are a follower of that new teacher!)

And here is the answer-

The reason of not using Alcohol and things like that is the childish mindset it create.You are no longer in control of you actions and you are not aware of what you are doing.Also what you might do is a question to yourself!

Buddhism repeats only one thing in almost every teaching "Mindfulness".Loose this you are fragile to anything.Loose your ability to think you are no higher than an animal!

You might steal,lie,destroy and you might even take the life of a loved one.This kind of behavior does not help the path to nirvana.

But if you are taking some kind of medicine,supplement for something that cause similar behavior there is no need to panic.

You are not in a addiction+It is not bad for your health+You are not going paranoid like a drunk.

You are safe my friend and have no fear you are within boarders and doing nothing wrong.Just be careful about the dosage!

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