is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by Hanzze » Fri Sep 07, 2012 6:50 am

Maybe it is good to add some clarification (or better distructions of perseptions). It is quite clear, that one who honestly takes refuge to the Triple Gems - that means, that he already has some degree of real understanding and not "just" saddha - would take the 5 precepts as a set, as they are nessesary for a further spiritual development and to errect the eightfold path so that it might start to turn.
The first person on the four pairs (who are forming that what is called Sangha) is maybe a little difficult to set in limits, what at least leaves the wheel out of suffering open.
There are countless suttas where, speaking on virtue, indoxication is not mentioned (for instance the well known Kalama sutta). On the other side, in a sphere of indoxicated people, it would be pointless to leave any message.
How ever, as often pointed out here, the precepts are training rules and they usually start with saddha (you must try it, to see and understand it your self) and after realication or one, one might take the next. If there is no real confiction in one of the precepts, it would not matter if the other would be observed honestly. With the growing mindfulness (at least observing Silas is not only a honest lived Compassion and with it a protection also for one self, but also a development of mindfulness), there would be enought preasure sooner or later, to give even the fith a try.
Of cause, somebody who does not fully observe the five precepts, would have it not easy to declare the full refuge to the Triple Gems. But we know, that the Buddha was quite more interested that people make their own experiances and not to just exept things out of blind faith, what does not mean that one should not have some trust into the words of wise people, as there might be a time, that even one understands by him self, the way to change habits is very difficult. Its like brushing teeth, it could be that one does understand it's good funktion, but has no more teeth.

I would like to add a story here on this place, that the topic might does not be that dry (unindoxicated?):
During the reign of king Brahmadatta, there lived a forester in the country of Kasi. He made a trip to the Himalayan forest prospecting in order that he might find something useful as a means to eke out his living. In the rich Himalayan forest, there was a large tree with a few stalwart branches and creepers twined thickly on them and around its huge trunk, making festoons of dark green foliage. On top of this tree there was a large hole which formed a natural receptacle in which rain water had collected. Fruits of the yellow myrobalan trees and berries from the overhanging creepers, ripened and dropped into this natural receptacle on the tree-top. Birds hovered above, carrying with them grains of padi that grew wild on the wasteland, they perched at the edge of the receptacle to drink its water, and also dropped their grains of padi into it. During the dry weather, when the sun shone brilliantly, the little pool or receptacle, with its mixed deposits of ripened fruits, berries, and padi, become warm and fermentation sets in. Birds and monkeys that drank its water became intoxicated and fell limply to the ground below. For awhile they remained lifeless, then they came to their senses and hurried away confused at the effect of the stimulant.
Sura the forester, came on the scene attracted by the number of birds that chirped gaily on the tree-tops. To his surprise, the birds fell one after another to the ground and there remained inert for some time and after tottering about as if under a magical spell, they finally took their wings. On investigating the tree-top, Sura concluded that the crimson water collected in the hole could not be harmful as a drink. He collected some of the birds that remained on the ground and built a fire to roast them. He relished his simple dish of roasted birds and crimson beverage. Sura made the acquaintance of a hermit who lived in the forest. He was called Varuna. He offered him food prepared from the birds he roasted, and the crimson beverage that he had collected from the tree-top. With joy in his heart, he disclosed to Varuna, the discovery of a wondrous stimulant, which incidently was named after them.
Sura and Varuna conceived a plan to commercialise the stimulants, which received a ready demand by the people of the city. Its popularity soon gained the interest of the king himself. Sura and Varuna found that they could not cope with the demand of the king and his people, for the constant supply of the stimulant. In order to solve thir difficulty they made a careful study of the process and in this crude way was the world’s first stimulants introduced from the tree-top in the Himalayan region. The people in the city were jubilant since their wants were ever replenished from the big scale of brewing the stimulant in their own city. But their happiness was short-lived. They were more drunk than sober and as such, they wrecked their lives in utter ruin.
Sura and Varuna next moved on to the city of Savatthi and set up their business there. They made a roaring trade and king Sabbammitta quickly purchased five hundred jars. He set five hundred cats to keep away the rats from coming to the jars. The cats attracted by the small of the stimulants, licked whatever remained that oozed out from the jars and as a result they were all laid to peaceful slumber. Rats came out in numbers and the five hundred cats were bitten all over their bodies. The king was informed of the situation and he exacted the instant punishment of death to both Sura and Varuna for their intimidation to endanger his life. The five hundred jars of stimulants were ordered to be destroyed. But before anything could be done, the cats were found to be fully alive which eventually gained for the condemned men their reprieve from the king. The spirit had proved its worth not as a killer, but a truly remarkable stimulant. Thereupon the king desired to celebrate the great event. It turned out to be a big day for him with all the splendor in his court, where his minister, officers and guests were all assembled and ready to give him a royal toast.
Sakkadevaraja the Buddha-elect, surveyed the universe to aid mankind in the performance of meritorious work. He saw king Sabbamitta and his men in the festive mood over the newly discovered stimulants. Sakkadevaraja, knew that if the king were to propagate the extensive indulgence of the drinking habit it would cast the whole world in profound chaos and misery. He appeared as a Brahmin sitting in mid-air facing the king and the assembly of men. He offered to sell the king the contents of the jar he had in his possession. The king thought it was strange for the Brahmin to keep his ware secret, and he demanded his right to be informed of it before he could be interested.
The Brahmin with calmness and peace in his countenance addressed the king thus: “O! King! It may tempt you to know the contents of this jar. It is neither fat, or oil or honey, but it is the stuff you can only know from the effect of its direct application. It would cause a man an unsteady step and he would stumble as if over an obstacle. Confused, he would dance anywhere he set his foot; or appearing like a runaway bull, he would pretend to attack any person at sight; It would even lull him to sleep long into the night or urge him to wander aimlessly like a lone wanderer without a home. He would dance like a puppet, shooting out his legs, swinging his limbs and rolling his head; it would send him jerking fitfully from head to foot, or he would be behavior in a mad way, not knowing the sense of justice nor of shame; his spirit would soar high in full fantasy, having come to own the whole world that would be his for ever and anon; and within the next second, he would feign a weakling and lay his full length on the ground in the public place and babble words that are slandering and abusive; he is a courageous man but he would turn into a coward; he is a modest man, but he would commit deeds that are shameful and detrimental to his good repute. There are divers ways whist under its evil influence, for a man commits wrongful deeds verbally, bodily and mentally. Can it be, that such a stimulant, having done immense harm to human life, be considered helpful and useful?”
The king seeing his own fooly and realizing the truth in the wisdom of the Brahmin, replied, “You, although you are not a parent nor a teacher, yet now you bestow on me the blessing derived from the doctrine you so render. As a token of my gratitude, it is my pleasure to impart to you my possession of five villages, the revenue from each of which would amount to one hundred thousand gold pieces, also one hundred slaves, seven hundred cows, and ten horse-carts,” By now Sakkadevaraja appeared as he was, in his full glory and informed the king that he was no mere human being, but the king of gods, and the material gifts though liberal in generosity, was of no significance to him. “Keep your vigilance day and night that you do not succumb, and be conscious of ill it brings,” and so this ended the good mission of Sakkadevaraja. Thereafter, the king heedful of the doctrine of Sakkadevaraja, planned a saner life, taking the precepts, and giving away generously for the benefit of his people. After his death he was born in the realm of happiness.
Thought this good king had completely destroyed the five hundred jars of wine, there was yet the evil done, for the brewing of wine was sought after and began to spread to this day, causing at all times endless lives to be wrecked.

From: Mangala Sutta Uannana
by Ven. K. Gunaratana Thera
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step"

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by Rui Sousa » Fri Sep 07, 2012 4:52 pm

mynameisadahn wrote:I appreciate the continued discussion on this thread, of which I was the original poster. However, I'd like to point out that it appears that some of the posts have lost track that I am not, myself, suggesting that the 5th precept is or should be "optional." My OP was more directed to whether western convert buddhists tend to view the 5th precept as "optional" or as question of degree. Not necessarily whether one should view it as optional, themselves (whatever that means).
I believe we should view the percepts as good advices, that we should investigate and deepen our understanding of the pros and cons of adhering to it. For me it became obvious, after putting enough atention in my daily life, that there was no excuse worth breaking this precept. It is my belief and practice not to drink or smoke pot at all, and refrain from other intoxicants that have milder effects. For example I reduced cofee, and sugar, as well because it messes up with my ability to stand still comfortably.

We tend to be lax on rules that require effort to change,in this case the reward (a clear, heedfull mind) is worth the effort I put in maintaining this precept. I don't see a reason why we would be lax on the interpretation of the precept. I accept the notion that if I break this percept I will be generating kamma that will be an obstacle in the path, therefor I do not see it as optional.

Addressing your request for focusing more on general trends and less on personal opinions: Recently I translated a part of this ( text from Ajahn Chah, and I also attended to a Dhamma Talk by Ajahn Jayasaro (an european monk, disciple of Ajahn Chah) in which he discussed the Vinaya and the way to look at the precepts. I understand their message to be oposite to the "optional" nature some see in percepts, be it the 5th or any other, for monks as for laymen.
With Metta

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by ohnofabrications » Sat Sep 08, 2012 3:23 am

A recommended meditation for overcoming a recurrent desire for a specific thing such as alchohol:

Upon encountering the desire -

Find the feeling in the body which tells you that you want the object.

Focus attention exclusively on the feeling and try to have perfect equanimity for it.

Sustain this until the feeling falls away of its own accord.

Repeat as necessary when it comes back.

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by Pacific » Tue Oct 02, 2012 5:54 am

What I have gotten out of the 5th precept is not just grog or drugs but all intoxicants that can cloud the mind. excess TV that dulls our minds, porn... you know. all that stuff. What was interesting to me is in a talk I heard just a couple of days ago the teacher was saying that in his experience when your sila becomes strong you have very little interest in that stuff. This is food for thought because it changes the way you approach things. You undertake the training. That's important because you might fail but that's fine. You are developing sila. You are undertaking the training to refrain from harming sentient beings (first precept) and that includes yourself. They're not commandments, they are trainings we freely undertake. If we ignore one we kind of ignore them all in a way and so we don't develop our sila and then our practice suffers and so do we.

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by Varillon » Sun Sep 08, 2013 8:39 am

Because marijuana was mentioned in a casual use context in another thread, this seemed like a good time to share my, albeit modern, view. I was recently awarded disability for nerve damage and IBS among other things. The pain has gotten so bad that nothing short of a Demerol shot in the emergency room provides any significant relief. Over a year ago, I caved and tried marijuana. For the first time in a decade, I got my mind back. It wasn't riddled with streaks of white pain. In my case there would be no chance of meditation, focus, or reflection without hindering my senses with something.

For me, the 5th precept is relative. If use of any substance hindered my growth, I would enact the precept automatically. Another thing to consider is the idea that current Sangha are likely very experienced. They are on their way out of this plane. They would also not have the baggage that the rest of us lay people do. I hope that whatever karma I'm paying back this cycle allows me to be in the Sangha next round. This view also gives me great peace. I don't feel my ego activate which is always a good sign. :lol:

But, I'm new this go around, so I yield to the more experienced.

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Sep 08, 2013 8:54 am

Hi Varillon,

I don't think that using marijuana for genuine medical reasons would be considered a violation of the precept, any more than the administration of morphine to an accident victim.

Recreational use of either is a different issue.


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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by Varillon » Sun Sep 08, 2013 9:09 am

Hey Mike,

I think that is the typical view, but many people struggle with it still. There's no denying a change to the senses which can make judgement go awry. However, I am beginning to believe that meditation counteracts those effects. When I meditate, I can't tell a difference between very little pain/very little mj in my system and high pain/high dose. Granted, I do take longer to slip away using more mj because of how long it takes to drain my anxieties.

It's refreshing to see modern discussions on doctrine. (I was raised on Southern Christian doctrine.)


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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by mirco » Sun Sep 08, 2013 12:15 pm

Dear Varillon,
Varillon wrote:Over a year ago, I caved and tried marijuana. For the first time in a decade, I got my mind back. It wasn't riddled with streaks of white pain. In my case there would be no chance of meditation, focus, or reflection without hindering my senses with something.
too bad, with all that pain. I feel sorry for you.

the 8fold path is more than meditation only.

Have you ever tried to work on that pain with a real competent Buddhist teacher?

I am asking, because I know stories of people having dealt with severe pain without medication. They did it 'only' with Buddha Dhamma and it worked out.

Warm Regards,
"An important term for meditative absorption is samadhi. We often translate that as concentration, but that can suggest a certain stiffness. Perhaps unification is a better rendition, as samadhi means to bring together. Deep samadhi isn't at all stiff. It's a process of letting go of other things and coming to a unified experience." - Bhikkhu Anālayo

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by dagon » Sun Sep 08, 2013 2:58 pm

For me the 5th precept is the easiest to keep - i just wish the other Precepts were as easy for me to keep. Personally i don't think that the first 4 Precepts would be an option for me if i was not following the 5th.

I used to drink very heavily (more than a bottle of vodka a day. One day laying on a beach in the Canaries i ask myself why I drank, but could not come up with even one reason that made any sense. I still can not, so i still do not drink. I don't consider that i gave anything up - i believe that i opened the door to many possiblities.


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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by Varillon » Sun Sep 08, 2013 5:41 pm

Hi Mirco,

A little over 2 hours from where I live is the state capitol. For me, that's actually a big trek, and I wanted to learn more before contacting anyone for a real-life meet. If anyone here knows anything about the groups in Little Rock, AR, feel free to pm me. And thank you for the encouragement. I had hopes that someone in the Sangha could help one day.


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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by Jhana4 » Sun Sep 08, 2013 7:21 pm

mynameisadahn wrote:Hello,

I am interested lately in how Americans/other westerners view and relate to the 5th precept, forbidding intoxicants.
I've been a life long non-drinker, non-intoxicant user so the 5th precept has never been an issue for me. It does seem inconstient to me to see people who are very much into meditation, into Buddhism, over deeply into yoga using those things. Though, like I wrote, it is never something I cared to do myself so outside of web board topics like this one it has never been an issue with me :)
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by khlawng » Mon Sep 09, 2013 11:07 am

sometimes, i read threads like this one and i am so glad you guys have the choice of saying no to alcohol in your daily life.
my reality is that, i am currently hard at work to earn money to clear my debts and i have elder parents to support.
drinking alcohol when entertaining my clients is part of my business. this business pays for my mortgage and allows me to take care of others. it is what i do for a living and given my age, it is just impossible for me to start afresh.
i am lucky that i don't have a dependency problem with alcohol and i don't consume alcohol outside of work/entertainment.
i rationalize this as having to be realistic about our lives and i use the following 3 principles to guide me:

1) morality base on what the buddha taught
2) common sense
3) law of the land/country

so yes, i confess, i do break the 5th but i try to hold on to it as long as i can when i take the precepts during major occasions at my temple. but i do not feel bad about it because it really is my "reality" for now.

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by Dhammarakkhito » Wed Aug 16, 2017 5:21 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:I think the permissive attitude some have towards alcohol consumption is one of the greatest tragedies in western Buddhism. I just don't understand it; the five precepts are the most basic and foundational aspects of our practice and the idea that some see them as disposable is heartbreaking. Alcohol causes so much sorrow and pain in this world and intoxication is the absolute antithesis of the Buddha's path. There is no excuse for practicing Buddhists to consume any amount of alcohol, and anyone who has lost their way enough to advocate or even tolerate such a shameful behavior is not one I would trust for any guidance on the path.

I hate to sound harsh or judgmental but I just don't see any possible leeway on the subject.
the noble eightfold path and the four noble truths are the foundation of buddhism in my opinion. i agree a mind that seeks escape in alcohol or any other substance is not a pure one, but the fifth precept regards causing a violation of the other precept. bad kamma is generated by violation of any of those precepts, but the fifth precept doesn't necessarily generate bad kamma. this isn't an apology for inebriation or intoxication, but i'm trying to explain why it may be seen as 'optional'.
"Just as the ocean has a single taste — that of salt — in the same way, this Dhamma-Vinaya has a single taste: that of release."
— Ud 5.5 ... 34/?type=3 ... allytaught

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by anthbrown84 » Tue Aug 29, 2017 6:35 pm

I have a question relevant here

On occasion i drink these 0% beers... to make me look like i fit in if i pop out with my wife. I have recently found out they are 0.05% alcohol. This is probably the amount that is present in a bunch of aged grapes. Do you think this breaks the precept? They are sold as alcohol free and i think the 0.05% is the absolute maximum they COULD contain
"Your job in practise is to know the difference between the heart and the activity of the heart, that is it, it is that simple" Ajahn Tate

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Re: is the 5th precept seen as "optional" by some?

Post by BasementBuddhist » Tue Aug 29, 2017 7:25 pm

All of Buddhism is 'optional'.

I drank last night because a guest brought me some wine and I could tell she was very upset. To create a congenial atmosphere where she could relax and feel free to tell me her troubles I drank. Did it cause heedlessness? Yes. Could I maintain mindfulness and listen as easily? No. Will there be karmic consequences? Yes.

Would I do it again? Probably. Helping a friend was more important to me than my own enlightenment, and the few hours I could not pay as much attention. This is just how it is.

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