The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
PeterB
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by PeterB » Thu Nov 05, 2009 2:36 pm

I think its sophistry to arrive at a translation which may be accurate to the letter but misses the spirit. The Buddha was a) A Buddha and B) Not a product of Northern European logic.

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Kare
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:00 pm

PeterB wrote:I think its sophistry to arrive at a translation which may be accurate to the letter but misses the spirit. The Buddha was a) A Buddha and B) Not a product of Northern European logic.

:anjali:
Was he a product of Northern European puritanism?
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:34 pm

Hello Kare and Adam,
Kare wrote:In this debate there are two different aspects that should be kept separate. The first aspect is the precept. The second is our personal views.
I very much agree with you on this point. With respect, another aspect that should be kept separate is provocative language about other posters.
Kare wrote:Some may feel that the precept should be stronger, and they might wish to lay down a prohibition about taking that drink that may lead to intoxication. And that may be a quite sensible interpretation. But the precept as we have it, does not say this, and to twist the translation in order to make the precept say what we want it to say, is nothing but pious fraud.
Although I have a different understanding than you have, I do not regard my understanding as pious, nor as an attempt to twist the translation, nor as a fraud.

My personal view is that I think the precept should be exactly as it is, neither stronger nor weaker, and if I misunderstand the precept, then I will adjust my own understanding, not try to tinker with the precept. I assume you feel the same way, and I assume others here also are engaged in efforts to arrive at a closer understanding of Dhamma, not in some pious fraud, as you put it. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, please.
adamposey wrote:I have to wonder if, perhaps, that translation is mis=worded as well.
It very well may be, and I'm not going to defend it strenuously.
adamposey wrote:The reason abstaining from alcohol strikes me as a weird precept is that it's not normal for the Buddha to have outlawed something completely for his followers.
This reflects a misunderstanding of the precepts. Just as the Buddha did not "outlaw" lying or stealing or killing living beings, he did not "outlaw" taking intoxicants. Rather, the Buddha very compassionately pointed out that these behaviors harm ourselves and others. It is up to us how we choose to behave. The precepts are not the same as religious commandments or laws imposed by government.
________________________

With deepest respect, Kare, I would ask you to address this following concern that I raised earlier:
Jechbi wrote:The problem that I see with this "moderation" interpretation of the precept is it is not in accord with clear sutta teachings, such as this one from AN 8.39:
Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.
If it is true that the precept involves moderation rather than abstaining from intoxicants, then how do you square that with clear sutta teachings that point to abstention?

:anjali:
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by adamposey » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:53 pm

Jechbi wrote:Hello Kare and Adam,
Kare wrote:In this debate there are two different aspects that should be kept separate. The first aspect is the precept. The second is our personal views.
I very much agree with you on this point. With respect, another aspect that should be kept separate is provocative language about other posters.
Kare wrote:Some may feel that the precept should be stronger, and they might wish to lay down a prohibition about taking that drink that may lead to intoxication. And that may be a quite sensible interpretation. But the precept as we have it, does not say this, and to twist the translation in order to make the precept say what we want it to say, is nothing but pious fraud.
Although I have a different understanding than you have, I do not regard my understanding as pious, nor as an attempt to twist the translation, nor as a fraud.

My personal view is that I think the precept should be exactly as it is, neither stronger nor weaker, and if I misunderstand the precept, then I will adjust my own understanding, not try to tinker with the precept. I assume you feel the same way, and I assume others here also are engaged in efforts to arrive at a closer understanding of Dhamma, not in some pious fraud, as you put it. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, please.
adamposey wrote:I have to wonder if, perhaps, that translation is mis=worded as well.
It very well may be, and I'm not going to defend it strenuously.
adamposey wrote:The reason abstaining from alcohol strikes me as a weird precept is that it's not normal for the Buddha to have outlawed something completely for his followers.
This reflects a misunderstanding of the precepts. Just as the Buddha did not "outlaw" lying or stealing or killing living beings, he did not "outlaw" taking intoxicants. Rather, the Buddha very compassionately pointed out that these behaviors harm ourselves and others. It is up to us how we choose to behave. The precepts are not the same as religious commandments or laws imposed by government.
________________________

With deepest respect, Kare, I would ask you to address this following concern that I raised earlier:
Jechbi wrote:The problem that I see with this "moderation" interpretation of the precept is it is not in accord with clear sutta teachings, such as this one from AN 8.39:
Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.
If it is true that the precept involves moderation rather than abstaining from intoxicants, then how do you square that with clear sutta teachings that point to abstention?

:anjali:
Perhaps not as much a misunderstanding as a communication failure. Breaking the precepts would cause a bhikku to be apart from the order, no? As such that would be a kind of law. Now, I am not a Bhikku and as such I can do what I like without any rigid social repercussions clearly defined by a set of rules (for the most part). What I mean is that the training precepts do not strike me as "rigid" until you come to the one about alcohol. That is: In common translation the other precepts use words like "refrain" as opposed to "abstain" and so on. This makes the alcohol precept stand out to me as particularly strict and demanding against the backdrop of the others.

I also believe we should clearly define the results of not following the precept. In common discussion the attitude put forth by many is "drinking alcohol will hold you back from achieving nibbana." Which, to me, is about the equivalent of threatening a person with punishment.

I think an appropriate comparison is with meat. The precepts say to avoid killing a thing, and so many Buddhists choose to simply become vegan to reduce their "kammic footprint" as it were. This is a strict and rigid rule, one which the Buddha had to work around by giving some general rules about meat which are strict and rigid, but don't deny that meat is a part of the lives of many.

I'm just saying I was never struck by the Buddha as a strict teacher who typically used words like "abstain" except in extreme circumstances. Rather he seemed to be a principled teacher who understood the way of balancing the world's ways with being enlightened and working towards that goal.

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Jechbi
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:11 pm

Hi Adam, did you read the Five Faultless Gifts sutta that I referenced a few posts ago?
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Kare
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:11 pm

Jechbi wrote: My personal view is that I think the precept should be exactly as it is, neither stronger nor weaker, and if I misunderstand the precept, then I will adjust my own understanding, not try to tinker with the precept. I assume you feel the same way, and I assume others here also are engaged in efforts to arrive at a closer understanding of Dhamma, not in some pious fraud, as you put it. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, please.
The expression "pious fraud" was a bit too strong, and I apologize for using it.
With deepest respect, Kare, I would ask you to address this following concern that I raised earlier:
Jechbi wrote:The problem that I see with this "moderation" interpretation of the precept is it is not in accord with clear sutta teachings, such as this one from AN 8.39:
Furthermore, abandoning the use of intoxicants, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.
If it is true that the precept involves moderation rather than abstaining from intoxicants, then how do you square that with clear sutta teachings that point to abstention?

:anjali:
The wording in that quote is the same as in the precept:

... surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti

In the composite word surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā the last element, -ṭhānā, "condition", is the main element. We can ask: "Which condition?", and then we find that -majjapamāda- is a qualifying element which describes the condition. "majjapamāda" consists of two synonyms (the heaping up of synonyms is very common in the Pali texts) saying approximately the same: "intoxication". We can then go further and ask: "What kind of intoxication?", and find that surāmeraya- (two alcoholic drinks) describe what kind of intoxication is meant. So the expression talks about the condition of intoxication from alcoholic drinks.

Let me make one thing clear: I do not advocate getting drunk. I very seldom taste alcohol, maybe a few times a year, and I hate getting drunk, so I stop after a small glass of beer or whatever. I find that this works for me, and that way I am not breaking this precept. I have, however, full respect for those who chose to abstain from all drinking (of alcohol). And I agree that the suttas also make it clear that we should abstain from getting intoxicated. But we should not make the Buddha more absolutist than what the texts really say. And I feel that those who twist the translations to make him more absolutist than what the texts really say, are doing us all a disfavor. Surely from the best of intentions, but still ...
Mettāya,
Kåre

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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 5:14 pm

Kare wrote:... surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti

In the composite word surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā the last element, -ṭhānā, "condition", is the main element. We can ask: "Which condition?", and then we find that -majjapamāda- is a qualifying element which describes the condition. "majjapamāda" consists of two synonyms (the heaping up of synonyms is very common in the Pali texts) saying approximately the same: "intoxication". We can then go further and ask: "What kind of intoxication?", and find that surāmeraya- (two alcoholic drinks) describe what kind of intoxication is meant. So the expression talks about the condition of intoxication from alcoholic drinks.
Thanks, Kare. I have several concerns about this:

1) There are many other references besides this one that seem to support an "abstention" understanding. Chris pointed out some of them here.

2) In every training rule, it is the action that is addressed, not the result. The actions are killing living beings, or stealing, or (in the case of alcohol) taking. In every other one of these references, would you want to interpret them as pointing to the result rather than to the action itself?

3) In your translation that you have offered here, you separate out the notion of "intoxicated" from "alcohol" so that the abstention points to "intoxicated" rather than "alcohol." But I still don't follow exactly why this separation is implicit. Why is it impossible that "alcohol intoxicated" isn't all one unit, inseparable, from which to be abstained? If they all do belong together (not separated), then the only way to abstain is by abstaining from the action of taking the intoxicant.

4) If it is as clear-cut as you say, then why do so many other knowledgeable people interpret this differently? Do you really think that they are all just "twisting" this out of some ill-conceived good intention?
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Kare
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 5:49 pm

Jechbi wrote:
Kare wrote:... surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti

In the composite word surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā the last element, -ṭhānā, "condition", is the main element. We can ask: "Which condition?", and then we find that -majjapamāda- is a qualifying element which describes the condition. "majjapamāda" consists of two synonyms (the heaping up of synonyms is very common in the Pali texts) saying approximately the same: "intoxication". We can then go further and ask: "What kind of intoxication?", and find that surāmeraya- (two alcoholic drinks) describe what kind of intoxication is meant. So the expression talks about the condition of intoxication from alcoholic drinks.
Thanks, Kare. I have several concerns about this:

1) There are many other references besides this one that seem to support an "abstention" understanding. Chris pointed out some of them here.
I'm sorry, but those references are very unclear. Do you have a clear reference to a sutta text?
2) In every training rule, it is the action that is addressed, not the result. The actions are killing living beings, or stealing, or (in the case of alcohol) taking. In every other one of these references, would you want to interpret them as pointing to the result rather than to the action itself?
You are deducing this point from the words of the other training rule. That is good. So why not take the words of the fifth precept as they stand?
3) In your translation that you have offered here, you separate out the notion of "intoxicated" from "alcohol" so that the abstention points to "intoxicated" rather than "alcohol." But I still don't follow exactly why this separation is implicit. Why is it impossible that "alcohol intoxicated" isn't all one unit, inseparable, from which to be abstained? If they all do belong together (not separated), then the only way to abstain is by abstaining from the action of taking the intoxicant.
I think this depends on (at least) two factors: the quantity taken and the person who takes it. Most people will not get noticeably intoxicated from drinking a small glass of beer along with a good dinner, or from taking a sip of wine saying "Cheers!" to a good friend - and leave it at that. By keeping the precept open, the Buddha does not "criminalize" innocent acts like those. But if a person reacts quickly and strongly to alcohol, this person is wise not to drink at all. And the rest of us are wise not to drink more than that small glass at a rare occasion. I am, however, strongly convinced that as buddhists we can have that small and rare drink without any pang of conscience for breaking a precept.
4) If it is as clear-cut as you say, then why do so many other knowledgeable people interpret this differently? Do you really think that they are all just "twisting" this out of some ill-conceived good intention?
I think you'd rather put this question to those other knowledgeable people, asking them for a clear grammatical analysis of the text. If you can get such an analysis, and it proves to be based on a sounder grammatical analysis than my own, I am willing to change my mind on this question.
Mettāya,
Kåre

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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Nov 05, 2009 7:31 pm

Hi Adam,
adamposey wrote:What I mean is that the training precepts do not strike me as "rigid" until you come to the one about alcohol. That is: In common translation the other precepts use words like "refrain" as opposed to "abstain" and so on. This makes the alcohol precept stand out to me as particularly strict and demanding against the backdrop of the others.
The Pali is exactly the same for all five precepts (or 8 for 8 precepts)
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... #precepts5" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
XXX veramaṇī sikkhā-padaṃ samādiyāmi.
I undertake the training rule to refrain from XXX.
The translation there for the fifth precept is:
Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhā-padaṃ samādiyāmi.
I undertake the training rule to refrain from intoxicating liquors & drugs that lead to carelessness.
I have no comment on whether Kare's translation is more accurate. My Pali is not up to that and, frankly, I don't find the issue particularly interesting. The precepts are "sila 101", the bottom end of what one should aspire to in the area of virtue, and a small part of the effort required for liberation.

Metta
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by enkidu » Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:17 pm

I suspect that as one puts the mind on kamma, less confusion arises with respect to precepts. I suspect the fruit of such effort is the joy of keeping precepts purely, whereas the fruit of the lack of such effort is the fear of keeping precepts impurely.

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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:33 pm

mikenz66 wrote: The translation there for the fifth precept is:
Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhā-padaṃ samādiyāmi.
I undertake the training rule to refrain from intoxicating liquors & drugs that lead to carelessness.
I have no comment on whether Kare's translation is more accurate. My Pali is not up to that and, frankly, I don't find the issue particularly interesting. The precepts are "sila 101", the bottom end of what one should aspire to in the area of virtue, and a small part of the effort required for liberation.

Metta
Mike
The real problem is rather this: Where are we going if we give incorrect translations canonical or semi-canonical status? Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?
Mettāya,
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Jechbi » Thu Nov 05, 2009 9:02 pm

Kare wrote:The real problem is rather this: Where are we going if we give incorrect translations canonical or semi-canonical status? Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?
You're presopposing that your personal translation (which supports your firm conviction) is the accurate translation and the rest are inaccurate. I'm skeptical about your translation. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in what the passage actually says. This may be a better topic for a thread in the Pali language forum of this board.

The issue seems to be whether the language points to "intoxicants" or to "intoxication." One of them is to be abstained from.

I don't wish to slander the Tathagatha, so I'll keep an open mind.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Nov 05, 2009 9:10 pm

Hi Kare,
Kare wrote: The real problem is rather this: Where are we going if we give incorrect translations canonical or semi-canonical status? Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?
Thats a separate issue. Since I don't have a good knowledge of Pali, I can't comment on whether your translation is more or less accurate than the translation I am used to, where the key phrase is:
"intoxicating liquors & drugs that lead to carelessness".

One could also start querying why "kāmesu micchācārā" is usually restricted to "sexual misconduct", rather than "sensual". Or why, in the 8 precept version of the third precept "abrahma-cariyā" = "not brahma-caria"
is interpreted to mean abstaining from sexual intercourse. Presumably it's all about context...

Mike

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Kare
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Kare » Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:14 pm

Jechbi wrote:
Kare wrote:The real problem is rather this: Where are we going if we give incorrect translations canonical or semi-canonical status? Why should we at all bother with the Pali texts if we are not interested in what they are saying?
You're presopposing that your personal translation (which supports your firm conviction) is the accurate translation and the rest are inaccurate. I'm skeptical about your translation.
You are right in being sceptical, and I'll gladly listen to any reasoned arguments against my understanding of the grammar in this precept.

A related question is of course how we interpret the precept. Translation is one thing - interpretation is something else. If someone choose to interpret the precept as total abstention from alcohol, that is OK for me, and I respect such an interpretation. As for myself, I choose to interpret the precept as abstention not only from alcoholic intoxication, but against intoxication from any drug as well. But I have to be honest and say that this is my choice and my interpretation, not what the text of the precept is saying.
Mettāya,
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Re: The Casual Drink Or About That One Precept...

Post by Aloka » Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:57 pm

In Tibetan Buddhism, cigarettes, as well as weed and other drugs and alcohol (whatever the amount )are considered a violation of the precept concerning intoxicants...if one formally takes the 5 precept vows.

I'm quite surprised to find its not the same in Theravada !

:anjali:

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