Beer for Buddhists

Michael McAlister Blog 6 Comments

Gerald, over at The Level 8 Buddhist takes on the use of alcohol:

As the Buddha taught, alcohol and intoxicants cause heedlessness. The more you drink, the more heedless you become. It’s not that you become heedless after X number of drinks only, any amount will impair mindfulness and make it harder to practice Buddhism on some degree or another.

While I agree that the abuse of any substance can impair one’s practice, seeing that our attachments to stories surrounding the substance can also inhibit realization. Getting fundamental about abstinence can be an addiction that veils awakening from our sight. In a similar way, knocking back several shots of tequila in order to numb our experience can do exactly the same thing.

This isn’t to say that the use of alcohol should be embraced among otherwise sober Buddhists. Instead each of us should look to see if we’re caught by our use, or non-use, of any intoxicant be it something tangible or intangible; be it a form or a thought. This leads us into an even deeper level of inquiry where we get to ask ourselves questions like: Is this pint of Guiness an abuse of an intoxicant? What is my relationship to it? Or perhaps, is my abstention from alcohol an appropriate response in this moment? Is my vow not to abuse alcohol the same thing as never using it?

Comments 6

  1. Gerald Ford

    Hello and thank you for the kind mention. πŸ™‚

    Regarding intoxicants, regardless of how we feel about it, the Buddha was pretty clear that it is better to abstain than not. In multiple sutras, he lists the five precepts over and over, the fifth being abstention from alcohol. In the Abhisanda Sutta he teaches:

    “Monks, there are these eight rewards of merit, rewards of skillfulness, nourishments of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable, & appealing, to welfare & happiness. Which eight?

    “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.

    The Five Precepts by the way are a cornerstone of Zen practice as well. John Daido Loori and Thich Nhat Hanh had much to say about them, so there is no contradiction with what’s in the Pali Canon, with what’s part of devout Zen practice or with Vipassana meditation. If you went to a meditation retreat, you would be asked to abstain while there, so why not extend that to one’s life outside the retreat?

    Regarding fundamentalism in views, while that’s always possible, the Buddha’s core teachings were that one should abandon what is unskillful and cultivate what is skillful. You don’t have to take my word for it, of course, it’s all there for people to read. πŸ˜‰

    So, please know that I am not being a fundamentalist, I am just telling it how it is.

    Thanks and happy holidays!

    GF, Level 8 Buddhist

  2. Gerald Ford


    While it is true that one can go too far, I suspect that the vast majority of people out there are more guilty of unwholesome habits than they are of clinging to teachings. πŸ˜‰ If it were otherwise, the world would have vastly different problems.

    In any case, Buddhism is kindness and tolerance first above all else, so I know what you’re trying to say, and can’t help but agree.

    Cheers and Happy Holidays!

  3. peter

    There is no debate here. The fifth precept clearly states the Buddha said to abstain completely from alcohol, and all intoxicants. Furthermore, the noble Eightfold Path specifically states that right livelihood cannot include profit, directly or indirectly, from the sale of intoxicants.

    His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, further explains in his book How to Practice, that the true nature of alcohol is suffering. The example used is as follows: If alcohol’s (or food)’s true nature is happiness, then the more you had of it, the happier you would become, in equal measure. If one consumes as much of either as they can, the true nature of these things is quickly discovered.

    No debate, no grey area, it is black and white.

    The nature of intoxicants are certainly baffling, aren’t they.

    1. Michael McAlister

      Interesting points, peter.
      Two questions: Is there any clinging to this story? and, if so, How does a strict constructionist of the Dharma keep from being “fundamentalist” in their approach to the tradition?

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