Mindful Drinking?

Michael McAlister Blog 6 Comments

NPR contributor, Ted Rose, offers up a very interesting piece on mindfulness and the consumption of alcohol. It’s well worth the read.

Money quote:

…once a meditator has developed basic Buddhist discipline (known as Hinayana training) and adopted the intention to dedicate his or her life to benefit others (the Mahayana view) the practitioner is ready to incorporate Vajrayana teachings, in which the simple prohibitions outlined in traditional Buddhist sutras are re-evaluated. When a meditator reaches this point, which usually takes a number of years, a dangerous substance like alcohol is viewed—within a context of strong discipline and clear intention—not as a conventional escape, but instead as a tool for loosening the subtle clinging of ego.

The key here is that in the ultimate sense everything is an advanced practice, but we can’t shortcut this process. Ego’s will try, but this is why we take vows. The vows offer a moral code that is structured in ways that make it harder for the ego to think that it’s enlightened. Chogyam Trungpa perhaps exemplified this kind of misstep in his many “advanced” practices. And to be sure, I do my best to be mindful as I enjoy a glass of wine or my pizza and beer. But I (and the rest of us) must be careful with our “advanced” practices. Especially if they aren’t grounded in vows.

Bows, elephant journal.

Comments 6

  1. tao

    Interesting. I was saying to a friend some time ago the benefit of a little drink. This morning I had a coffee (I rarely do) and it lead to nice thoughts and a drew a nice picture too.

    A key is of course to not slip into habit, addition, and to have the thing as a crutch. It must be done with mindfulness as you state.

  2. Bodhi

    The test of whether this is a true tantric practice or a crude attempt at rationalization is whether other traditional tantric practices such as menstrual blood, semen, feces, and other “unclean” substances. The entire purpose of these kinds of tantric practices was to consume substances that were considered (in that culture) to be impure and taboo. Having a nice glass of wine hardly fits into this category.

    Never underestimate the power of western Buddhists to explain away their cravings in “Buddhist” terms.

  3. Michael McAlister

    Great comments. Seriously. I think this is a place filled with a rich opportunity for dialog.

    Love the line: Never underestimate the power of western Buddhists to explain away their cravings in “Buddhist” terms.

    No kidding.

  4. C. Om

    What do you think about psychedelic drugs and some user’s claims that they were able to feel a sense of timelessness and one with all creation?

    1. Michael McAlister

      It’s tricky.
      No doubt that psychedelics have led many to the Path. One of my most influential Zen teachers used LSD a great deal in her early stages of practice and she has commented that it opened stuff up in her that allowed for the Path to reveal itself in powerful ways. Then again, drugs have also led many into hell realms.
      I would always suggest to practitioners that leaning into a stillness practice with total resolve will reveal a deeper truth than any drug could. The trouble is that this process takes so much commitment. An authentic sitting practice is like tempering the steel of a Samurai’s sword. Fold after fold, immersion after immersion, and the attachments begin to loosen. Once this happens, any experience of Nirmanakaya automatically has a very fertile field onto which it can express itself spontaneously. LSD, or any other psychoactive drug, won’t do this in the same way. It might point the way, but it won’t offer an organically integrated realization that can be expressed with the same grace.
      Having said this, a really nice pale ale with a deep dish pizza defines Nirvana.

  5. C. Om

    Yes. I can understand that. I have never talked with anyone first hand on their experience with psychedelics, but have heard of their experiences. I guess it can be said that walking with a crutch is never as rewarding as walking on your own two.

    Thank you for the insight.

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