Question: The fifth of the Five Precepts is to abstain from consuming intoxicants as they can cause loss of mindfulness (that leads to breaking of other precepts) and unhealthy addiction. However, what about the usage of small amounts of wine or alcohol in cooking or as a health tonic, which do not impair mindfulness? Should these be abstained from as well?
Answer: To uphold the Fifth Precept well, consumption of intoxicants used for flavouring should be avoided too. This is because the fact that it is used in flavouring, and that one likes the taste of it means this can eventually lead to interest in wanting to consume greater and greater amounts of it directly, leading to actual unhealthy addiction and loss of mindfulness later.
Likewise, drinking for ‘health’ is better avoided to cut risk of possibly wanting to consume greater quantities with greater frequencies later. There are surely other safer ways to nourish the body. The best way to ensure bad habits do not grow is by ensuring they do not begin at all. Bad habits that have formed either grow or diminish. Why not diminish them all the way?
The practice of ridding even potentially harmful habits is part of the path to perfect moral integrity. If we cannot imagine the Buddha craving to eat some food cooked with wine, or to drink even a little of it, why should we do so, if we aspire to be pure like him? While what we consume do not directly make us spiritually defiled, to consume with unchecked craving does.
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