Why Avoidance Of Alcohol Is So Important

The only way to prove
you are not addicted,
is to kick the habit now.

– Stonepeace | Books

In the basic Five Precepts, which are moral guidelines for beginner Buddhists, is the Fifth Precept against the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Avoidance of alcohol is to prevent possible loss of mindfulness, which might prove harmful to oneself and others, by breaking other precepts. It thus is a special preventive measure. Alcoholic beverages here is shorthand for all kinds of ever-evolving intoxicating substances that can impair mindfulness. In the Bodhisattva Precepts (菩萨戒) taught by Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) in the Brahmā Net Sūtra (梵网经), warnings against involvement with alcohol are so serious that they are mentioned twice, in the following sequence.

‘[The] Fifth [Heavy] Precept [Against] Buying [And] Selling [Of] Alcoholic Beverages: If [as] Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, [to] personally buy [and] sell alcoholic beverages, instruct others [to] buy [and] sell alcoholic beverages, [through] cause[s] [to] buy [and] sell alcoholic beverages, condition[s] [to] buy [and] sell alcoholic beverages, method[s] [to] buy [and] sell alcoholic beverages, [intentional] action[s] [to] buy [and] sell alcoholic beverages, all alcoholic beverages must not be bought [or] sold, [as] alcoholic beverages [are] causes [and] conditions [for] giving rise [to] misgivings. While Bodhisattvas should give rise [to] all sentient beings’ clear [and] interpenetrative wisdom [of past, present and future], yet instead, [to] further give rise [to] all sentient beings’ inverted [or deluded] minds, [this] is [a] Bodhisattva’s pārājika [grave morally defeating] transgression.’ (‘第五酤酒[重]戒: 若佛子,自酤酒,教人酤酒,酤酒因、酤酒缘、酤酒法、酤酒业,一切酒不得酤,是酒起罪因缘。而菩萨应生一切众生明达之慧,而反更生一切众生颠倒之心者,是菩萨波罗夷罪。’)

Here, the Buddha forbids any form of direct or indirect trade in intoxicants, as buyer, seller or facilitator. The first reason for this prohibition is more to guard against physical harm, to avoid potential misgivings arising from confused thoughts, speech and deeds. The second reason, is more to guard against spiritual (or mental) harm, as the intoxicated mind is the inversion of a precious clear mind, which is essential for learning, practising and realising profound and interconnected wisdom for the sake of Buddhahood. This mind should only be ever more clear in a lasting way on the path to enlightenment. Drinking thus, be it momentarily or habitually, leads to backsliding on this path. In the worse cases, it might lead to addiction, thus keeping clarity of mind out of reach for indefinite time. As we aspire for total and eternal clarity, as far as we can help it, we should not even spend a single nanosecond without mindfulness. As it is with mindfulness that the pure integrity of all other heavier and lighter precepts is preserved, this is a heavy precept indeed!

’[The] Second [Light] Precept [Against] Drinking Alcoholic Beverages: If [as] Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, [of] intentionally drinking alcoholic beverages, as alcoholic beverages give rise [to] faults [of] commission [and] omission [that are] immeasurable, if personally [by] hand passing vessels [with] alcoholic beverages [to] offer others [to] drink alcoholic beverages, [for] five hundred lifetimes [will they be] without hands; what more [if to] personally drink [them]? Likewise, [they] must not instruct all humans [to] drink, and all [other] sentient beings [to] drink alcoholic beverages, what more [to] personally drink alcoholic beverages. All alcoholic beverages must not [be] drunk. If intentionally personally drinking, [or] instructing others [to] drink, [they] commit [a] light defiled transgression.‘ (’第二饮酒[轻]戒: 若佛子,故饮酒,而酒生过失无量,若自身手过酒器与人饮酒者,五百世无手;何况自饮?亦不得教一切人饮,及一切众生饮酒,况自饮酒?一切酒不得饮。若故自饮,教人饮者,犯轻垢罪。’) (Note that it is a heavier transgression to sell intoxicants to others than to consume it personally, as the first harms more beings.)

Here, the Buddha reminds us that loss of mindfulness can lead to careless mistakes, by doing what should not be done (out of confusion), and not doing what should be done (out of negligence). Such faults can be immeasurable as they might lead to accidents that end many physical and spiritual lives. Also, those habitually intoxicated might be reborn in a mentally unclear state, making it difficult to comprehend the Dharma, much less the cause of their misfortune. Again, the Buddha warns against the slightest facilitation of drinking, even by passing a wine glass or bottle, as this feeds intoxication. Such ignorant misuse of hands can karmically lead to their loss in serious cases, by being reborn as armless sentient beings such as worms and eels. Animals are also karmically predominant with ignorance, the root poison that gives rise to the other two poisons of greed and hatred. Thus, the only reason to touch the ‘poison of ignorance’ (无明药) that dulls the mind is to pour it away!

The only way to prove 
you can clear your mind,
is to cultivate the habit now.

– Stonepeace | Books

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