Moral Conduct



Chiang Mai Temple Painting

One of the biggest chal­lenges for me since I dis­robed is to find a healthy rela­tion­ship to the issue of alco­hol. Sev­er­al of my lay Bud­dhist friends have expressed sur­prise that this should be an issue for me, espe­cial­ly since I went twen­ty years in the monastery with­out a drop of alco­hol and it was nev­er a prob­lem. One friend said that she has had no incli­na­tion or inter­est to drink over the past 25 years because she val­ues the qual­i­ty of mind­ful­ness and alert­ness so much. Anoth­er friend said she wouldn’t con­sid­er drink­ing because the Bud­dha made it so clear in the teach­ing on the five pre­cepts that drink­ing is ‘wrong conduct.’

Ven­er­a­ble Nyanaponi­ka Thera once empha­sized that Bud­dhist ethics are ‘expe­ri­en­tial.’ In this vein, the moral injunc­tions or rules in Bud­dhist prac­tice are usu­al­ly referred to as ‘pre­cepts’ rather than ‘com­mand­ments.’ Grant­ed, the word ‘pre­cept’ orig­i­nal­ly meant ‘admon­ish­ment,’ in the sense that a per­son is ‘tak­en before’ osten­si­bly an exter­nal judge. We could also, how­ev­er, say that a per­son is ‘tak­en before’ him­self, that is we all must face our own conscience.

Ajahn Payut­to explains the rela­tion­ship of this fifth pre­cept to the oth­er four, by say­ing that an abuse (and many would argue a ‘use’) of alco­hol makes a per­son heed­less and prone to com­mit the oth­er four offens­es: of killing/harming, steal­ing, sex­u­al impro­pri­ety, and wrong speech. Of course this is often the case, as any study on say domes­tic vio­lence or car acci­dents would validate.

Like with any oth­er Bud­dhist teach­ing, our invi­ta­tion and task is to be a wit­ness, to see how this teach­ing has a bear­ing on our dai­ly life and to ver­i­fy the process of cause and effect. What is the con­se­quence of drink­ing alco­hol, even if no one else is obvi­ous­ly harmed by our actions? If one is under the influ­ence of alco­hol, how does one respond to the prospect of for­mal med­i­ta­tion, for instance of med­i­tat­ing on the breath? Does one expe­ri­ence any resis­tance? By inves­ti­gat­ing in these ways, one learns from one’s experience.



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