+3 votes
by (190 points)
When you say alcohol is bad, and we should restrain from drugs and alcohol, what does that really mean when nearly everything we take into our bodies affects our minds in some way, and considering holy men in India have long used hashish to help with their meditation, how do you decide which substances are, in fact, "drugs" and which are not?

See what I mean here?  Besides 'religious' cannabis use, or something like peyote or mushrooms used for shamanic or mind-expansion reasons, there are many other borderline cases.  I find this kind of "good/bad" dualism to be very un-Buddhist in my understanding of Buddhism, at least Zen Buddhism, which I have studied and practiced most of my life.  There is no question that certain substances can, in fact, expand your awareness and give you insights and clarity of thinking, at least some of the time.

And what about people who are prescribed things like Xanax for so-called "diseases" when in fact Xanax makes you high as a kite and unable to really function or determine right from wrong...do you feel that Buddhists who get prescribed such things (there are many such drugs, by the way) should not take them, then?  Even at the cost of being unable to function in day-to-day life?  

The video I just watched () is definitely old, and you seem young in that video, I'm guessing about 23 or so, and I wonder if you have evolved past this kind of dualistic thinking, and how you consider such cases as I've outlined.  And as a "bush partier" I have to guess you have dropped acid or mushrooms at least, and probably tried other things...didn't you ever have moments of great clarity during some of these bush parties, even just from a few beers and a little weed or whatever?  Don't you consider these experiences valid from a consciousness expansion standpoint?

Chocolate is mind altering, is it not?  And green tea.  I mean, where (and why) do you draw the line?  Does it really have to be so black and white for even the strictest monk?  I just cannot believe that there are monks that won't even drink tea, despite it's mind and body altering properties...and I have read old stories about drinking games played by Zen monks in Japan in the old days too...

I respect you and your work, and appreciate it.  Keep it up!  :-)

Bruce M.
by (190 points)
Yes, my mind does go into detail sometimes too much and I have been anxious and stressed lately, but I think my question (for the monk, really) is a valid one for everyone.  Did you watch the video too?  I didn't really ask about food exactly...I mean obviously white rice isn't mind altering...  Thank you for the insight though...useful stuff.  Take care.  :-)
by (18.3k points)
The position he takes in the video you shared is pretty much the standard Theravada Buddhist view towards intoxicants. So I doubt he has changed it.

Here are some related answers by venerable Yuttadhammo on coffee and also Zen:
https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/8631/philosophical-and-doctrinal-differences-between-theravada-and-zen-and-its-effec/8679#8679

by (190 points)
Thank you for your input and the links.  The main thrust of my question is 'what is an intoxicant?  how do we decide what intoxication is?'  Many so-called intoxicants (such as hashish) in fact have mixed effects and can raise your consciousness, and help in meditation, which is why they are used by people in traditional settings such as Northern India (where Shakyamuni was from in fact)...and despite his talk on coffee, in nearly every Buddhist temple green tea is a standard feature and the Tea Ceremony is a big component of traditional Buddhism in Japan and elsewhere....let me tell you that tea can also have you bouncing off the walls and also definitely is a crutch...and hashish can be a crutch too...and so on.  I just felt that in the video I linked to, his dualistic comments didn't address these grey areas whatsoever...I get that, for many people much of the time, alcohol is mostly an intoxicant, but even that can be argued...small amounts of wine or tequila (etc.) can really activate your mind and senses and provide insight and deep Zen-like moments of clarity and greatly heightened perception.  Go to the beach at sunset and sip a glass of red wine sometime and you will quickly see that the initial effects are not intoxication at all, but heighted senses and mental activity.
by (18.3k points)
The Fifth precept is broken if the following conditions are satisfied:
i) There must be an intoxicant.
ii) There must be the intention of taking it.
iii) Action must be taken to ingest it.
iv) There must be actual ingestion of the intoxicant.

So you can see that it does not depend on the degree of intoxication or whether it leads to other effects initially. Alcohol is something that has a direct effect on impairing one's mind. Coffee, tea etc. cannot be put in the same category.

Also keep in mind that intoxicants were available at the time of the Buddha and he never recommended taking them to help with meditation at any time.  He actually introduced Vinaya rules to make it harder for monks to take alcohol without breaking the precepts. So you can side with the Zen masters or you can side with the Buddha the master to us all.
by (190 points)
Great answer.  Thanks so much! :)

Sounds like meditation (such as Zazen) is the only way, really, to attain the deep, life-changing wisdom of the Buddha.  

Products of the western world such as me have quite a disability in this regard, methinks.  All our lives we are sold bullshit quick fixes for everything from health (pills, vaccines, diets), to relationships (find your soulmate on Match.com!), to food (TV dinners, microwaves, McDonalds, instant everything), to entertainment (TV, movies, comic books, porn mags, cocaine), and especially to spirituality (accept Jesus and send in your $$$ and you're going to heaven!!).  

I will say, though, that my case as a white male growing up in materialistic Southern California (the belly of the beast, as it were) lysergic acid diethylamide did help get me on the path towards Buddhism, there is no question about it...so there is that.  (Your mileage may vary!!  (lol))

take care and all the best to you too :-)
by (730 points)
Yes that makes sense,  a way of thinking differently amongst  mainstream society. Yet here we are, you have come across something  better and what got you here ( and I’m sure some others ) is no longer necessary, and is regarded by those who are wiser as more of an obstruction now. I think you always find two types of people , those who have dabbled with substances and those who haven’t  - before they find, I guess, the real real practice. And for those of us who dabbled with substances , it’s a process of having to let that go too as well as other things from the past  .

And I know what you mean, where do we draw the line? I think as we try the practice we get a better sense of what a sober mental state for us is. Like, there are monks who drink lots of coffee , yet I find it makes me so restless. So as we learn about ourselves  , we figure out what exactly makes us feel  intoxicated even if it’s not in the “rules”.

Thank you, I will take care.
PS I have never tried Zazen but definitely feel the at home meditation course by Bhante Yuttadhammo teaches an effective way of practice.
by (190 points)
Yes, I think it is true that these substances are essentially more disabling at this point, but I would repeat most of my experiences given the same situation and state of evolution, and I will probably dabble a bit more here and there in certain settings that have power for me, such as deep in the desert surrounded by pure nature.  But using them strictly to reach meditative-like states isn't something I plan to do much more.  I used to drop 'cid about once a month in large part to "stay on track" (i.e. not just for the high or expanded senses) but that was ages ago.  I appreciate your response, it is valuable to me.

Zazen is just the Japanese word for sitting meditation, and it is the style that many Buddhist sources do outline...spine straight, head erect, hands in the mudra, etc.  Exactly like most Buddha statues pretty much.  The points of differeynce among styles is typically (from my readings and listenings) more about the finer points...do you face a blank wall?  do you focus on the breath or something else, do you close your eyes or not, ...but I'm pretty sure the posture is universal amongst Buddhists and other meditators alike.  Zazen is just the Japanese term for it.

2 Answers

+2 votes
by (1.9k points)
I think focusing on meditation and abstaining from general harmful stuff(alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc.) should be ok. If we go into too much detail about the food intake then it will be tough to focus on anything else. Mind going in too much detail is stemming from anxiety therefore be vigilant of your mind and do not let it trick you, observe your mind. Go back to meditation so that your mind is focusing on something then wisdom will rise up and you will get the correct answers.
by (190 points)
Yes, my mind does go into detail sometimes too much and I have been anxious and stressed lately, but I think my question (for the monk, really) is a valid one for everyone.  Did you watch the video too?  I didn't really ask about food exactly...I mean obviously white rice isn't mind altering...  Thank you for the insight though...useful stuff.  Take care.  :-)
+1 vote
by (730 points)

Hope you’re are well Bruce. It’s a good question, and Bhante has made some good points. I’ll just chime in with a small point late. 

I feel you answered the question in your answer. When we take drugs and herbs to grow spiritually , it doesn’t give us true wisdom , as you said “you ever have moments of great clarity....these experiences valid from a consciousness expansion standpoint?” That’s the issue,  moments of clarity are only moments, they are only experiences. Most people forget about them years after - and if not then when we die we still will forget about them, and start life anew , none the wiser. They might seem to be expanding your mind as they might change how your brain interacts but really don’t permeate deep enough.  In fact the effects of shrooms,weed and other things, are more intellectual learning, people think a lot during these experiences or see a lot of mental visual imagery. What we are working towards is not an mental experience, it’s not the type of wisdom which the mind/brain creates, that is why it is not impermanent. So why take mind expanding substances it if it’s a temporary and ultimately useless fix, when there are things which are much more powerful and permeate deeper. We must use our time wisely. 

All the best . 

by (190 points)
Great answer.  Thanks so much! :)

Sounds like meditation (such as Zazen) is the only way, really, to attain the deep, life-changing wisdom of the Buddha.  

Products of the western world such as me have quite a disability in this regard, methinks.  All our lives we are sold bullshit quick fixes for everything from health (pills, vaccines, diets), to relationships (find your soulmate on Match.com!), to food (TV dinners, microwaves, McDonalds, instant everything), to entertainment (TV, movies, comic books, porn mags, cocaine), and especially to spirituality (accept Jesus and send in your $$$ and you're going to heaven!!).  

I will say, though, that my case as a white male growing up in materialistic Southern California (the belly of the beast, as it were) lysergic acid diethylamide did help get me on the path towards Buddhism, there is no question about it...so there is that.  (Your mileage may vary!!  (lol))

take care and all the best to you too :-)
by (730 points)
Yes that makes sense,  a way of thinking differently amongst  mainstream society. Yet here we are, you have come across something  better and what got you here ( and I’m sure some others ) is no longer necessary, and is regarded by those who are wiser as more of an obstruction now. I think you always find two types of people , those who have dabbled with substances and those who haven’t  - before they find, I guess, the real real practice. And for those of us who dabbled with substances , it’s a process of having to let that go too as well as other things from the past  .

And I know what you mean, where do we draw the line? I think as we try the practice we get a better sense of what a sober mental state for us is. Like, there are monks who drink lots of coffee , yet I find it makes me so restless. So as we learn about ourselves  , we figure out what exactly makes us feel  intoxicated even if it’s not in the “rules”.

Thank you, I will take care.
PS I have never tried Zazen but definitely feel the at home meditation course by Bhante Yuttadhammo teaches an effective way of practice.
by (190 points)
Yes, I think it is true that these substances are essentially more disabling at this point, but I would repeat most of my experiences given the same situation and state of evolution, and I will probably dabble a bit more here and there in certain settings that have power for me, such as deep in the desert surrounded by pure nature.  But using them strictly to reach meditative-like states isn't something I plan to do much more.  I used to drop 'cid about once a month in large part to "stay on track" (i.e. not just for the high or expanded senses) but that was ages ago.  I appreciate your response, it is valuable to me.

Zazen is just the Japanese word for sitting meditation, and it is the style that many Buddhist sources do outline...spine straight, head erect, hands in the mudra, etc.  Exactly like most Buddha statues pretty much.  The points of differeynce among styles is typically (from my readings and listenings) more about the finer points...do you face a blank wall?  do you focus on the breath or something else, do you close your eyes or not, ...but I'm pretty sure the posture is universal amongst Buddhists and other meditators alike.  Zazen is just the Japanese term for it.
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