Coffee and the 5th sila

Since trying to quit drinking coffee, I became aware of its powerful stimulating and addictive qualities.

If you think there’s nothing to this, try quitting yourself.

I am also unfortunately a smoker and I would judge quitting coffee a worse experience than quitting smoking.

So in short, I wonder why coffee is not forbidden under the drug (is it the 5th?) sila.


I interpret the 5th of the pancāsilā to refer to anything that leads to heedlessness. If you’ve become aware that coffee is distractingly stimulating (racing thoughts and the like, inability to settle into samadhi etc.) than I would stay away from it. But don’t forget to middle path things… Don’t be so adverse to caffeine that you fear coming into contact with it. Make right choices to the best of your ability with right resolve. White-knuckled caffeine abstinence should be used to get you to understand where the craving lies. Once the craving is uprooted, one could still have a preference for coffee but not let it control their volitional activities. One should be able to go without coffee and no harm done. Going without and thinking “Ah, I’m so virtuous!” is the other side of this and I think possibly just as harmful. One is not made more virtuous simply by following arbitrary dogma. The goal should be in the middle, I think. If abstinence is required to get there… by all means cut it out.

I think it’s great that you are able to overcome this craving for coffee. Don’t let it put the “fear” into you. The 5th precept is more about making a rational choice that allows you to keep mindful so you don’t cause harm through the breaking of other precepts.

While I wouldn’t agree caffeine is as difficult as smoking to stop (degrees of difficulty are impossible to judge as it’s all subjective) it is more insidious due to the social acceptability and normalization of it. Living a life for a time where it’s not acceptable or normal can help to rewire your perception, but I would suggest instead of thinking of this as a monstrous addiction to think of it as a preference for. Addiction can seem insurmountable at times. Whereas halting a preference is a matter of recognizing that it’s merely a preference and you can do without as long as you don’t give into that ego that says you deserve it, should have it, in fact need it.

How lucky are we to be human with all these lessons that teach us and the capability of learning them!


This rule forbids intoxicants which cloud the mind and lead to headlessness.
Coffee doesn’t really do that.


Smoking cigarettes is also not forbidden by the fifth precept (though, I’d still advise against it!)


It’s certainly addictive. Even thinking of the possibility of going without my daily cup of coffee makes me feel defensive and anguished. However I don’t do or say regrettable things under it’s influence, unlike alcohol.

I recently quit coffee myself. Less attachment to caffeine now, that can’t be a bad thing.

My comment is obviously from the lay person’s experience & not informed by monastic guidance.

I know that caffeine, at a certain amount, will speed up my thinking and speaking. When that’s happening, if I am with other people, I’m aware I need to take extra pauses before I speak. Otherwise, I tend to over-speak and say more than I would normally (or sometimes with greater intensity). It doesn’t seem to hinder my mindfulness otherwise. (It also makes my heart beat faster.)

This is the effect I enjoy when I am in the morning hours. It’s what I try to limit and I don’t think I want to give it up yet. In this respect, for my own practice I consider it a toxin that I’ve not yet fully renounced.

So it doesn’t create a clouding effect like alcohol. But it seems to create more opportunity for heedlessness when I’m with other people. I seem to be very sensitive to it.

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I’ve seen “intoxicants” used as a translation and I’ve also seen “alcohol” used as a translation.

I wonder which is more accurate. I hope it is the former as there are many intoxicants in the world.

I have a coffee-aholic friend. Once a year she quits for about a week to give her body a rest and to reset her sensitivities. She uses green tea ( MUCH less caffeine ) to keep the withdrawal headaches away.

Good luck getting off both coffee and cigarettes.

I’ve seen people do some foolish things while being overloaded with caffiene.

The word is surāmerayamajjappamādaṭṭhānā.

The vinaya (Bu Pc 51) expands on two components of that compound:

This kind of alcoholic drink:
Surā nāma
alcoholic drinks made from flour, alcoholic drinks made from pastries, alcoholics drink made from rice, those with yeast added, those made from a combination of ingredients.
piṭṭhasurā pūvasurā odanasurā kiṇṇapakkhittā sambhārasaṁyuttā.
That kind of alcoholic drink:
Merayo nāma
alcoholic drinks made from flowers, alcoholic drinks made from fruit, alcoholic drinks made from honey, alcoholic drinks made from sugar, those made from a combination of ingredients.
pupphāsavo phalāsavo madhvāsavo guḷāsavo sambhārasaṁyutto.

So, basically, every conceivable form of alcohol in context. There’s no mention of potato vodka, but that’s because of the Pacific Ocean.

Then majja means “intoxicant”, pamāda is “heedlessness”, ṭṭhānā I think is like “inducer” or “thing that causes” (the dictionary failed me). So, AFAICT, the question is about how to link “majja” in this compound word. Is it, along with the first two components, ~ part of a list (beer, wine, and intoxicants) or is it part of the qualifiers being applied to that list (beer / wine which is intoxicating and causes heedlessness).

All that being said, my growing sense reflecting on this personally is that for the layperson, the “pamādaṭṭhānā” qualifier in the compound is most important. If you’re worried about the many intoxicants in the world which you’re exposed to incidentally (beauty, youth, power, the sound of wind blowing through trees), I’d compare that to the microscopic amounts of alcohol that is present in essentially all food which contains sugar and has been exposed to the environment.

And, on the flip side, if one is worried about the narrow interpretation, and people being tempted by all the permissible intoxicants - none of the 5 precepts forbid (non-sexual) torture. But it’s clearly bad and people know to avoid that. Even if the 5 precepts allow, say, benzos, it’s clearly a bad idea to take a bunch and black out.

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Does the Vinaya say anything about violence in general?

There were no Benzos at the time of the Buddha. Alcohol was probably the main intoxicant available at his time. How about Cannabis? Seems to me that any addiction ties oneself to Mara’s realm and comes close to a contract.

And still we have the eightfold path in force as well as the Sila at the same time.

I have been a BIG COFFEE-ADDICT since a long time now (relatively to my age).

I tried several times to stop because it makes me restless, anxious or a bit crazy. For me, it’s really not good for meditation.

Thers is three reasons why I drunk coffee:

• Boredom
• Tiredness
• Wanting to get a high level of emotion

Say you have a little break at your work, what do you do ? Coffee. And if you are a smoker, coffee and cigarette. So if we want to stop, we should replace it by another thing.

Why not trying coffee without caffeine ? It’s still in the realm of sensuality but at least you won’t get the restless and anxious effects of it.
If we don’t count the addictive oppression smoking entails, I’d say coffee is better for the mind than cigarette because it doesn’t create restlessness and anxiety.

It’s also true that coffee can get you a bit crazy. You can smile or laugh for silly things or for nothing, but it also depends on other factors of course.

Another thing is that we should be careful to the amount of food we eat ! Because otherwise coffee is always tempting as sleeping after the meal is not a productive thing.
And even in the case you persevere in it, maybe you’ll do as I did: indulging in tea or coke.So moderation in food helps and if you still feel tired after the meal, you can still take a nap.

Napping is better than coffee. I replaced my coffee addiction with a camomille addiction ahaha But now there is no camomille anymore, so I can’t.

I’m still in the battle against coffee (which is worse than tea or coke for its restlessness) and I’m becoming less addicted to it.
You motivated me to stop completely again.

Let’s start together my friend ! :smile:

It’s an uncertain point and apparently had already become so by Buddhaghosa’s time. And so the commentator offers two construals but expresses no preference for one over the other.

In the first the relationship of majja with surā and meraya is appositional. In the second it’s supplementary. And so we get:

  1. The intoxicants surā and meraya.

  2. Surā, meraya and anything else that intoxicates.

In Pali:

Majjan’ ti tadubhayameva madaniyaṭṭhena majjaṃ.

“Majja”: both of these [i.e., surā and meraya] are intoxicants in the sense of ‘bringing about intoxication’.

Yaṃ vā panaññampi kiñci atthi madaniyaṃ, yena pītena matto hoti pamatto, idaṃ vuccati majjaṃ.

Or alternatively, any other thing there may be that is intoxicating, that by drinking one becomes careless and negligent is called ‘an intoxicant’.



Also, if you are overly concerned about the “letter of the law” versus the “spirit of the law” it is time to question your involvement with Buddhism.

In another Buddhism forum, questions about the 5th precept are an EFAQ - Extremely Frequently Asked Question.

Pc 74 ‘If a monk hits a monk in anger, he commits an offense entailing confession.’”

Pc 52 ‘If a monk tickles someone, he commits an offense entailing confession.’”

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