Hi friends, this is a tangent from the good (but also frustrating for me) thread: Use of Drugs for Meditation. My main research question is whether anyone knows of writing that addresses the complexities of cross-cultural interpretation of the concepts “intoxicant” and “medicine” as they relate to the 5th precept.
Here’s my thinking in brief:
The precept literally mentions only alcohol, and the Vinaya allows medicine that contains alcohol. So the principle seems to be that intoxication is unskillful but medicine is skillful, and the same substance can fit both those categories.
Most contemporary teachers [I’m familiar with] commonly assume that the 5th precept applies to a wide range of intoxicants, but never list what substances they think it refers to. And most teachers [I’m familiar with] suggest that students continue with their usual medications, including psychological ones, and don’t consider them a violation of the precept.
Nearly all substances called intoxicants also have medicinal uses. And what substances are placed in each category is different in different cultures, and also changes over time in the same culture. (This is true as well for the category “food,” which in many cultures contains substances that are intoxicating and/or sometimes medicinal, like caffeine, chocolate, and sugar.)
My conclusion so far is that many substances commonly thought of as intoxicants (like cannabis, opiates, stimulants, and psychedelics) also are recognized in many cultures as having medicinal uses, and so should logically be accepted as potentially skillful and allowed for those keeping the 5th precept IF discernment is truly used to determine the use as medicinal rather than intoxication.
That’s hard to assess, of course, and very hard to generalize about. It makes it a practice, which is what all the precepts are. I don’t see an external authority like government or doctors able to make this assessment free from political and cultural conditions, so would propose that discerning right medication here must be the purview only of the individual, like any practice, supported by intimate guides like a therapist or Dharma teacher.
If this makes sense, I think it would add a much-needed cultural competency to discussions of the precepts, and work against the tendency toward reductive or reactionary generalizations.
I’m interested in any sources I might reference on this, and anywhere my logic is faulty, especially around Vinaya or commentarial discussions of this I’m not aware of. Thank you!