Is it ok to take some alcohol occasionally?

For my disappointment, Bhante @sujato said that occasional consumption of alcohol is acceptable.
I wish to know your thoughts on this.
Please also refer to the heated debate in DW on this subject relating a similar remarks made by a Sri Lankan monk.

As far as I understand, the intent behind the fifth precept is to prevent alcohol or potentially any other consciousness changing subtances from ruining your mindfulness, which in its turn can lead to unskilful actions, words, or thought. In other words, drinking or taking recreational drugs is not unskilful in and of itself, it is the their consequences that we try to avoid.

Regular drinking is also known as alcoholism, and any other subtance abuse (e.g., I can’t live without my daily cup of coffee) is an exreme form of craving and clinging underlying our existence and is an obvious form of suffering and unskilfulness brought about by consuming drugs. I think occasional drinking can theoretically be okay, e.g. if someone knows that they can drink a glass of wine at dinner without getting drunk as a lord and / or starting to think all kinds of nasty thoughts or doing nasty things. I know for a fact that it is almost always not true for me, so when I drink I practically always do an unskilful thing. Maybe there are people who have a better command of their own mind and can drink a bottle of beer every now and then without causing any harm to their practice, I don’t know. However, I think this uncertainty is the major motivation behind the fifth pecept, which in my opinion embraces drugs as well: we never know how we will react to these substances, so better leave the alone. I knew an Indian guy who is a wonderful person normally, but after drinkng one bottle of beer he threatened to hit me with a shoe and though my wife is a prostitute or something along these lines. I know a couple of very nice people who are now taking opiate drugs because they were once too hooked up on pot (which is one of the reasons I am not very fond of pot). I also know people who can smoke a join or drink some beer staying all the same, at least outwardly. It depends. So, since it is gambling, the wisest course of action would be not to touch it.

Of course, ultimately drinking is a form of sensual pleasure, one of the means to diminsh the constant dukkha of our existence, but so is art, occasional ‘therapeutic’ meditation, enjoying the nature, etc.


Really? I don’t get that it’s acceptable according to the five precepts to drink occasionaly from this video.

I heard that keeping the 5 precepts (including abstaining from alcohol) is the minimum standard we should keep as Buddhists. But many people see these as actually difficult to achieve.

They may be new Buddhists or just not ready to do that (as Bhante alludes to whoever asked if they can have a small drink once in a while). If you’re asking that, obviously you don’t want to keep the 5 precepts, you want to keep the 4 precepts or the 3, whatever.

Everyone’s doing their best, but some people aren’t ready for it. No-one’s going to punish you or tell you off if you drink (just like no-one’s going follow you around as tell you off for every white lie).

But I don’t hear Bhante saying that drinking occasional alcohol is an acceptable part of the 5 precepts at all, more our attitude in how we should relate to ourselves around them. We should forgive ourselves and others, and continue to aspire and work for better.

But hey. Evam me sutam right? :laughing:


I don’t think thats what Bhante Sujato was saying. I think he was saying that when you are starting you are aspiring to complete the precepts completely. He said nobody is going to come down and land on you if you do drink a small amount (true, the Dhamma police wont lock you up or something).


Phew, thanks for the clarification, guys, I thought I was going to get in trouble here!


See also:

While some experts believe that the health benefits of red wine are related to the presence of alcohol, most of the evidence shows that the polyphenols in red wine confer additional cardiovascular and longevity benefits. Modest daily consumption of red wine is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which is likely effective for secondary prevention after myocardial infarction[1] and for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.[2]

According to Bikkhu Bodhi, violating the precept requires an intoxicant, an intention to take an intoxicant, the activity of ingesting the intoxicant, and the actual ingestion of the intoxicant. Taking medication containing alcohol, opiates or other intoxicants for genuine medical reasons does not count, nor does eating food flavored with a small amount of liquor.

If I had a heart condition that a competent doctor said could be mitigated by a small glass of red wine, I might consider that the red wine then is seen as a medicine, and not as a recreational drug. One reason why I see the precepts as training rules, and not ordinances. If one truly believes that they are consuming something that is healthy, and that leads to a better and longer life and supports practice, I myself don’t get me knickers in a twist about someone taking a daily small glass of red wine for health reasons.

To the hell realms I go for writing this …


Don’t be so relaxed, you are not off the hook yet.

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I think the reality for many people coming to Buddhism in adulthood (which is a lot of people in the West) is that they do drink - and habits are sometimes hard to break. I think most people who are genuine about their spiritual path will give up alcohol and other substances in due time, but there might be a little lag - in other words there will be a period during which they are learning about the Dhamma and establishing a practice and still engaging in things that run counter to the path in a somewhat course way. It wouldn’t be right to scare people away from Buddhism - you compassionately accept where they are, offer support and encouragement to keep going…


You certainly will get your knickers twisted if you start consume even a small glass of red vine.
Buddha restricted medicine consumption for monks.
This “glass of red vine a day keep the doctor away” is a marketing gimmick by vine companies.
You can have a better outcome by eating sensible, doing some exercise and meditation.


Well then, back to that lovely evening carafe of chilled cow’s urine. :slight_smile:


They should be scare of the woeful state not the Buddhism.
Buddha never wanted followers in expense of the teaching (dhamma).

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Actually this is some thing I always curious about but never tried.
Is cow urine a medicine?

You seem to be missing the point or conflating it with something else - I’m not advocating watering down the precepts at all. I am saying that we can be understanding when someone (and this is inevitable) fails to immediately fulfill the precepts - they should not be “turned away” from Buddhism on that count. It is a path, not an all at once thing (although, hey - if someone who previously drank can ditch alcohol from day one, more power to them!)


I tend to agree!

Actually there’s a clear difference between cow’s urine and red wine as medicine. With the former, one’d immediately stops using it as soon as his/her illness goes away, while with the latter, one’d be very likely to continue to take his “medicine” even after he’s fully recovered. And as we all know about human nature, even during treatment period, it’s quite possible for one to increase his “medicine” dosage and frequency. It’d hardly be the case for cow’s urine obviously…:laughing:


I agree. :slight_smile: However, there was that 2014 Chateau Bouse de Vache that was a big hit with connoisseurs…


I talk about sila often with people who visit us. Most of the westerns have trouble with the 5th precept. Most people both western and Asian seem to have trouble with the 4th. It’s just as culturally ingrained.

The difference is that the westerners think they can’t be Buddhist unless they keep all 5 perfectly. Whereas the Asians know that they just need to see the danger in breaking a precept and try better.

Personally, I would rather see people try to commit to a harmless way of living and occasionally fail than not try at all.

We’ve had some wonderful commitee members who are very committed to building an English speaking monastic community, who on accession will still drink. They are still building a network of friends with Buddhist values. They are aware that they are more likely to break the other 4 training rules with alcohol and have reduced their intake as their practice has improved. In my personal experience, I believe they will eventually give up drinking when they have the right conditions in place. In the meantime I would rather they kept practicing, and calling themselves Buddhists. None of us are perfect and if we go around criticising ourself or others it will not bring happiness or blamelessness; the whole point of sila.

These are their 2 bad bricks. They have 998 good ones!


Two bad bricks in the wrong place enough to bring the whole building down.
In this case we are talking about one bad brick out of five.


"Monks, there are these four ways of taking on practices. Which four? There is the taking on of a practice that is pleasant in the present but yields pain in the future. There is the taking on of a practice that is painful in the present and yields pain in the future. There is the taking on of a practice that is painful in the present but yields pleasure in the future. There is the taking on of a practice that is pleasant in the present and yields pleasure in the future.

A related story you may have heard before (perhaps a zen story):

A monk is given the order to do one of the following:

  1. Kill a goat and eat it.
  2. Sleep with a prostitute.
  3. Drink a bottle of whiskey.

Knowing that all 3 break the precepts, the monk considered which would be the “lesser” of the evils. He concluded that drinking whiskey would be the least damaging since it is not killing anyone nor a serious violation of his monk’s precepts. So he drank the whiskey, got drunk and while drunk, slept with the prostitute, killed the goat and ate it.
From the link in my OP in DW

My guess is that you’ve never consumed alcohol in your life. I’m not talking about consuming an entire bottle of whiskey. After an entire bottle of whiskey you’d probably be in no fit state to even find a goat! The goat would more likely kill you.

In Australia, and many western countries, the legal blood alcohol limit for driving a car is 0.5. This has been determined as the level where you are still able to make responsible high speed judgements (be heedful). If on occasion someone was to drink alcohol within this range they are unlikely to harm anyone. This is the reason for the training rules. They will however diminish the finer level of awareness. The kind of awareness that the everyday person who doesn’t meditate wouldn’t discern. This is my starting point with many meditator. From there they can progress to drinking less until they see no value in it.

How do I know this? Because, in the past 12 years of meditating I did drink. About 4 standard drinks a year on average. I would generally just taste a mouthful of wine from my partner’s glass. If I had been breatholised I would’ve blown zero. My intention was maintain a clear head. I believe I lived up to that intention. Having the Dhamma as an anchor in my life made mental clarity a priority. The decision to pretty much stop drinking wasn’t based on the training rules. I had no monastics to ‘tell me what to do’. I honestly examined my own mind. In the last 2 years prior to becoming an anagarika, I can’t recall drinking at all. Again, this was part of the gradual process of letting go.

On the other hand I lived with someone who did not have the Dhamma and meditation as a skilful means of addressing their inner world. So they saw no benefit in mental clarity. As long as this person doesn’t know an alternative way to address their inner world they will continue to drink alcohol. As an aside they never killed an animal intentionally, not even a spider, and definitely didn’t hook up with a prostitute. They just sat on the couch not feeling particularly good about life.

This is where meeting people where they are at comes in. Most westerners come to Buddhism to address these feelings of dissatisfaction. By listening to Dhamma and meditating they are putting in place the causes and conditions for a mental clarity and learning skilful means. They feel better about themselves and have less inner termoil. Already less of a reason to drink to relax or as a social lubricant. If they then decide they want to call themselves Buddhist, by choice, then they are indicating confidence that the Buddha’s teachings of renunciation, kindness and non-harming (samma sankapa) are important. With these higher values they will make better choices.

If you tell westerners, who already have a scepticism about religion, that they are ‘sinning’, they won’t hang about long enough to make the right choices.

All our choices are conditioned. If we hang around people who make better choices this conditions us to do this too.