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Is Smoking considered a breach of precepts for monks and lay persons?

Cigarettes weren’t around at the time of the Buddha, the rule for intoxicants which was made 2,300 years ago obviously wouldn’t have been able to predict the invention of cigarettes. It has come to my attention that several SEA monks, even highly regarded ones smoke. Isn’t Cigarretes a form of intoxication that is highly addictive and leads to extreme cases of craving?

In my view smoking monks seem to be a cultural flaw endemic to South East Asia, in South Asia if a monk were caught smoking I’d believe he would be disciplined by the Sangha and generally be held in low regard by the Sinhala lay community.

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“I allow a double nose-tube” .… “I allow that smoke be inhaled” .… “I allow a tube for inhaling smoke” .… “One should not use fancy smoke-inhaling tubes. Whoever does: an offense of wrong doing. I allow (smoke-inhaling tubes) made of bone,
ivory, horn, reed, bamboo, wood, lac (resin), fruit (§) (e.g., coconut shell), copper (metal), or conch-shell” .… “I allow a lid (for the smoke-inhaling tubes)” .… “I allow a bag for the smoke-inhaling tubes” .… “I allow a double bag” .… “I allow a string for tying the mouth of the bag as a carrying strap.”—Mv.VI.13.1

So smoking as a medical treatment was known.

This is what Ven. Thanissaro has to say in Buddhist Monastic Code I:

There is some controversy as to what other substances would be included in this factor in line with the Great Standards. Because the Canon repeatedly criticizes alcohol on the grounds that it destroys one’s sense of shame, weakens one’s discernment, and can put one into a stupor—as happened to Ven. Sāgata—it seems reasonable to extend this rule to other intoxicants, narcotics, and hallucinogens as well. Thus things like marijuana, hashish, heroin, cocaine, and LSD would fulfill this factor. Coffee, tea, tobacco, and betel do not have this effect, though, so there is no reason to include them here.

My understanding of Sinhala culture is that smoking is seen as particularly evil, and it is especially associated with the evils of western culture.

However chewing betel seems to be no problem at all and is always offered to monks when they visit the home. I’m not so clear as to whether or not tobacco is always included in the gift, even though it is a standard part of the mix.

As I understand, smoking among forest monks in Thailand is quite normal.

@Sanku , welcome to the forum!

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Thanks for that insightful answer. I hope to participate more in this forum. :grinning:

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I’ll also add that the Sinhala parents I know personally all teach their kids that smoking breaks the fifth precept. I don’t feel it does, but I never correct them. :grin:

Sadly, there is a small but real minority of monks in Sri Lanka that drink alcohol, so it’s hard to imagine smoking being grounds for discipline. And certainly lots of lay people in Sri Lanka drink alcohol, so I’m more concerned about that than I am with smoking. I’ve been told that even some of the parents that send their kids to the Dhamma school I teach drink alcohol. It’s a sad situation. I get the sense that alcohol is more of a status thing than smoking, so that may be the reason.

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Many years ago, smoking was considered medicinal in Thailand. Eventually, Ajahn Chah (who did smoke for a time) ruled it out in his wat, though other Forest monks still do some smoking as of today. Like all precepts, they are training rules. Anyone that has smoked knows there is some intoxicating effect, and some medicinal aspect to the nicotine. Smoking is probably not beneficial to meditation, and it’s certainly not a healthy thing to do. So, with the training rules in mind, in 2021 it’s probably a good rule for many wats to ban smoking by the monks and nuns.

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There is ample evidence that indicates it is so.

It would be interesting to know what kind of medical conditions these monks suffer from and what doctor prescribed smoking a large amount of cigarettes everyday in order to treat their condition? :man_shrugging:

It doesn’t seem to me that all these monks are:

afflicted with autumn illness, and they could not keep down either rice porridge or other food. Because of that they became thin, haggard, and pale, their veins protruding all over their limbs. (Pli Tv Kd 6)

And I don’t see them lining up to get the:

four filthy edibles: feces, urine, ash, and clay.” (Pli Tv Kd 6)

So why cigarettes yes and these no? :sweat_smile:

It seems to me they either don’t know the Vinaya well or nitpick certain passages to justify their addiction.

So, in my opinion, even if I’m not a Vinaya expert, it seems clear to me that smoking without medical reasons is a breach of the monastic code.
It is probably not a breach of the five precepts but I would strongly advise against it.

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Most of these monks probably never received a single prescription from an allopathic doctor in their life. I believe they used it as medicine the same way they used tea and various herbs and spices as medicine. If they felt unwell in any way that they thought can be bettered by a substance, that substance was taken as medicine.

There are all sorts of vague states of unwellness that nicotine genuinely helps address. It genuinely gives people more energy, suppresses hunger pangs, increases focus, makes the hands more steady, reduces pain, etc. The only reason it’s not in all sorts of otc allopathic medicines like caffeine is because it is more addictive and its natural form is associated with high health risks. But it is still prescribed for all sorts of conditions because it generally helps.

In any case, nicotine, at sub-toxic doses, doesn’t produce an effect at all analogous to alcohol, where one becomes heedless. It’s effects are most analogous to tea and coffee, which I suspect most monks are addicted to as well, and if forced to go without would experience a few weeks of headaches. The good monks would endure the pain just as Ajahn Chah endured nicotine withdrawal.

These monks historically were misinformed on the mundane factual matter of the health risks and benefits of tobacco. That’s it.

Given the health risks modern cigarettes are know to cause, not only to oneself but to those in your vicinity ( 2nd hand smoke aggregates asthma for example), I don’t think it’s acceptable by any standard, Buddhist or otherwise.

Let’s not forget the health costs $$$ associated with long term smoking and who may be footing the bill…:thinking:

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Problem is, my impression is, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that many modern (including forest) monks still insist on smoking habitually (and it seems to me quite heavily). And they use the Vinaya to justify this.
Plus some teach that even Arahants would smoke. Whether this is true or not, this insistence to me is just proof of their addiction and goes totally against the spirit of Buddhism.

‘Nothing is worth insisting on.’ (SN 35.80)

Except smoking? I don’t think it works that way :thinking:

And there is a difference between taking a substance while being misinformed about health risks in the hope that it would improve a medical condition, and indulging without medical reasons.

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As an anecdote from 7th-century northern India, while at Nalanda, Xuanzang was given daily provisions that included betel leaves and areca nuts. Maybe his teeth were even stained from them.

His lifestyle there was very developed, in the sense that he was given servants, daily provisions, allowed to travel by elephant, etc.

I liked Bhante Dhammika’s answer: it isn’t against the rules, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea! :joy:

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Some allowances in the Vinaya require specific conditions that the person be sick to use them. Others do not. It seems that inhaling smoke falls into the the second.

I’m a bit concerned how people are vilifying imagined monks in this thread.

I don’t know personally any monks who smoke, but I think it is likely that the majority of those who do only smoke two or three a day, particularly after meals. We are not talking about three packs a day.

And to be clear, I’m not saying that smoking is a good thing.

For sure. There are many, many things not covered even by the Vinaya that are not a good idea.

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Smoking during the Buddha’s time didn’t involve so many purposefully addictive chemicals, and wasn’t a do-it-ten-times-a-day like it is these days with money-driven sales. One of the greatest problem with smoking is the addictive factor, it can make people be drawn to become materialistic, chasing after money to fund the expensive habit. While the smoke-free give their money to Monks and charities, the smoker goes on to fund his or her habit. It can cause a downfall in life, and isn’t considered healthy.

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Good point, it seems to be that it breaks the first precept far more than the fifth.

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‘Does this act with the body that I want to do lead to hurting myself, hurting others, or hurting both? Is it unskillful, with suffering as its outcome and result?’

If, while checking in this way, you know: ‘This act with the body that I want to do leads to hurting myself, hurting others, or hurting both. It’s unskillful, with suffering as its outcome and result.’ To the best of your ability, Rāhula, you should not do such a deed.

-MN 61

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Humbly, this is something I’ve contended with. Generally, to be bound to a luxury that could not be attained without money is to be engaged in money’s social contract which cannot afford a world where money is redundantly unnecessary… I have maintained a tobacco habit for most of my 18yrs+ ‘poverty-avowment’ (people give me things), and am convinced it’s use is not arbitrarily restrictive of objective thought. I digress, as far as addiction is concerned I will not cry when there is no more tobacco (though I’ll prob quit if my adventure becomes much more official anyway).

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Out of curiosity, what were the monastics smoking?

According to the interwebs, tobacco wasn’t discovered (by the west) until 1492, when Columbus met the Native Americans. Was there tobacco in India/Asia 2500 years ago, or were they smoking something else?

  • 6,000 BC – Native Americans first start cultivating the tobacco plant.
  • Circa 1 BC – Indigenous American tribes start smoking tobacco in religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes.
  • 1492 – Christopher Columbus first encounters dried tobacco leaves. They were given to him as a gift by the American Indians.
  • 1492 – Tobacco plant and smoking introduced to Europeans.
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Oh, it most certainly wasn’t tobacco. You might get some ideas by looking at modern ayurvedic treatments.

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Leaving aside the questions of addiction and materialism, isn’t the question one of whether or not tobacco/nicotine qualifies as an “intoxicant”? I have never smoked, but my understanding is that nicotine is more of a stimulant than an intoxicant. Caffeine is also a stimulant and both monastics and lay Buddhists alike routinely partake of coffee and tea without much restriction. I suppose excessive consumption of caffeine could potentially alter one’s state of consciousness, as could nicotine, but would that be the equivalent of being intoxicated? That’s a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.

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Or contemporary ascetics, sadhus etc who use an earthen tube (chillum) to inhale Shiva’s sacred herb…

Maybe!!! :crazy_face:

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