Would a small amount of alcohol in medicine be acceptable?

Greetings to all and my respectful salutations to the members of the Sangha.

I wished to write this post as I initially planned on taking a few drops of this homeopathic medicine yet in the user’s notice it is written that three drops of it equals to less than 1,2ml of beer or of 0,5ml of wine.
I know that some exceptions were made in the vinaya for ill bhikkhus to use alcohol in a mixture as long as the color, taste or scent of it can’t be detected.

Would it be reasonable enough to use the medicine in diluted water ?

I thank you for reading me and wish you well.

As I understand it, the 5th precept includes the consumption of any intoxicants that lead to heedlessness because intoxication makes it impossible to keep the other four lay Buddhist precepts.

“Heedlessness” means moral recklessness, a disregard for the bounds between right and wrong. Intention also matters, so if you believe that said the amount of alcohol would have the potential to blur the lines between what is skilful or unskillful, wholesome or unwholesome, then it falls under the intention of this precept and should be carefully considered or avoided, especially if more skilful alternatives are available. If not, then not, given the circumstances.

This, of course, is my reply within the context of your specific question and not in the context of whether or not a “small or insignificant” amount of alcohol would be “OK,” as such, at an important event or a night out with old friends.

Skillfulness, wholesomeness, mindfulness, and non-harm to self and others. This is the Buddhist path as I understand it, and I believe that anything that is harmful to our ability to uphold those values in our practice is to be questioned. You seem to be treading on firm ground in this situation, so your medicine should be “OK” to consume for the purposes stated on the tin.

I hope this was helpful.

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Dear AnapanaMichael,

Thank you so much for your thorough, thoughtful and helpful response, it makes a lot of sense! I agree on the intention being a fundamentally important element and if the alcohol isn’t perceived, it should potentially be okay.
Wishing you all the best.

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And just to add a bit to the already good advice above. The precepts are training rules, literally “I undertake the training rule to…” And so, rather than being seen as firm injunctions, it is OK to see these rules as part of the practice, and if we use, for example, a medicine with a small amount of necessary alcohol, done mindfully this would not interfere with our training. To me, what is so preferable with Buddhist practice is that rather than “sins” or injunctions, we have the ability to think and act wisely, in order to cultivate the best training path, rather than laboring under injunctions or prohibitions. We practice without the shadow of sin or guilt, but only endeavor to do our very best within these training rules. This does not give us license to act unskillfully, but to act mindfully and ethically as part of our path of practice.

What part of this is not clear? You have already said you know this and that you will dilute it with water.

Are you maybe thinking you need to hold the fifth precept to an even “higher” level than the monastics? I’m not clear why you are not clear.

Whether that drop of alcohol leads to heedlessness is beside the point. And the semantics of rules vs. training precepts is not a distinction we find in the texts. The Buddha never explained the precepts for lay people as “guidelines”. This is a modernist interpretation to make Buddhism seem more palatable to non-Buddhists.

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I guess I tend to fear making any mistakes and I also asked to have a confirmation that the dosage that equals to 0,5ml or less of wine is an allowable amount for medicine (it’s hard to know if we don’t drink). I just hope it fits similarly to the rule for the bhikkhus.
I don’t necessarily claim to want to uphold precepts higher than the monastics, I just wish to have wise feedback as AnapanaMichael kindly provided so as not to have based my action on a possible misunderstanding that’d yield regrets and break a precept that could have been easily avoided by simply asking, if that makes sense.

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Yes, seeing danger in the slightest fault is a thing! And it’s good to ask questions. Sorry if I wasn’t very understanding.

I hope the medicine works.

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I know the vinaya allows it, but I still rather personally be stricter on this. Perhaps it is due to the fact that 5 precepts talks for lay people typically do not feature quotes from vinaya, so I already internalized a stricter set of rules for 5 precepts with respect to alcoholic drinks consumption.

Vinaya allows for meals cooked with alcohol. I found out online that it takes about 3 hours for the alcohol to evaporate almost fully. Given such a risk, I rather not take any food cooked with alcohol.

For medicine, the guide is that the alcohol should not be too much of the % of ingredients.

I also recently found out that stepstrils has alcohol in it. I am a bit conflicted as I like the straightforward stepstrils as the default sore throat remedy.

If heedlessness is not the point of refraining from alcohol, then what is the point? :pray:

I guess I didn’t phrase it well.

Of course it matters that alcohol will make us heedless.

But if the precept was about becoming heedless, then that’s what it would have said. And if it were about becoming heedless, then there would be no need for the allowance to ingest small amounts of alcohol as medicine if you could no longer taste it. Because clearly you can’t become heedless by ingesting a few drops of alcohol.

If the precept is not about becoming heedless, then what is it about? :pray:

It’s about not taking intoxicants. The definition of intoxicants is things that cause heedlessness.

I mean, that’s what I believe it means. However lots of people disagree. But I don’t believe they have the support of the texts.

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The precept is about abstaining from intoxicants. Just like the first precept is about abstaining from killing. I’m not sure what is unclear about that.

Anyway, we have kind of strayed from the OP’s question.

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This is part of where I think the gap between the vinaya and the lay precepts is genuinely confusing. Because I think what you said is present in the 5 precepts, but not the vinaya.

pli-tv-bu-vb-pc51 says “Surāmerayapāne pācittiyan”

v.s. eg an5.179 “surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti”

So, I honestly don’t have any firm views here, and am relatively convinced to agree with you about the question in the OP. But some of the permutations of corner cases seem very ambiguous to me.

I’m a person who enjoys sour flavors and doesn’t believe in medicinal claims around the health benefits of kombucha. My reading of the text indicates drinking kombucha might be permissible to me as a layperson, because kombucha is not an “alcoholic drink that causes negligence” but if I were in robes it would be forbidden, because it is an alcoholic drink made from a combination of ingredients with yeast added. On the flip side, the non-offenses about alcohol cooked with various other substances don’t seem to apply to me in the cases of hard liquor (I can’t cook beans at low temperatures in everclear and eat it) but I think a monk could.

Obviously, I’m not trying to actually get away with getting monastics drunk on beans, and I personally am cautious in my conduct and stay away from kombucha. But I am genuinely confused as to what tools we’re really supposed to use v.s. not use when evaluating the precise meaning of the lay precepts.