Question on Alcohol


I would like to know whether the 5th Precept concerning substances that promotes altered states and encourages unskilful behaviour refers to the odd glass of wine on it’s own to be sociable and  particularly with a meal? Also whether it includes wine used in food preparation? If this is the case what of Coffee which is arguably a drug? The Buddha teaches throughout that we should analyse the teachings for our selves and question them. This teaching is over 2.5 thousand years old can it not be argued that the Buddha was referring to the abuse of alcohol?


Thank you for your question. 

Regarding your question, we have to be the judge of what we consume and the effect it has on us and our discernment. It is a personal choice. Experience shows that even a small quantity of many mind altering substances such as alcohol can impair or affect our judgement and disinhibit our behaviour – which is why people like to consume alcohol of course, even if it is only half a glass or a glass or two. In many cases it may not have any obvious harmful consequences, but in some contexts even a small intake of alcohol can lead to an error of judgement or a slight disinhibition wihich can have enormous life changing consequences.

Having the odd glass of wine here and there also increases the likelihood of reaching out for and reassuring oneself with a drink when one is going through a difficult patch in life. It can be the thin end of the wedge and develop into a stronger habit, in some cases leading to dependency.

Coffee is a stimulant and not an intoxicant and therefore less likely to lead to an error of judgement.

If we want to realise the mind, we need our minds to be as clear as possible, and alcohol and intoxicants inhibit clarity and disinhibit behaviour and therefore our ‘sila’ (relational morality) which is a foundation for practice. Trying to make life more enjoyable or pleasant by artificially altering our mind states simply prolongs our existence in ‘samsara’. Our practice is to come to terms with the way things are, life as it is, whilst alcohol and other substances alter our perception of things as they are. Alcohol does not lead to liberation. 

Consuming or not consuming alcohol in any quantity is up to us. The fifth precept is a voluntary undertaking which, when determined, helps us keep things simple and closer to the reality of life as it is and its dukkha – which is what brings us to practice. It is the essential unsatisfactoriness of conditioned existence that leads us to a path of enquiry, a search for truth and eventually true freedom. 

A rather lengthy answer which I hope addresses your question.

Best wishes