Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beer And Buddhism

Any thoughts on this issue? One of the most basic ethical principles of Buddhism is to avoid drinking alcohol, which is the last of the Five Precepts. Buddhism is the state religion of Cambodia and the majority of Cambodians call themselves Buddhists. The prime minister  of Cambodia Hun Sen, himself a former Buddhist monk,  recently presided over the opening of yet another new brewery and in his speech he encouraged his countrymen to drink more beer. In fact, he almost suggested that it was a patriotic duty to do so because it will support local industry, presumably the brewing industry.  A can of beer in Cambodia is priced at equivalent to about US 50 cents, well within the reach of the average person. And according to Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Cambodia  “its never a challenge to find beer” in the country because it is  literally “awash with  good brews”. Extraordinarily, one brand of beer is named after the largest Buddhist temple in Angkor, Bayon,  while  another popular beer, Angkor, actually has a picture of  Angkor  Wat on it with   the words ‘Angkor Wat’ underneath it. Of course wat is the Cambodian/Thai word for monastery. The General Director of Khmer Brewery Ltd. said the new factory can produce 50 million liters of beer annually in the first stage and the production is expected to increase up to 200 million liters per year during the next stage.
I can think of worse things than having a nice cool beer but if a government claims to protect and promote a particular religion should it  go out of its way to  encourage practices  that directly contradict that religion? Or is it that in traditional Buddhists countries such as Cambodia the Dhamma is just an identity, little more than a collection of rituals,  something that is not really taken seriously? Is it possible for a government to uphold ‘Buddhist values’ even in a country where the majority are Buddhists? 

32 comments:

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

Good questions.

I used to be overly critical of Buddhists who consumed alcohol, but after studying the Vinaya accounts of why alcohol was prohibited, I discovered the rule was laid down because Svagata got wasted and passed out (but not before vomiting all over himself depending on which version you read).

It seems clear that the early sangha could and did receive and drink alcohol until the Buddha laid down the rule against it. If this incident was the only reason for prohibiting alcohol, we might wonder how important it really was. The Buddha didn't object to Svagata receiving alcohol (though some accounts say he was unaware he was actually drinking spirits, which seems kinda fabricated to me).

Granted, most Buddhists never hear about this. Most authors I've read just describe the evils of alcohol without ever explaining -why- the Buddha laid down the rule in the first place. I've asked Buddhists this and almost nobody can answer why.

I wrote about this here:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2012/03/why-did-buddha-prohibit-alcohol.html

Personally I don't drink anymore as I can appreciate the ethic behind it and personally vowed to abstain from it. But if someone wants a beer, I won't criticize them for it.

Incidentally as I'm sure you're aware in Japan priests generally drink and don't feel unusual about it at all (I was invited to drinking parties by priests in Tokyo). In Korea recently there was that party of monks who got caught drinking and gambling. I hear Tibetan monks are often easy going when it comes to beer.

I think you're right that Buddhism is just a cultural identity and few really take it seriously. In the present age with the internet transmitting consumer culture to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't be exposed to it, you can expect that Family Guy will be more well-known in Asian countries than Shakyamuni. Just give it time. Whether it is Cambodia, Korea, Japan or Nepal I think Buddhist values are largely irrelevant to most people in the face of the global monoculture. Just look at how fast Japan and Korea dropped their Buddhist vegetarianism in favour of cheap beef-rice bowls.

Unknown said...

The five precepts are the most basic teaching of the Buddha and the most fundamental form of Buddhist practice. How can any authority claiming to represent or support the religion be promoting the violation of the precepts? The precepts are not just an arbitrary code to keep people in line; there is science behind them. The Dhamma, to quote the Master, is to avoid unwholesome actions and actively perform wholesome actions. But the first step is avoiding harmful actions -- killing, misappropriation, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxication. All of these are clearly destructive to the foundations of individual peace of mind and social harmony.

Some argue that drinking beer is relatively harmless, but minor infringements of the other precepts could also be regarded as minor. The precepts call for abstention, not moderation. Furthermore, the loss of self-control inherent in using intoxicants promotes violation of the other precepts. Is there any doubt that drugs and alcohol are a source of immense and widespread suffering in this world?

It would be a great service to the world if the so-called Buddhist countries actually promoted observance of the fifth precept -- or at least refrained from encouraging its violation. But it seems that money and enjoyment of a modern Western lifestyle trumps religious coherence, tradition, and social harmony. I imagine there are a few Buddhist institutions that object to and protest government promotion like this, but they generally don't seem to be very concerned.

In Japan the average person has no idea what the five precepts are, and many Japanese would be surprised to hear that drinking alcohol is a violation of the Buddha's teaching. In the Theravada countries most people know the precepts very well, reciting them regularly, but somehow alcohol consumption is very much socially accepted. Like the rampant meat eating in these countries it seems paradoxical.

Muslims seem to take their precept to abstain from alcohol more seriously than Buddhists, and I must say I find the "sobriety" of Muslim communities to be an attractive quality.

By the way, we should distinguish between the five precepts, which are an essential part of the teaching (Noble Eightfold Path) and the Vinaya rules, which are more administrative in nature. I would have thought that the earliest monks would have been well acquainted with the five precepts before the Vinaya rule about alcohol was laid down.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Jeffrey, like many Vinaya stories proporting to give the reasons for the rules, the one about drinking alcohol was almost certinally written to justify the rule, not the other way round. Ascetics in India shunned alcohol long before the Buddha and the early Sangha simply adopted many of the rules common to most ascetics; e.g. staying put during the monsoon, not eating after midday, congregating on the half and full moons, etc. When we turn to the Sutta Pitaka we see the Buddha giving cogent and rational reasons to avoid alcohol – primarily because it weakens alertness and mindfulness, but also because it can lead to violence, irresponsible behaviour, financial difficulties, addiction and other social problems.
Like you I see no point in criticizing Buddhists who drink and I do not think an occasional drink is a major moral fault. But at what point do we loose our integrity and our sincerity when we ignore or wilfully flout the values that we claim to live by. Where do we cross over from flexibility to hypocrisy when we casually ignore the Five Precepts, perhaps the least demanding aspect of Buddhist practice? What is our religion to us? Just show or something we genuinely try to live by? Your point about Japanese Buddhists priests drinking is perhaps a case in point. Is it surprising that Buddhism in Japan is such a dire state when even those supposedly the leaders and exemplars of the Dhamma long ago gave up even pretending to follow the basic values?

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

I'm still unsure whether or not much of the Vinaya can be taken as a historical witness. I'd like to think at least more than half reflects historical events that occurred, but who knows! Scholars think the Mahasamghika version is the earliest rendition, but even then I see remarks that make me suspicious (like Svagata drinking liquor that was just like water and being unaware of what it was).

Concerning Japan... Early Japanese Buddhists like Saicho and Kukai were strict about precepts. Saicho is often criticized for abandoning the Vinaya, but in his time Vinaya ordinations were monopolized by a crooked institution. He also formulated a more up-to-date ordination system which was based on Mahayana texts. Curiously, despite Saicho insisting on celibacy and sobriety later generations reinterpreted (or just ignored) the original bodhisattva precepts which insist on a stoic, celibate and sober lifestyle.

Actually, with the scholarship showing that the Brahma Net Sutra is probably a product of China, there is even less faith in following whatever lifestyle it prescribes (which in my mind is still quite reasonable: don't drink or start forest fires).

I think there is a clear relationship between morality and the long-term stability of any Buddhist community. The Tibetans identify this as samaya, where people not keeping their precepts is associated with destructive events and degeneration of the community as a whole.

The thing is I don't know about how successful Buddhist communities will be trying to insist on even the basic five precepts in the face of global monoculture which glorifies killing (movies and especially video games) and alcohol, plus the vast industry of pornography which only fosters sexual misconduct. Trying to teach basic morality has people roll their eyes (especially young men in any culture nowadays it seems).

brahmavihara said...

The notion that supposedly decadent alchohol fuelled western societies are somehow the enemy of Buddhism is in my view actually rather mistaken.
It is because of western secularist democracies that Buddhism has flourished out side of its traditional countries. The notion that the consumption of alchohol in any given country works against the spread of the Dharma can be understood by its corollary, eg. Does anyone think that an officially alchohol dry theocracy such as Iran is more supportive of The Buddha Dharma than say, Canada, Australia, USA, UK, France? I need to apply some more thought to Cambodias promotion of alchohol to offer a viewpoint, but I should say that I renounced alchohol before I bcame interested in Buddhism and so observing the 5th precept was never a problem for me. Further to this I believe that the 3 refuges define the individual, generally speaking as a Buddhist rather than the 5 precepts. Dont get me wrong I believe that the 5 precepts are definatly what Buddhists should also be aspiring to but I believe that the 3 refuges come first in the very beginning of someone' commitment to the Dharma .

Ken and Visakha said...

Alcohol -- the gateway drug.

Ken and Visakha said...

The argument against the government promoting alcohol productiona and consumption in Cambodia and elsewhere has to be the money it wastes, the poor families it ruins, the road accidents it causes, etc. etc.

Unknown said...

I don't think that the world today, East or West, is all that different in essence to that at the time of the Buddha. The Buddha recognized that to control the senses and work towards mastery of the mind was going against the grain of worldly values and he made clear that the five precepts were the essential first step in escaping the pull of anti-Dhamma forces from without and within. Only by committing to the precepts can one establish a foundation for tranquillity and insight to open the pathway to liberation.

Can anyone who does not commit to the five precepts call themselves a Buddhist? I don't think so. Anyone who determines to control their physical and vocal actions as defined by the precepts is a follower of Buddha, whatever they call themselves, whatever tradition they might be part of.

Without a commitment to the five precepts, taking the three refuges is merely an empty rite or ritual. It might give a certain emotional satisfaction and a pleasing sense of identity, but it does not make one a follower of Buddha, no differently to the rites and rituals of any other religion.

The Buddha was unequivocal in saying that the measure of a person is how they conduct themselves, not their religious observances. After all, he was openly critical of the empty rites of the prevailing traditions of India. Above all, what so nobly distinguishes the Buddha from so many other religious teachers is his insistence on practice. Without the five precepts there is no meaningful practice.

The world is what it is, and no one can be compelled to observe the five precepts. It is a matter of individual choice and ideally it is a commitment to the cultivation of one's own welfare and the welfare of others, based on understanding the universal truth that the violation of the precepts is detrimental to oneself and others.

In my view, it is incoherent and damaging when individuals or groups who purport to represent the Buddha promote or condone in any way the violation of precepts.

brahmavihara said...

Nothing could be worse for Cambodia than POL POT and genocide. Prior to Vietnam war(s) Cambodia was a French Indo Chinese colony, awash with gateway drugs such as(red wine) "Aghast" and many more we dont even remember the names of. Ankhor Wat despite being the name of an emerging favourite of tourists bringing in the mighty dollar to Cambodia is the name of s primarily Hindu temple complex,so let the Hindus be outraged! Any one observing 5 or more or less precepts is not magically transmuted into a Budhist by any other name . Statistically there may be more non Buddhists in the world doing just that! A person declares himself a Buddhist (good or bad) by declaring his confidence in the triple gem, otherwise he could be an avowed fascist observing 5 precepts. 5 precepts are a great protection for oneself and others even if you are not a Buddhist.

Soe am i said...

A couple of important questions arises from this situation:

1. What defines a buddhist or follower of the buddha? eg. regards to refuges, conduct.

2. How to make a clear definition useful for the sasana?

For the first question, the link below to the online version of the publication "Good Question Good answer" provides some useful guide.

http://www.goodquestiongoodanswer.net/content.php?CID=13

As for the next question, I do not think it would be particularly skillful or useful if we were promoting a definition of being a Buddhist without consideration for the possible negative reactions of the audience. I do not mean that wrong practices and conduct not be pointed out. But pointing out clearly without the slightest hint of animosity and with an openness of heart so that reasonable people can discern for themselves whether what is pointed out is beneficial or not.

katannu homi

Gui Do said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gui Do said...

I have detected a certain resentment to Cambodia in earlier posts of Bhante. If one drinks Angkor beer - the best I have ever tasted, and I usually don't like beer - he can really be impressed as when seeing Angkor Wat. So it doesn't bother me at all to see the temple as a logo on the bottles, knowing that Angkor Wat was build on a kind of greedy and megamaniac fantasy of a ruler and had cost a lot of lifes ...

On the other hand, British American Tobacco and others are using temple symbols on their cigarette packages (http://www.zigsam.at/C_Cambodia.htm). It is cigarettes that have a higher risk than alcohol to make addictive and are for sure damaging to one's health. Although cigarettes have existed at Shakyamuni's lifetime, he obviously failed to understand the priority in danger of intoxicants.

Actually we nowadays have evidence that a strict rule against the cumsumption of alcohol is nonsense because moderate drinkers seem to live healthier and better (see e.g. here: http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/AlcoholAndHealth.html). Thus we'd rather doubt the rule and acknowledge that it should be renewed. The rule is the metaphor for a black-and-white thinking whereas life is made of many shades of grey.

Finally, a word about the Khmer. The Cambodians, to my mind, on the average impersonate much more of the Buddhist values than do the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Thais or Laoitians that I have met on my frequent travels. Find out yourself!

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Gui Do, the Cambodians may well uphold Buddhist values better than other peoples but the point of my post is not about who is or who is not the better Buddhist. My point is about is it honest to call yourself a Buddhist (individual or nation) while hardly bothering to follow Buddhist principles. Life and reality are, as you say, not always black or white. But when the Buddha gave the Precepts he did mean that they should taken very seriously by those who wanted to be his disciples. And of course if one wants to kill, steal, lie or drink that is a choice one is free to make. But why bother to call yourself a Buddhist? And what would ‘being a Buddhist’ mean in such as case? Surly ‘being a Buddhist’ means that one sincerely tries to practice Buddhism, a fundamental part of which is the five Precepts. Oh, and I have been to Cambodia three times, enjoyed it very much and hope to go again next year.

Ben said...

Buddha didn't prohibit at first, but only when some monks failed to drink it responsibly. Thus, I would conclude that initially the Buddha thought that the majority of the monks would find their own way to deal with alcohol. As he recognized that this was not the case he choose an easy solution by banning alcohol completely. That might have been good for the Sangha, but I still think his first thought was right. You can have a beer or two without any negative consequences. On the contrary, up to half a liter of beer is quite healthy (for men).

I think that exemplifies the general problem with general rules. People are different, so applying the same rules for everybody sometimes does not work or is simply pointless. On the other hand I think it is irresponsible to encourage people to consume more drugs. That is just plain stupid.

Gui Do said...

Why call oneself a Buddhist? The answer is simple, it depends on ones understanding of the core of the Dhamma. As prajna was considered the highest value even by Theravadins like Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, the precepts have to be seen with prajna, i.e. not literally but in the light of wisdom and modern research. Thus the precept against alcohol cannot be uphold by a rational and educated mind.

If being a Buddhist meant to practice the five precepts, a lot of Muslims would be Buddhists. That logic doesn't make any sense to me. Precepts and their ethics are common ground to most religions and even agnostic people (though in detail, as with smoking, drinking etc. they may not be as similar as with their stance against killing, lying, stealing). The core of a religion lies elsewhere.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

It is true that studies have shown that small amounts of alcohol, mainly red wine, taken daily can enhance health. This is however, offset by other studies showing that even moderate regular drinking increases incidence of several types of cancer. An overview of the most recent research can be seen at Cancer and Alcohol on Wikipedia. Further, the health benefits of drinking red wine can be easily obtained in other ways, they are not unique to alcohol consumption. Whatever the case, the Buddha’s Precept is primarily related to its alcohol’s effect on consciousness. Alcohol and certain other non-medical drugs muddle the mind, the very thing we try to develop and clarify if we have taken the Three Refuges.

Gui Do said...

Non-medical drugs? So let's mention the medical ones and compare to the others later. Antidepressants also "muddle the mind", and still they reduce the suffering of a lot of people and therefore do exactly what the Buddha's teaching is about, just on a physical level. One famous guy who thought he could live better without those antidepressants was the writer David Foster Wallace. When he stopped using them, he committed suicide.

We have to accept that the mind is not an entity that exists without the body. Therefore it is sometimes necessary to induce physical changes by allowing the mind to be altered. There are quite a couple of artists, by the way, who do not seem to be less enlightened than a Buddha although they were alcoholics, drug users etc. If one thinks nothing good would come from them, I suggest the reading of Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski e.g. The mind can come to conclusions in different ways, the way of abstinence is only one of them.

I have taken pain medication that altered my mind more than a glass of wine or two. Thus the line drawn between alcohol/non-medical drugs and those who are prescribed is rather artificial to me and stems from a reading of the Vinaya, not from common sense or (my) own experience.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Gui Do, the reason for mentioning non-medical drugs was to distinguish them from drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, etc, which are taken for so-called ‘recreational’ purposes. Drugs taken to cure debilitating or life-threatening illnesses even if they temporally muddle the mind would not, in my estimation, be covered by the fifth Precept. To save one’s life or to help one deal with extreme pain are legitimate reasons to take drugs even if mind-altering. People do not take alcohol as a medicine, they drink for pleasure, to break the ice, because of tradition, because of social pressure, to appear adult, etc, trivial reason for breaking the Precept. The line between the two should be clear enough – the advice of a properly trained and professional doctor.

dooyen said...

This is a monk's view. I cannot see how laypeople would agree. My doctor, a professional, believes that a glass of wine or two are okay. The point is your pleasure argument. Neuroscientists like Singer have already found out that meditation gives pleasure, so monks are also looking for it (because that part of the brain responsible for "rewards" is activitated by meditation). I do not believe that the precepts are made to hinder pleasure because obviously meditation as the key practice of Buddhists is not.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Dooyen, I know of nowhere in the Tipitaka where the Buddha asks us to abstain from alcohol because it is pleasurable. Always the reason given is because of its intoxicating effects. And this is not ‘a monk’s view’. The Five Precepts, of which abstaining from alcohol is one, are, as I’m sure you are aware, the basic ethical principles for lay people. And whether you wear a yellow robe or blue jeans alcohol has an intoxicating effect.

dooyen said...

Medicine is also intoxicating but allowed by this Buddha. Therefore the intoxication makes no good logical argument. Some people drink because it lightens the burden of their emotional or mental pain. Some go to the doctor and get an antidepressant. This simply means that there are execptions to a rule and not only this one, but all of them cannot be taken just literally.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Dooyen, alcohol’s intoxicating effect is not just the Buddhist argument against alcohol, it is its main argument and it is a logical argument as well. The fact that some essential medicines also have an intoxicating effect is not an excuse for ignoring the fifth Precept. As I’m sure your are aware, it is intention (cetana) which is the criteria for good/skilfulness and bad/unskillfulness in Buddhism. Thus there is a clear and distinct difference between taking a medicine to restore health or save a life even if it is intoxicating, and going down to the pub every Friday night to have a few beers with the boys. And on the subject of intentions, it would be well worth examining the intentions behind the insistence that we should ignore the fifth Precept.

Gui Do said...

I know intention is the last resort of some Buddhists. As we all know, it is NOT intention, it is action which decides. Intention is thought and may vanish like nothing, but the action is out there, action always leaves more traces (also for others) than intention. Going to a pub every Friday to drink with friends might make others happy, and not only oneself. Ethically I cannot see that the intention behind it is less unskillful than to take medicine to cure own's own illness (and perhaps make a doctor happy).

This discussion becomes too sophistic when having guesses about someone's intentions because they cannot be proven anyway. Relying on intentions as an argument is to me like putting Buddhism in the realm of mystery.

In everyday life one has to suffer consequences when killing someone with his car, even when there have not been any "bad" intentions. Our interaction with other people is therefore not decided mainly by intention but by the outcome of our doings.

The intention to reform the precepts is simple, to free the mind and let people find out for themselves. A lot of people have already found out that there is another truth behind intoxicants and would stay away from the core of the dhamma when taught that they have to follow outdated precepts. Thus even a soldier can be a Buddhist if he stays on the way to detach himself from greed, hate and illusions.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Gui Do, far from being “the last resort for some Buddhists”, intention is the first and main resort for the Buddha himself. “I say that intention is kamma, because having intended one then acts with body, speech or mind” (Anguttara Nikaya III,415). It is the whole basis of Buddhist ethical theory. It is intention that gives value, either positive or negative, to an action. And of course the purpose it not to guess someone else’s intentions but to become aware of one’s own. As I said in by original post, there are far worse things than having a few beers or a drag on a reefer, but it is infringing the most basic Buddhist ethical teachings, and if you can’t follow the basic ones its unlikely that you will take the challenging ones seriously. It is easy not to drink, it costs nothing, it takes no time or energy, we loose nothing, we are not disadvantages in any way. It’s so simple. Just avoid alcohol. And some people can’t even do that! And if one wants to drink that’s perfectly okay, just don’t call yourself a Buddhist, i.e. one who has taken Refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Bottoms up!

Gui Do said...

Well, and some Buddhist can't even take care of their own needs and rely on donations ... The first principle of Buddhist ethics comes from awakening, not from the precepts. The precepts only appeared after the awakened Shakyamuni had refrained from teaching, then taught because they asked him to. Thus all formulations, all words stem from the awakening, which is basically a matter of non attached thinking that does not know good, bad etc. as opposing categories. All the precepts are on the contrary clearly setting up categories and can not be what is called prajna, higher wisdom. They come second. If one does not understand the palicanon on the basis of prajna, he goes the wrong way because even the Buddha could not know the meaning of the precepts before his awakening. It becomes pretty obvious that awakening and what his disciples than made about it (in oral and written tradition) is not the same.

Gui Do said...

And I remember that the Buddha told the bhikkhus in the Mahaparinibbanasutta that they could abandon some minor rules but forgot to declare which are minor. Thus it is not possible to "officially" state which precepts are more challenging, if one believes in the literal sense of the palicanon, not even for the laypeople, at least not without hiding this contradiction. It is obviously less challenging to follow "not to kill" than to follow "not to drink alcohol", as most people do simply not kill - although no one in his right mind would say that drinking is worse than killing or stealing.

brahmavihara said...

Gui Do, surely alchohol is the catalyst for breaking all or any of the other 4 precepts, the mind is often uninhibited when under the influence of alchohol thus being the precondition for harming oneself or others or both. If you make the decision to drink alcohol then you are in danger of abandoning your ability to act responsibly at worst, and at the very least clouding your mind, the same mind that we strive to clarify through mindfulness, meditation and the other 6 parts of the 8 fold path. I cant recall The Buddha ever mentioning that alchohol was helpful in his quest for the end of suffering.

Walter said...

Having a glass of beer, nowadays, is to many people very much like having a cup of coffee or juice. A glass of beer will hardly impair the normal mental functions of the average person because the level of intoxication is very low. So we might not want to be too quick to judge that the fifth precept has been broken.

I would think it is not that important to define who's a Buddhist and who's not. If we say only those who have taken the Three Refuges can be called Buddhists, the fact is that many of them go through the ceremony only as a customary rite. Who's a "real" Buddhist? Hard to say, as there could be as many definitions as the number of people we pose the question to. Buddhism requires understanding. If anyone has gained useful insights because of Buddhism, I think the Buddha would be happy that his teachings have alleviated suffering. I recall reading a story in the Digha Nikaya (I think) that the Buddha was not concerned whether the man who wanted to be the Buddha's follower would sever relations with his previous religious affiliations.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Walter, thanks for your contribution. I do agree that the Buddha would probably be happy if someone was able to benefit from some aspect of his teachings without necessarily becoming his disciple. But that is not really the point. The point is - can or should you identify yourself as a Buddhist and then not really bother to do your best to sincerely try to practice the teachings of the Buddha? I think it is easy to define a Buddhist because at Anguttara Nikaya IV, 219 this is exactly what the Buddha does - it is someone who has taken the Three Refuges. Of course he could not mean simply someone who has merely mouthed the words but someone who sincerely does their best to live by the principles the Three Refuges imply, one of course being the Five Precepts. I also agree with you that it is not imperative to go around ‘sussing out’ who is and who is not a Buddhist. I think it’s a matter for each person to decide if they are being genuine or hypocritical, true to what they say or half-hearted. Recently I heard someone use the term ‘buffet Buddhist’, meaning someone who just picks the stuff they like and ignores the rest. Good one!

Walter said...

Dear Venerable, "Buffet Buddhist", yes, very creative use of words. Wonder if anyone has used "Buffet Bhikku" :)
Come to think of it, it is not necessarily a bad thing if done in sincerity. When I read the sermons of the Buddha, I got the impression that he started off by talking about rather mundane things. Only when any of his listeners showed signs of readiness would he teach anything more sublime. He therefore allowed his listeners to understand as much as they were capable of. I believe it is only later when Buddhism had become formalised did there emerge the requiremenmt to take the Three Refuges and to accept the "whole hog" and "in faith" whatever the monks teach.

Gui Do said...

This is one kind of interpretation already. The three refuges are actually NOT defined as implying the five precepts, like taking refuge in the Buddha is NOT defined as taking refuge in a corpse (Shakyamuni). Taking refuge in the dharma means taking refuge in a transmission that, according to religious science, has to be flawed. You will find contradictions in the dharma (meaning the Pali Canon here), and it is not possible to reside in it without interpretation. Thus, you have to give life and meaning to what is said and sometimes most probably wrongly transmitted. I repeat: Everyone taking the Pali Canon literally does more damage to the dharma than anyone called the Buddha can have intended - remember, it is the guy who refused to speak first, and see how right he was. By sticking to the letter one simply excludes people from the core of the teaching which has nothing to do with following rules. No one ever has awakened by following the sila. For monks it is of course a matter of surviving to keep up their interpretational sovereignty over the dharma.

Tim McCravy said...

It seems that this discussion has become one of buddhist "findamentalism,' That is to say whether the buddhist teachings are meant to be applied word for work in the modern world. Looking at the tragedies wrought by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish fundamentalists in the last few decades, it seems to me that applying the same rigid interpretations to Buddhist texts is extraordinarily dangerous. Basically, if one believes that drinking is immoral, then don't do it. If one believes that it isn't, then fine. But once any faith group begins legislating morality for the whole community based on a 2000 year old document, you've placed yourself on a dangerous road.