Buddhism has a 4th grader's understanding of alcohol

Okay okay, 10 days without talking, and I love to talk. I have a lot of things to say. I am very limited by my internet connectivity, and the fact that I want to sleep. This is mildly frustrating. So I’ll lead off with this thought because it’s quick.

The Five Precepts in Buddhism are: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t have sexual misconduct, and don’t take intoxicants (including alcohol). Monks take these (along with a host of others). During retreats, non-monks take these too. Non-monks are further encouraged to take these precepts during normal times too. The first four are of course fine; who could disagree with those? But the fifth one seems a bit severe in our society. I’ve heard two reasons, and I can think of a third:

1. “When you drink, you become more likely to do all the other bad things.” Or sometimes “a drunk person is like a madman” which is kind of like D.A.R.E.’s outlook on booze: you’re either sober or drunk. I could see a precept against getting drunk, but against all drinking seems extreme. You can still control yourself.

2. “Continuity of mindfulness is important, so even getting mindless for a couple hours can really hurt your practice.” Okay, this argument is more legit. Still, really? No breaks? What about when you’re sleeping? And it’s not like I’m mindful anywhere near 24/7 anyway…

3. Cultural factors. In Europe, say, everyone drinks sometimes. In India, it’s rarer, and maybe back around Buddha’s time, the only people who drank were the town drunks. So in this case, this precept seems out of place. (imagine if Buddhism started in Europe, and there was a precept against drinking tea!)

At any rate, could we replace it with “don’t use intoxicants irresponsibly”? (or perhaps this is impossible and I just want to have my enlightenment and eat drink it too.)

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