To abandon taking intoxicants
This includes drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or taking drugs. This is often one of the toughest ones for us to follow. The object of this vow is obviously any intoxicant, whether it is legal or not. Some people ask the question whether caffeine counts, after all it is highly addictive and many people relate to it no differently than other drugs. And if coffee is an intoxicant, then aren’t all of the centers and festivals and World Peace Cafes constantly encouraging others to break their Pratimoksha vows?
Some people don’t like the answer I am about to give, but I will give it anyways. Yes, I think caffeine can be considered an intoxicant. I think nothing is really an intoxicant from its own side and everything can be an intoxicant for us depending on how we relate to it. Sugar is not an intoxicant from its own side, but if we adopt an addictive attitude towards it, then for us I would way it is and likewise should be brought under control. Likewise, many people get addicted to porn. This is a very common addiction in the modern world, especially with the ease of access on-line. This too can be a form of intoxicant for us depending on how we relate to it.
Some objects, like cigarettes, alcohol and drugs are in a somewhat different category because there express purpose is to alter our mind. This is the main point. If we understand that our problem is our mind and alcohol and drugs help us change our mind, then can’t we argue that with them we are at least solving the right problem? From one perspective, I guess we can say that. But it is still a completely wrong thought. Yes, we need to change our mind, but we need to change our mind with our mind. We can think of our mind as like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. The more we become dependent upon other things to change our mind, the weaker that muscle becomes. Ultimately, we need a very strong mind. Further, alcohol and drugs function to render our mind uncontrolled. Our goal is to make our mind controlled. So these things may change our mind, but they do so in a way that makes our mind more uncontrolled, and thus they take us in the opposite direction of where we want to go.
Alcohol in particular generally just makes us stupid. The reason why alcohol is so dangerous is it primarily functions to undermine our inhibitions. Our inhibitions are often what hold us back from engaging in negativity. If we harbor in our heart a good deal of negative impulses, then when we consume alcohol it erodes those inhibitions and our negativity is given free rein. We all know stories. Now, some people say that there is nothing wrong with being an occasional social drinker, especially if is done in moderation. It is true that it is less bad, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good. It is true that it is good to be social, but how will you grow more as a person, by using the crutch of alcohol or doing the deep inner work of overcoming those delusions which prevent you from being a socially engaged person? I am now a diplomat and I attend quite a number of social gatherings where everyone – and I mean everyone – is drinking. I walk around with a glass of water or even orange juice in my hand. At first, I hated these gatherings because I have never liked parties. But I forced myself to learn how to become socially engaged, to let go, relax and have a good time. I learned how to be able to have a good conversation easily with anybody. The secret to this is not complicated: take a genuine interest in what others have to say. Everyone has a lifetime worth of experiences waiting to be tapped, and all you need to do is be interested in finding out what they have to say. Usually people only want to talk about themselves anyways, so it is not difficult to get the conversations started, and what you will find is because you have all of your mental faculties about you, you are better able to cherish the other person and occasionally pepper the conversation with some wisdom.
Other people object saying, but having a glass of red wine every day has been medically proven to be good for your health. I am not a doctor, so I can’t say whether this is true or not, but let’s just assume it is. My question is simple: isn’t moral discipline also good for your health? Let’s take a wild exaggeration of the benefits of drinking a glass of wine every day and say it adds 10 years onto your human life. Surely that is extraordinary, is it not? Surely that is enough justification to do it. But every time we engage in the practice of moral discipline we create the substantial karmic cause for a rebirth in the upper realms, for example as a human. If we assume an average lifespan of 80 years, what extends our experience of human life more, the 10 years or the 80? And, just to take this a little further, if you practice this moral discipline every day from age 21 to 80, then that is 21,535 instances of moral discipline, each one of which creates the cause for at least another human rebirth of say 80 years, then keeping this vow will extend our experience of human life by 1,722,800 years! Do the math. Logic doesn’t lie.