Editorials by Sangharakshita


The Fifth Precept

This editorial first appeared in The Maha Bodhi, June 1956

In Tibet there is a well known story to the effect that a monk who had offended a certain demon was compelled to atone for his fault by breaking any one of the Five Precepts. Thinking that the fifth precept, that of abstaining from intoxicants, was the least important, the unfortunate man agreed to drink several pots of wine. As a result, he became completely intoxicated, and while in this condition broke all the remaining precepts. Whether the story be true or not hardly matters: what matters is that it draws attention to the extreme importance of observing the fifth precept. The first step, the A B C, of Buddhism, is, as we all know, Sila or Morality, and as our story illustrates the whole of our moral life, and perhaps the moral life of others too, can be completely wrecked by failure to abstain from intoxicants. It would hardly be going too far to say that a man who indulges in alcohol, certainly one who indulges regularly, has very little right to the sacred name of Buddhist. Similarly, a society which instead of condemning the drink habit tolerates it as a harmless manifestation of good fellowship, or a State which instead of prohibiting trade in drink encourages it as a source of revenue, are not truly Buddhist either. One cannot have one's cake and eat it too. One cannot spend one evening at the tavern and the next in the temple - at least not in the Buddhist temple - without grave moral inconsistency, not to say hypocrisy. Much less can one pose as a writer or speaker on Buddhism, or as a Buddhist representative or leader, when one's enthusiasm for the sacred cause is stimulated not by study and meditation but by the bottle.

More than once, in the course of the last few months, have we tried to remind the readers of these columns that the best way of celebrating the 2500th Buddha Jayanti is by actual practice of the Teaching. That practice must begin with Morality; and without abstention from intoxicants Morality itself, as our story illustrates, rests on insecure foundations. It is a matter for sincere regret that in more than one ostensibly Buddhist land abstention from alcohol is not considered incumbent on a follower of the Dharma. We therefore suggest that in all those parts of the Buddhist world which have fallen under the influence of this evil habit a strong effort should be made, as the first step towards the better practice of the Dharma and the true celebration of the Buddha Jayanti year, to eradicate it once and for all. In this connection we cannot but commend the fine action of the present Government of Ceylon, which, as soon as it assumed office, banished intoxicants from all official functions. May the whole Buddhist world be not behindhand in following this noble example.