The world’s religions embrace lists of rules and prohibitions, such as the Ten Commandments in Judaism and Christianity. In Buddhism we have the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
Briefly, the trainings address killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and consumption of alcohol and drugs.
It’s important to note that the trainings are guidelines, not rigid commandments. No one is expected to adhere to them perfectly.
Practitioners may take the Five Mindfulness Trainings in a formal ceremony. I took them for the first time in 1997 and a few times since then.
In my experience most people will readily assent to the first four trainings, but balk at the suggestion that they not consume alcohol. This training is worth talking about because it is a stumbling block for so many people.
There are at least three good reasons not to consume alcohol.
First, Buddhism teaches the importance of being awake in the moment, fully aware and present to life. Drinking often is associated with escape. If you’ve had a tough day at the office, pick up a drink or two and you’ll forget about your troubles. But that temporary escape does not eliminate the troubles; it just conceals them for now.
Second, drinking is falsely associated with the good life, with having fun. Smiling men and women holding drinks are portrayed as the life of the party in TV commercials and magazine ads. But the idea that drinks and drugs can lead to happiness is a fraud. It sounds like a cliché, but it is true that happiness comes from within – not from drinking or drugging.
Third, millions of Americans are addicted to alcohol. Every family is affected either directly or indirectly by alcoholism. Drunk driving kills 10,000 men, women and children annually. It impacts health and job performance, and destroys families.
When I stopped drinking more than a decade ago, I did so in part because I realized that if I held a drink in my hand at a social occasion, I was implicitly sending the message that drinking was a harmless, fun activity.
Knowing that some of our friends, family members and co-workers are fighting this addiction one day at a time, it is a sign of respect and solidarity when we decide voluntarily to give up alcohol.
Many drinkers have found a lifeline by joining Alcoholics Anonymous, the self-help group that has saved the lives of millions of people who struggle with the urge to pick up a drink. What message do we send when we imbibe in front of them and give the impression that this is a benign social pastime?
It is a sad commentary that people find it easier to agree not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct or lie, than not to drink.