How does Buddhism view intoxication?

According to Lopen Tashi Tshering, a lecturer at Institute of Science of Mind, the Buddha had this to say about alcohol, the most abused intoxicant of his time: “Intoxication can lead to the loss of wealth, increased unnecessary confrontations, illness, disrepute, and weakening of wisdom.”

“Intoxicant includes anything we ingest, inhale or inject into our system that distorts consciousness, disrupts self-awareness, and that are detrimental to health,” said Lopen Tashi Tshering.

Production and consumption of alcohol was prevalent long before the time of the Buddha.

He added that Buddha had recognised that indulging in intoxicants (alcohol) led to losing heedfulness, a quality important to achieve realisation. Heedlessness in this context means moral recklessness, obscuring the clarity of mind to understand the bounds between what is right and what is wrong.

The Buddha, therefore, included the downside of intoxication in a duelwa sutra: “One is to refrain from drinking even a drop of alcohol and taking intoxicants because they are the cause of heedlessness. If any Buddhists succumb to the lure of intoxicating drinks, they shall not consider me as a teacher.”

“Though the precept started off as a ban on the drinking of alcohol, it has since been expanded to the use of modern intoxicants,” said Lopen Tashi Tshering. “This means, the modern issue of intoxication which includes incredibly wide range of addictive substances and unwholesome pleasures can be considered as transgression of fifth vow according to Buddhism.”

However, taking medication containing alcohol and other intoxicants for genuine medical reason does not count. Similarly, neither does eating food flavored with a small amount of liquor of violate the precept. This, Lopen Tashi Tshering, said was because one’s intention to take the medicine was to cure one’s sickness.

A traditional Buddhist reason for abstaining from alcohol and drugs was that intoxication inevitably led to the breach of other precepts, he said.

Buddha had prescribed five precepts for the followers as the minimal moral observances: abstinence from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and use of intoxicants.

Alcoholism and intoxication of the substances are a costly burden on the modern societies.

The teachings of Buddha do not say anything directly about smoking. However, the Buddhist prohibition of tobacco and smoking came later in the time of Guru Padmasambhava.

Understanding the detrimental effects of smoking, Guru Rinpoche prohibited the use of tobacco, according to Lopen Tashi Tshering.

Elaborating on how Guru Rinpoche imposed the prohibition, he explained that Guru had clearly seen the effects the fumes from the cigarettes have on the gods and asuras above and local deities around. Similarly, he also understood that the spitting harmed the ants and insects on the earth and deities underneath.

Lopen Tashi Tshering said that abusing drug was equal to poisoning oneself slowly to your death. “Once a person chooses to do what is illegal, disrespectful of god and potentially damaging to their health and spiritual well-being, it affects their luck and I suppose this is the reason why a number of youths commit suicide today.”

In Buddhism, another factor to consider is its belief about life after death, meaning that our stream of consciousness does not terminate with death but continues on in other forms that we may take into six realms: 1) gods, (2) asuras, (3) humans, (4) animals, (5) hungry ghosts, and (6) hell beings, which is determined by our habits, propensities, and actions in this present life.

According to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, a person who indulges in intoxication in present life suffers consequences of their actions through all lives that they may take in any forms, Lopen Tashi Tshering said.

Chimi Dema