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Alcohol and spirituality

I have never been much of a heavy drinker my whole life. I got drunk a few times as a teenager and in my late 20s stopped drinking altogeher for a few years after having some spiritual awakenings (discovering yoga, meditation...). Lately I am finding it does me a world of good and offers me very good insights to have a drink now and then. I am very curious as to the idea of alcohol possibly being, as other drugs/spirits (even tribal "drinks") their effect on a persons spirituality. Don't get me wrong.. I am fully aware the toll alcohol can take on the body and typically after a night of a drink or two I take an immune boosting supplement and eat very healthy the next day. But the mental/emotional/spiritual relief it seems to give me does not compare to anything else I've tried. I mean why were they called spirits to begin with anyway? Anyone have any insights?

Comments

  • edited May 2009
    Hello Karmagal,

    The relief and insights you speak of are deceptive because they depend on an intoxicating substance temporarily altering the natural state of your mind. This is not true spiritual insight.
    Alcohol is so widely used in western society that people accept it as part of their lives which is a big mistake. Buddha advised us against intoxicants.

    This article about Buddhism and alcohol might be helpful to you:

    http://www.purifymind.com/BuddhismAlcohol.htm

    Kind wishes,

    Dazzle
  • gracklegrackle Veteran
    edited May 2009
    Karmagal,
    Would you please tell me a little more about the relief you experience owing to the use of alcohol? More to the point how do the insights differ for you comparing alcohol and meditation?

    grackle
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Somewhere in the UK, Central-Southern.... Moderator
    edited May 2009
    karmagal;58744 said:
    (. . .)

    But the mental/emotional/spiritual relief it seems to give me does not compare to anything else I've tried. I mean why were they called spirits to begin with anyway? Anyone have any insights?
    Then you have not 'tried' hard enough.
    Drinking alcohol, quite simply, is against the Fifth Precept.

    Distillation from the wine, to a spirit, is a technical term, meaning that the alcohol is 'spirited' from the wine.
    hence the name, 'spirit'. It has nothing to do with spirituality or religion. it's just a term adopted to denote the process.
    Like the word stamp (has more than one meaning) and punt (has more than one meaning) and the word must (has more than one meaning)
    The mental/emotional/spiritual relief you gain is temporary and therefore false. in time, you will require more and more alcohol to achieve the same result.

    it's a no-no.
    That's it and all of it , really.
  • edited May 2009
    I used to drink but never that much i always know my limit and that would be it, gave it up cos i didnt want that sick feeling that you have the next day. and to think about it for what to pee it all away in a couple of hours? in this day and age i have better ways to spend my money then getting wrecked out of it,

    I would have one glass of Red Wine once in a while with my Dinner. Red wine is good for the Blood and the Heart


    if you cant go on a weekend with out Beer. you should try the Non Alcohol beer, taste the same as normal beer just left out the alcohol.
  • edited May 2009
    grackle;58746 said:
    Karmagal,
    Would you please tell me a little more about the relief you experience owing to the use of alcohol? More to the point how do the insights differ for you comparing alcohol and meditation?

    grackle
    I've been suffering from depression/PTSD for about 2 years now. I have not been taking any prescribed drugs for it, but have been taking tryptophan, valerian and some herbal rememdies. I couldn't sleep for a year after the infidelity and then breakup with my ex and still struggle a lot of the time.

    Alcohol seems to make the biggest dent in calming the PTSD. Now I know why veterans take to it so much. The other things I've taken help, but nothing seems to knock the PTSD out of me completely... well actually marijuana is good that way too and I read an article not long ago that shed light on why it helps pepople with PTSD.
  • edited May 2009
    karmagal;58744 said:
    the mental/emotional/spiritual relief it seems to give me does not compare to anything else I've tried.
    Hi karmagal,
    Substances of one kind or another can provide a temporary "block" to the bad states we otherwise experience. By using them, though, you are making two errors. The first is you are (by default) dependent on the substance for relief, the second is, you will not gain insight into the mental process which is the root of your suffering.

    This insight is available via meditation, which also empowers you to deal directly with the situation and relieve it. Meditation can be both your medicine and your experience of freedom.

    Substances are worse than second-rate. Over time they will dull you as well as contributing to general bad health.

    I wish you good luck with it all, as I appreciate your predicament. I'm not getting preachy, just passing on what I've experienced myself - quite appart from any 'religious' mores.

    Namaste
    Kris
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran
    edited May 2009
    I'm sorry you're suffering from that, karmagal. It sounds very distressing.

    Alcohol is not a good anxiety medication. It requires increasingly large doses to be effective and severely impairs judgement and health. Is it possible for you to discuss this with a doctor?

    Have you seen The Mindful Way Through Depression? Also, you may be a good candidate for dialectical behavioral therapy. (It was originally intended for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, but it's also used in a wide variety of other situations, now.)
  • edited May 2009
    Yes, you don't say where you live, Karmagal, but it certainly might be a good idea to have a chat with your doctor as there are vaious therapies available which don't involve the use of drugs. Marijuana isn't any good either because it can cause paranoia and depression.

    Kind wishes,

    Dazzle

    Kind
  • gracklegrackle Veteran
    edited May 2009
    Dear Karmagal,
    Have you ever been to an AA meeting? Some Buddhists I know have and continue to find it helpful. It's pretty important now to reduce the sense of isolation that you probably feel. Have you had an evaluation for depression?
    I am a veteran and have to note that the culture of the military certainly encourages drinking for quite a few soldiers. But it is not a problem solver. I dont drink but when I get together with ex comrades I see directly that their internal mental hell isn't helped by alcohol.

    I feel your suffering. On the otherside of what you now are experiencing is serenity. You are and will remain in my thoughts.

    grackle
  • edited May 2009
    I don't want to hijack this thread - but I feel my question is appropriate for this thread.

    Is having a beer or glass of wine with dinner inconsistent with the 5th precept? Wouldn't drinking in moderation be in compliance with the Middle Way?
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Somewhere in the UK, Central-Southern.... Moderator
    edited May 2009
    As with everything - that would be your choice, as would the consequences. Nobody's going to tell you yes or no, you should, you shouldn't. If the Buddha's going to give you guidelines, we're hardly going to do otherwise....!

    The judgement of what you decide to do, is yours alone.....
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited May 2009
    sambodhi,

    That would depend on who you ask. Some say yes and some say no.

    Dhammanando Bhikkhu, for example, states:

    "In the Theravadin understanding the fifth precept enjoins complete abstinence, not moderation. It is broken when one knowingly consumes even the smallest amount of alcohol. It is not broken if the alcohol is consumed unwittingly or is an ingredient in an essential medicine."


    The main reasoning behind this interpretation — which is based on Abhidhammic teachings — is that "every breach of the fifth precept arises from a greed-rooted citta."

    Ajahn Khemasanto, on the other hand, has said that having a glass of wine with dinner (for a lay-followers at least) doesn't violate the fifth precept as long as one stops before they can "feel the effects" of the alcohol.

    The main reasoning behind this interpretation, I suppose, is the intent of the precept itself, i.e., the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs that lead to carelessness is meant to help protect one from breaking the other four precepts, not to insinuate that drinking alcohol in and of itself is unwholesome.

    Whether this is what the Buddha himself meant when he formulated the fifth precept, I don't know; I am just passing along what I have heard. I myself have a glass of beer or wine once in a while, and I don't lose any sleep over it. Suffice it to say that I tend to follow the spirit rather than the letter when it comes to doctrine.

    Jason
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran
    edited May 2009
    The middle way isn't really concerned with moderation. It's concerned with keeping extremes in mind. (In this case, the extremes of asceticism and indulgence.) It doesn't pertain directly to behavior. If it did, it would be a bad principle, because that's too vague.

    It's also worth noting that these "precepts" may have originally been descriptive, not prescriptive. See for instance, the Supreme Net Sutta, where the Buddha says
    "It is, monks, for elementary, inferior matters of moral practice that the worldling would praise the Tathágata. And what are these elementary, inferior matters for which the worldling would praise him?"

    "Abandoning the taking of life, the ascetic Gotama dwells refraining from taking life, without stick or sword, scrupulous, compassionate, trembling for the welfare of all living beings." Thus the worldling would praise the Tathagata...
    ...but in this sutta, I didn't notice him talking about intoxicants at all, so perhaps that's a different matter. :)
  • edited May 2009
    grackle;58783 said:
    Dear Karmagal,
    Have you ever been to an AA meeting? Some Buddhists I know have and continue to find it helpful. It's pretty important now to reduce the sense of isolation that you probably feel. Have you had an evaluation for depression?
    I am a veteran and have to note that the culture of the military certainly encourages drinking for quite a few soldiers. But it is not a problem solver. I dont drink but when I get together with ex comrades I see directly that their internal mental hell isn't helped by alcohol.

    I feel your suffering. On the otherside of what you now are experiencing is serenity. You are and will remain in my thoughts.

    grackle
    Funny you should mention that. The last guy I dated (about a month ago he broke it off) is sober as of 2 years ago for the first time in his life. I was his first relationship since sober, but there were impotency issues and he was feeling overwhelmed with the intensity of the realtionship (so he said -- but I think there was also an ex-g/f in the background). I went to a few meetings when I was young because a friend of mine had a problem and in order to attend these dances I had to go to the meetings to get a ride with her and the troubled boys at the time.

    The guy I was dating had a tranquility that I used to have and I was very drawn to him. I never went to a meeting with him, but went to a few musical events at the place.

    What do you mean about buddhists attending? Buddhist who don't have substance issues? Can people who don't have substance issues attend AA?
  • edited May 2009
    Also, how do Buddhists view the idea of relgious figures (like Christ) who apparently drank wine?
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited May 2009
    karmagal;58807 said:
    Also, how do Buddhists view the idea of relgious figures (like Christ) who apparently drank wine?
    The same as we view the idea of other people who drink wine.
  • edited May 2009
    karmagal, perhaps you would be interested in checking out the book One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps.

    Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/One-Breath-Time-Buddhism-Twelve/dp/1579549055/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242604750&sr=1-3
  • gracklegrackle Veteran
    edited May 2009
    Hello Karmagal,
    Anyone may attend AA meetings. There is no assumption that when you walk in you have a problem. You can go and just listen. No pressure,no worries. Your privacy will be respected. Everything is on a first name only basis.

    You participate only as much as you wish. It might be worth a try. You will probably encounter people from all walks of life as well as creeds. Two friends who are Buddhists attend meetings and do not see as it as incompatable.

    grackle
  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Veteran
    edited May 2009
    karmagal, you are interested in the effect of alcohol on one's spirituality?

    The challenge of Buddhism is to face our living without trying to run towards comfort or away from discomfort. Seeking comfort through alcohol is therefore an "opposite". Our suffering does not arise from the "bad things" themselves, but from our RESPONSE to them, and from the belief that we will not be happy unless these bad things go away. This attachment/aversion creates our suffering, just as the Buddha taught.

    My sister has overcome her PTSD using only Buddhism, watchfulness, cognitive restructuring, my good ears & warm arms, and compassion for the individual whose actions were harmful. Her buttons still get pushed, but the wires are disconnected.

    And although drinking is an "opposite", we ALL do our own versions of "opposite". Buddhism is not about absolute rules that you must or must not follow. However, we do need to remain aware that all actions will imprint on us and cause results. Buddhism is about a living, groping stagger towards freedom and truth, and just as we strive to develop compassion for others, we also need to develop compassion for ourselves and our own foibles.
  • edited May 2009
    I guess I shouldn't have used alchol as the example to this topic. I should have referred to peyote and drinks created by tribal people. Ironically, today on NPR I heard a story by their religious investigator (forget her name). She went to a peyote ceremony occurring primarily for a young woman who was suffering from shingles. Sounds like they created a sweat lodge and stayed in it for 11 hours. The young woman said at one point she saw, spiritually, a man standing in front of her who she had wronged (not sure if they meant in this life or a past one). He wanted an apology from her. She said the instant she apologized to him she started to feel her pain lessen and eventually she came out of the lodge cured.

    I did a search just now and found this interesting tidbit:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_and_drugs#Buddhism
    Buddhism

    According to the fifth precept of the Pancasila, Buddhists should refrain from any quantity of intoxicants which would prevent mindfulness. Many modern Buddhist schools have strongly discouraged the use of intoxicants or psychoactives of any kind however they may not be prohibited in all circumstances in all traditions. For example: Priests in the Soto Zen tradition of Japan, are allowed to consume alcohol and Tibetan artwork appears to implicate the utilization of cannabis and psychoactive mushrooms at some point in the culturally diverse history of the tradition.


    By the way, I'm not trying to imply that frequent drug use is a good thing.... I'm just curious about it's connection to the spirit world when used infrequently/cermonially and with intent. Anyway, my take on drugs and my few experiences with them are similar to this statement:


    "I have read that it was from their experience in drugs which is some kind of transcendental insight, that brought many Westerners to Buddhism"
  • edited May 2009
    By the way, maybe it's just me, but yesterday I found what appears to be an incredible tool for my PTSD:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leKgjncPCCk

    I know it looks really simplistic, but it has had amazing effect on me -- not sure if it's placebo, but I don't think so. There is actually a magnet you can buy to do it with (which is what the woman is holding), but I've found even rubbing my fingers together while doing it has made an impact. Ironically, it reminds me a lot of some kind of American Indian movement. The idea is to think of something that stirs up negative emotion in you, or if you just randomly start experiencing something negative/painful to do it. I've done it about a half dozen times since yesterday and it seems to have really made a difference. I feel like I am getting cleaer and clearer in my thinking. I am also going for an EEG/neurofeedback session tomorrow morning.
  • edited May 2009
    karmagal;58860 said:
    I'm just curious about it's connection to the spirit world when used infrequently/cermonially and with intent.
    Sounds very Casteneda. Buddhism's not about that in any way. Contacting spirits and awesome visions (interesting though they may be) aren't what Buddha was into. Buddhist meditation is about freedom, about unbinding, about liberation.
  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Veteran
    edited May 2009
    karmagal,
    I am so happy you found something that works for you ... and if it is a placebo, who cares as long as it brings good results and does no harm!

    Biofeedback is still around? The first go-round (decades ago), they finally decided that while one could learn to make amazing changes using a biofeedback machine, the skills learned while using the machine faded really quickly once one started practicing without a machine. I wonder if that's changed.
  • edited May 2009
    Hi karmagal,

    It is important to remember that whether you abuse drugs or alcohol or not, we are all addicted to samsara, so yes, the 12 Steps method is a good method for all Buddhists (or anyone, for that matter) to utilize in their practice. Removing obstacles to one's practice, such as addictions or obsessive attachments, is vital to be able to even do practice.

    As Jason correctly pointed out, the 5th precept against using drugs or alcohol is included not because using drugs or alcohol is "wrong" or "sinful" but because it makes it much harder to keep the four preceding vows if you do use them as your judgment is affected, usually severely.

    Using alcohol to attain relief from PTSD may seem innocuous, but really you're just replacing one problem with another. Better to find a method (like meditation) that doesn't create more problems.

    Palzang
  • edited May 2009
    FoibleFull;58893 said:
    karmagal,
    I am so happy you found something that works for you ... and if it is a placebo, who cares as long as it brings good results and does no harm!

    Biofeedback is still around? The first go-round (decades ago), they finally decided that while one could learn to make amazing changes using a biofeedback machine, the skills learned while using the machine faded really quickly once one started practicing without a machine. I wonder if that's changed.
    I was referring to neurofeedback actually... not sure if there have been similar implications with it but I had my demonstration today. Pretty amazing. I saw on the screen and still feel very differnet. Apparently, the changes won't start to become permanent until about the 3rd session when the stem cells will start creating new neuro pathways. I am going to continue with it if my insurance will cover it. In seeing my bnrainwaves on the computer screen, the guy told me I have almost no alpha waves and anxiety level was thru the roof. My alpha waves got induced (my brain started teaching itself - hard to explain) and were much bigger toward the end of the session. He told me 50% of people get results just from the demonstration and if I were one of those peoppel I would probably sleep 8-10 hours straight tonight. That would be great considering I have hardly slept for 2 years now.
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