Buddhist Precept: Intoxicants Cloud the Mind
One Buddhist’s take on the precepts and recovery
By Arthur S
I’d like to first clarify that I’m no authority on Buddhism, Recovery or AA.
I’m going to try my best not to preach or teach. I’m just going to share my experience, strength and hope. I’ll be using a couple of quotes and paraphrases because I’m just a parrot that sits on the shoulders of giants.
Just like most of you, I faced that moment of overwhelming dread when I realized that I had to stop using my drug of choice – and escape the lifestyle that came with it – for the rest of my life. For those of us with years of recovery, we look back affectionately at the realization that this old way of thinking, if continued, would have destroyed us; but in letting go of it, we were liberated beyond belief.
My life-long love affair with alcohol began at the age of four. While my father and uncles where watching a hockey game, I devised a plan to drop my little green soldier into dad’s beer so I could drink it. Then I would sneak downstairs and occasionally drink my dad’s whiskey. When I became an altar boy I woke up on time every morning to open the church, drink some wine, serve mass and go to school.
I’d compare it to an abusive relationship; at first it swept me off my feet, made problems look so small, so much so that it had me convinced I didn’t need anyone else in my life.
Then after decades, the days came that it turned on me like an abusive lover, convincing me that I was nothing without her and that everyone else was the problem. I went from a corporate executive, active leading member of a large parish, and a family man, to a divorced womanizer with no fixed address that lived with bikers.
So how does one like me come back from such dire straits with a head full of booze and western theology? Recovery can be a tough road if we don’t learn a new language of the heart. Indeed my case was more so, since my devout Catholic background considered the Big Book and its so called “program” rudimentary and bad theology that relied on the premise that the only way to recover from addiction was to have a religious conversion.
Indeed if it wasn’t for my first sponsor introducing me to the eastern philosophies and its inherent nature of a universal point of view, I don’t think I’d be sober today (which can be considered a religious conversion of its own sort). I guess for some people it seems rather absurd that I made this connection about how I view reality in order to change the way I see, hear, eat, speak and act in order to recover my life away from alcohol. But that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
You see in western thought we say “you made me angry” but in eastern thought (as I understand it) it’s presented as “I have this anger before me”, which makes it a choice between the stimulus and the response. Indeed, how many of us in the program have learned that no matter what the cause, we are responsible for how we feel. I learned that it’s the dramatic adrenaline rush of reactionary thinking or mindlessness that gets me in trouble most times; I’d play the “blame game”, “pity party” or my favourite “righteous indignation”. Only to suffer the emotional hangover of shame, guilt or remorse afterwards promising myself that I’d never do that again. I discovered that the problem was a wrong view and what’s required is to put a new pair of glasses on in order to learn how to intuitively solve problems that otherwise used to be baffling.
Another example are problems of what those in the program know as sin or defects of character that they’d like to be delivered from or removed. For me it’s a matter of “right view” vs. “wrong view” and a defective use of the character I have. I see that everyone believes they’re basically made of good intentions and everyone wants to be happy and it’s our distorted, limited or wrong point of views that have led us to the abyss.
So in simple terms my thoughts and behaviour are now based on this belief:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Because I believe the inherent nature of reality (no independent origination) also comes into play, my environment and everything I allow into me will change me. This is where the Buddhist precepts come into play.
The Precepts aren’t necessarily seen as rules but more guidelines to be followed.
They are as follows:
- I undertake the rule to abstain from killing.
- I undertake the rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
- I undertake the rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
- I undertake the rule to abstain from false speech.
- I undertake the rule to abstain from taking intoxicants that cloud the mind.
I’ll summarize with this quote:
No one can practice the precepts perfectly, including the Buddha… Boiled vegetables contain dead bacteria. We cannot practice the First Precept or any of the precepts perfectly. But because of the real danger in our society – alcoholism has destroyed so many families and has brought about much unhappiness – we have to do something. We have to live in a way that will eradicate that kind of damage. That is why even if you can be very healthy with one glass of wine every week, I still urge you with all my strength to abandon that glass of wine.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Let’s face it, if we didn’t believe in the power of input influence we wouldn’t have an advertising industry.
So when I refuse to listen to or partake in various prayers and discussions about faith in deities that will intervene, it’s because I understand ideas have the power to mould my way of thinking and if it contradicts my critical thinking sensibilities, it just won’t work. It’s a baseless way into my heart and if I can’t live genuinely then I’d die drunk.
My religion is the pursuit to see things as they really are.
For me the purpose of prayers aren’t to influence the mind of some deity to change the universe for me; rather, prayers are affirmations to change my heart and faith and this refers to a serene commitment to the practice of the Buddha’s teachings and to trust in enlightened or highly developed beings, not deities. I have faith in the Sangha or the group because it’s in meetings that people can give me perspective and call me out on my shit.
Which comes to my final perspective and this is on the spirituality of unity. I’ll leave you with this final quote as a caveat emptor:
When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.