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June 4th, 2007

The 5th Precept and "Rightness"

originally posted to buddhists where some discussion follows

</a></b></a>zenmouse 's recent post on the Buddha eating hemp reminded me to ask about consumption in general -- or specifically about the 5th precept.

It seems to me that one could consume anything for right reasons, where "right" falls in line with the Buddhist path (or I should say the Eightfold thingy). Not everyone is going to agree in this interpretation of the precept. Some will strictly adhere to the alcohol ban but such a narrow interpretation does not guide us on other so-called drugs unless one expands the literal definition of "alcohol" to the idea of 'alcoholic affects'. But expanding the ban on alcohol to other drugs with the intent of helping modern Buddhists with consumption of things that were unavailable to past peoples is indeed broadening the common interpretation of the 5th precept. Example: cocaine and heroine were not available to people before the 19th AD although the coca plant (and chewing it) have been available to people (if you live near some). So I find a non-literal or at least a broad interpretation about consumption-in-general is right.

Yet can that interpretation include consuming things -- even alcohol -- because it helps the person along their path? I'm not talking about drowning out our suffering with intoxication. Instead I mean differences of paths, aka. lives. I know some people who drink a shot of liquor or glass of wine just before bed because it has the same soporific effect as does a glass of milk (yet the milk doesn't work for whatever physiological reasons). Sure one might suggest a breathing exercise or meditation before bed -- as I do -- but I dare not presume that everyone's body responds the same as mine. The sheer fact that we each have a separate body would seem to indicate that there is no universal physical ethic, i.e. the same morality cannot apply to everybody -- where "everybody" literally means each body. Some will undoubtedly suggest that such people are addicted to, aka. attached to, the consumption of both milk and alcohol but I think we should be wary of such rebuttals lest one ends up arguing about how people are addicted to sleep and, worse still, realize the rebuttal implies that even meditation before sleep is wrong, i.e. we're "attached to eating" and "attached to meditating" and other such silliness that end in famine and insomnia.

I am not saying there is no universal metaphysical ethic as generally prescribed by the precepts but I am suggesting that those ethics might convey different paths to people yet still be right for everyone (because it reduces every person's suffering; in a sense, morals are deduced from the Noble Truths, etc.). This concept of being aware of the implications of Truths → Paths → Precepts is something I call "rightness". It sounds awfully similar to truthiness but ... maybe Colbert is onto something here. Thoughts?