Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Dhamma of Wine

To refrain from taking intoxicants in one of the five most important precepts to be followed by any Buddhist follower. This is even more important in the Theravada tradition, where followers tend to follow the original teachings of the Buddha very closely. But for Mahayana and Vajrayana followers, the view against intoxicants, especially wine, is usually more liberal. A good example is Monk Ji Gong (1130-1209CE) of the Southern Song Dynasty. An enlightened but eccentric master who lived in Zhejiang province, Ji Gong was fond of eating meat and wine. Others ridiculed him because of this, but he replied them with this saying:

"Wine and meat may pass through my intestines,
but the Buddha remains in my heart."

This became a famous Chinese saying which is often misused by people today as an excuse to justify their craving towards meat and alcohol. Another interesting anecdote comes from the 2nd Patriarch of Chan, Huike. Many years after he transmitted the Dharma to his successor Seng Can, he went to Yedu city and transformed himself into a lay person. Huike frequented the wine shops and the butcheries. Sometimes he could be found engaging in idle chatter in the streets, or mixing around with urchins and vagrants. People who knew him were shocked to find him totally changed and together they asked him, "The Venerable Master used to be a great cultivator; how did you turn out like that?" To which Huike replied:

"I am tuning my own mind, what does that have to do with you?"

This again became an important Chan saying, and the term "tuning the mind" became synonymous with a drinking session. It is clear that enlightened beings did not take the precept against intoxicants very seriously; to them it is merely a skillful means to teach ordinary people. The same could be said for many other basic percepts. Outwardly these masters may break the percepts, but in reality their minds always remain pure and untainted.

Regarding taking wine as tuning the mind, HK-based journalist Zhang Li recently wrote an interesting story. 10 over years ago Mr Zhang visited Wutai Shan for the first time. It was a November evening and the weather was extremely cold. He was with a Chinese and a Mongolian Lama on the Northwest corner of Bodhisattva Peak. The Lamas invited him to a wine-drinking session to fight the cold, but they did not call it wine; they called it the "Nectar of Manjusri" instead. That night they told him:

"Speaking from the viewpoint of the Yogacara doctrine, one's Alaya or store consciousness can only be revealed after drinking alcohol. A person who is happy and jovial after drinking is destined for the realm of the Devas. Those that turn violent and create trouble belong to the realm of the Asuras. People who become depressed and cry will be heading towards the 3 lower realms. Finally the ones who become drowsy and fall asleep will be reborn as human beings."

Mr Zhang had a certain realization after hearing these words. In the future when he observed the behaviour of his friends after a few drinks, he could immediately know what were their future destinies. Once the black box of the Alaya was opened, a person's true nature became exposed without any holding back. But there was a kind of person, who no matter how drunk he gets, never loses awareness of himself. This is what it means by "when even the illusionary becomes real, then reality is none other than illusion." These are the enlightened beings.

The Buddha laid down the precept against intoxicants for his followers who do embarrassing and harmful things when they become drunk. This precept is to guard against the negative effects of alcohol abuse, rather than the substance itself. But when used correctly, alcohol is a medicine and also a catalyst that brings out people's mental essence. If alcohol brings out the good in people's mind, then it is known as Nectar. But if it brings out the bad, then it becomes the blood of Mara. When the great Tang dynasty poet Li Bai got drunk, he was truly a "Drunken Immortal"; most of the others are just silly drunkards. Do you want to know what kind of a person you really are? Bottoms up!


Anonymous said...

I like your blog very much.

Very informative.



Anonymous said...

oh no! i am going to hell!

Anonymous said...

I had a question regarding the 5th precept.I'll have to use pali/sanskrit version here. The 5th precept say surameraya matchapama dattana weramani and not surameraya weramani may be your blog had the answer.I need more clarification from somebody

Wayne said...

Yes, it says sura meraya macca pamadattana. But the key word here is pamatta or being heedless.