A Zen’s-Eye View: Zen practice encourages refraining from intoxicants

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Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre.

A student of Zen does not intoxicate self or others but rather cultivates and encourages clarity. Zen practice occurs within the context of clear presence and mindfulness, and a state of mind that is not conditioned by intoxicants of any sort. When enough clarity is lost it is all too easy to break the other precepts. Furthermore, it is our intention at the Creston Zen Centre to sustain an environment that supports those who are attempting to live without intoxicants.

Intoxicants and meditation don’t go together. Intoxicants take us away from reality; meditation takes us toward reality. Which do we want? We are already intoxicated by media onslaught, by an aggrandized notion of self and by attachment to objects and ideas, and we cause suffering for ourselves and others as a result. Why would we want to take more intoxicants?

One of the main reasons for not becoming intoxicated is that attachment to intoxication can — and often does — lead to breaking other vows or straying from one’s integrity. If we use intoxicating substances to the point of addiction, we become prone to lying and stealing. It should be noted that in Zen we make a distinction between intoxication, where one’s clarity is compromised, and simply enjoying a glass of wine with dinner. This precept, like the others, is not a commandment or a rule, but rather a 2,500-year-old suggestion. The issue is whether or not you consistently keep your mind focused on cultivating kindness, compassion, wisdom and the practices that get you there.

This precept is not only about consuming drugs and alcohol. Food laced with sugars, or unhealthy fats and salts can be an intoxicant as well, and the suffering that results is evidenced by rising obesity rates. Alcohol, food and drugs are taken into the body. In Zen, refraining from intoxicants also addresses what we take into our minds. That is, the precept is also about mental intoxication — intoxication with Internet games, mindless television or religious doctrine. The precept cautions against fanaticism of any sort, and includes refraining from trying to intoxicate others with our beliefs. It’s often understood as a cautionary precept for Zen students: do not intoxicate yourself or others with your practice or your teachings, do not try to draw others into your orbit with proselytizing.

This precept is not about judging others’ use, or even misuse, of intoxicants. It is about protecting clarity of mind so that we are able to rest our awareness in the present moment and meet it exactly as it is. Intoxication obscures clarity of mind, and it is only through clarity that we can understand and rest in our true nature moment to moment.

Suggested practice: Take some time to consider what intoxicating substances or activities are active in your life at this time. What takes you away from being present with a clear mind? Pick one intoxicant, and for the next two weeks, refrain from using it. Notice changes that happen in your awareness during that time.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-6500.