A Buddhist View of
Drugs and Alcohol
Rev. Henry Adams
Countless People are Supporting You and Wishing for Your Well-being
In a nutshell, Buddhism is the teaching that shows us the workings of our ego self and how the ego causes us all of our problems of life.
Fleeting Pleasure versus Lasting Liberation from Suffering
Alcohol and drugs contain chemicals that give pleasure and relief from pain for a short time. However, these temporary pleasures will not bring lasting satisfaction. Lasting satisfaction and freedom from pain can come from letting go of the ideas of “me” and “mine” and learning to live with the light of the Buddha’s wisdom as one’s guide. In the words of Shakyamuni Buddha: “as to relying on wisdom, wisdom is able to distinguish and measure good and evil. The working of mind always seeks pleasure and does not reach the essential. Hence it is said, “do not rely on mind.” (Collected Works of Shinran, p. 241)
Our minds seek pleasure and relief from pain in many ways. Alcohol, illicit drugs and tobacco often come to mind as substances that are abused. Prescription painkillers, relaxants and sleep aids that are useful in medical treatment can also lead to harmful addictions if taken inappropriately without regard for the instructions of the qualified doctor.
Recognizing My Own Potential to Cause Harm
It is the nature of the human mind to seek its own pleasure. Thus, the circumstance and actions arising in a moment of intoxicated reverie can occur in anyone’s life. In the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition, we are called to look within and recognize our own potential for harmful behavior before we pass judgment on others.
Everyone Has the Potential to Turn Their Life Around
The great teachers of the Pure Land Buddhist tradition assure us that the mistakes a person has made in life have no power to impede the working of the Buddha’s great compassion. No matter how far I may have strayed from the path of wise and compassionate living, I still have the potential to turn my life around and realize great fulfillment through sharing kindness with others. In fact, Shinran teaches that it is precisely because we human beings have such a strong tendency towards self-destructive behavior that the Buddha provided his compassionate teaching for those of us who are deeply mired in the vicious cycle of self-centered living.
“Do not take a liking to poison just because there is an antidote”
However, this should not be misunderstood to mean that we should give up our efforts to avoid harmful activities like drug and alcohol abuse. As Shinran taught his dear companions, “do not take a liking to poison just because there is an antidote.” (Collected Works of Shinran, p. 671)
The Courage to Practice Right Action and Right Speech
When we recognize our own harmful acts, or see a person causing harm to themselves or others, we must not deny that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. It takes courage to recognize an uncomfortable truth and to intervene in a harmful situation of addiction to show the compassion of the Buddha working in our world.
Excerpted in gratitude from: Buddhist Churches of America, Southern District Ministers’ Association