A WEEK OF VESAK THINKING
Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari
A Thought for the Day - 6
By the benevolence of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, may all beings be well and happy. Today we take up for discussion suràmerayamajjapamàdaññhànà veramaõã, the last item of the païca-sãla. This handles undoubtedly one of the most menacing social evils in the world today, namely the proneness of humans to drugs and alcohol. As the old saying women, wine and song goes, alcohol seems to have a misleading social attractiveness to all, to men, women and children. No party or social gathering, not even grandma's funeral, without drinks, seems to be the order of the day. Today, drugs too have caught up to that level of prestige.
Enough has been said everywhere about the evils of these. But something is overbalancing. It may be economic policies of governments, cultural trimmings of communities, mental degeneracy of the down trodden and the impoverished groups, or willingly or unwillingly being the booster of violent crimes in the land, for those who want to commit or wish to have them committed. But over all, what was once deemed a social requirement, namely drinking, has today turned out to be a social menace. Counteracting temperance movements, started and undertaken with a great deal of fanfare decades ago, appear to have served no more purpose than fiddling besides a deaf elephant, as they say in Sinhala.
Talking of the evils of drinking, the Buddha's basic question is whether a person should drink something, having taken which he or she loses the power of judgement : Kiü nu kho bhikkhave taü pàtabbaü yaü pivitvà visa¤¤ã assa. This is his main logic about the intake of alcohol and drugs. Unimpaired judgement is man's greatest asset in life. It is the capacity to judge that makes man different from animals. We know what humans do, both men and women, when they have taken one too many, even for the road.
A limited amount of alcohol is sometimes believed to be a relaxant. But it is not even in the power of medical men to decide what this amount is. Therefore most of them believe it is best left alone. This loss of judgement often leads to lack of decency and decorum in social behaviour. The resulting impropriety of behaviour can often lead to disasters of diverse sorts. This loss of one's sense of shame in drunkenness or kopIna-niddaüsanã is one of six evils of drinking listed in the Sigala Sutta of the Buddhists.
A beautiful sculptured panel of five life-size figures, titled Family Drinking Scene from Hadda in Afghanistan, tells us an equally beautiful story. It dates back to the second century of the Christian era. It is a piece of Buddhist sculpture, done in Greek Gandharan style. At the moment it is in the Muse Guimet in Paris and two other pieces on the same theme are in Alahabad. Having had the inspiration and the information for their work of art of national importance, these Afghanistan Buddhists portray the mother and the father in the family group as shamelessly naked in their drunkenness. They do not know that their skirts and trousers have dropped ten to fifteen inches, well below their belt line. This is the precise portrayal in the Commentary on the Sigala Sutta. What lovely admirers of Buddhism these Afghanistan persons would have been more than eighteen centuries ago. Please see Sumangalavilàsinã III. p.945 fuller details of what alcohol can do to men and women in their unbridled search for pleasure.
The other two sculptures in Alahabad show equally vulgar lewd behviour under the influence of alcohol. What a remarkable respect these ancient civilizations seem to show to a religious message of worth to mankind ? One cannot fail here to note Buddhism's lead in moral reform over a period of more than two and a half millennia.
On the question of drugs and alcohol, Buddhism has given further advice pertaining to other spheres in life too. It highlights hazards of drinking in many ways : physiological, social and economic. They range from economic drain here and now [ sandiññhikà dhana¤jàni ] to drunken brawls [ kalaha- ppavaóóhanã ], pronenness to disease [ rogànaü àyatanaü ], loss of reputation [ akitti-sa¤jananã ] and decline of brain functioning [ pa¤¤àya dubbalãkaraõã ].
It is now for the Budddhists, as well as non-Buddhists, to view this position about alcohol in the life of humans in this country. As far as Buddhism sees it, sex as man or woman and age as young or old is not going to make any difference in one's attitude towards this issue. Perhaps it may be that only a few can develop such sharpness of judgement to assess its vices and virtues. We shall be very glad to leave it to the judgement of the serious liberation seekers, seeking for themselves or for others . We seriously leave alone the pursuants of pleasure and profit.
May all beings be well and happy. May there be peace on earth and goodwill among men.