Alcohol is a chemical produced by fermentation and which suppresses the central nervous system and causes intoxication when ingested. The word alcohol comes from the Arabic al meaning ‘the’ and kahal meaning ‘collyrium’ and was originally an alchemic term. Alcoholic drinks are usually categorized into four different types - beers made from fermented grains, wines made from fermented fruits and spirits made by distilling either beers or wines. Four types of alcoholic drinks are mentioned in the Tipitaka. Surà was brewed from rice or flour (Sutta Nipata 398; Vinaya 1. 205), meraya was distilled alcohol made from sugar or fruit and sometimes flavored with sugar, pepper or the bark of a certain tree (Majjhima Nikaya 1. 238), majja was made from honey and àsava was made from the juice of the palmyra palm or the wild date palm and could be either just brewed or distilled (Vinaya 2. 294). The fifth Precept which all Buddhists undertake to practice is to abstain from consuming alcohol or any other recreational drugs. In the case of alcohol this is mainly because alcoholic intoxication clouds the mind, while the whole rational of Buddhism is to clarify the mind. However, drinking alcohol also has several other personal and social disadvantages. The Buddha says, ‘There are these six dangers of drinking alcohol; loss of wealth, increase of quarrels, ill-health, bad reputation, making a fool of oneself and impaired intelligence’ (Digha Nikaya 3. 182). The Buddhist tradition says that if one breaks the fifth Precept this can easily lead to breaking all the others.
- Alcohol: Our Favourite Drug, J. R. West, 1986.
- Buddhism A to Z. Ven. Dhammika, 2007.