Refraining from Intoxicants (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

revised on 2021-03-16

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

It is a very important matter need to contemplate and reflect by every human being. Alcoholism has the longest human history to harm the human race. In some societies, even it becomes a culture. Drug addiction is worse than alcoholism, but it is not becoming a human culture yet. Nowadays, some countries legalized some drugs that will also become a human culture sooner or later in the future. Alcoholism is less harmful than drug addictions, but its effects on societies are much wider and complicated.

Here refraining from intoxicants means all kinds of intoxicants which clouded the mind and cannot think clearly and behave foolishly. It is one of the very ill problems in societies. But the majority of people are not taking it seriously like smoking problems. Why is that? Because they are in ignorance of the five precepts and no discernment in the harmfulness of alcoholism. It is including in the five precepts and may be the most dangerous one. If someone breaks this precept, there are more chances to break the others too. Because the mind cannot think good or bad, right or wrong, proper or improper, etc.

Alcoholics are the nuisances to their families and societies they lived in. They usually create a lot of problems and unhappiness in their families. Therefore, a very ill and serious problem in societies, especially for families. Everyone in a family should tackle alcoholism successfully, and then will have a prosperous and happy family life. There is a lot to talk about life sufferings and unhappiness which come from alcoholism. There was a documentary film on alcoholism and the sufferings and dangers it brings to societies.

This was the collections of photographs around the world of drunkards and alcoholics. From all these photos we can see very clear of the sufferings and dangers alcoholism brings to societies. These pictures were very disgusting and representing the shameless behavior of drunkards. When someone is drunk, the mind is becoming abnormal and out of control. And then he can do any evil thing which brings harmfulness to oneself and others.

Even their standards as a human being are lower than animals. Hiri—sense of shame and ottappa—fear of wrongdoing are the two important factors for preventing someone from doing evil actions. Therefore, these are called the guardians of the world. A drunkard or an alcoholic cannot have these two qualities. Then becomes shameless and not fear of wrongdoing—ahirika and anottappa.

These will destroy himself/herself and their family life. I had seen a lot of these people in my life. Some men and women because of their past lives of good kammas; in this life, they had the good chances to meet good people as their spouses. But their present lives’ of kammas (misconducts) were not good that they ended up with miseries. They became alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers, etc., because of bad companions that did not have any moral, education. They did affect not only their own lives but also their family members.

If both partners are immoral, the family lives are even worse. Even the husband is very bad, with a good wife or a mother, the family can be protected. But with a bad wife or mother, the family life is ruined. I had met both types of family in societies.

In 2008, there was a tragic case in England. A man had a son with a woman. Not very long, they were separated. The man left his son and the mother. I did not know the reason behind their separation. Anyhow she was a drug addict and lived with another man who was also a drug addict.

The little boy was known as Baby P. In the news media not mentioned the real boy name. The Baby P was tortured by the drug addict for sometimes that not very long died with many injuries. The cruel mother and her boyfriend were arrested. This sad news was shocked by the people. There were many stories in the world about alcoholism (included drug addiction and drug addicts), its problems and sad stories. A lot of social problems are made by foolish, stupid, and deluded people. Man-made sufferings are unnecessary to arise.

If people have good moral standards and education which started from family life and many of these problems can be prevented. If everyone has good knowledge/education on the law of kamma and following his/her life accordingly to natural law, life is quite enjoyable and better. But the majority are ignorant about it and rely on the outside power that they did a lot of unwholesome things and matters; and then dishonestly blame it on others and the outside power. They cannot solve their problems and overcome them. Every story, good or bad, suffering or happiness, pleasant or unpleasant, etc., has lessons to teach us. Even things in nature can teach us many valuable lessons, such as water, lotus flower, sunrise, sunset, etc. Here I want to present two true stories; a man and a woman, both of them were alcoholics.

It showed how alcoholism destroyed both lives and their good kammic results of past lives. With contemplation, we can learn valuable lessons from these incidents. The man was over 60 years of age when he passed away with cancer. He was born at the beginning of the 20th century in a Buddhist country, but the family was not Buddhists. His education was only at the middle school level. But he was a well-known carpenter as a profession and had good incomes. As a young man married a young woman with an arranged marriage.

Marriage is the most important matter between a man and a woman. He was very lucky in this matter because he encountered a dutiful wife. His wife was not only dutiful as a housewife, but also a good mother to the children. From where a good wife and a good mother come from? Without a doubt that both were the outcome of a good daughter. Even though she was low educated like most women of her generation, she had high qualities as a good daughter, wife, and mother.

A perfect woman, in accordance with the old Chinese standards. She was a considerate person and had extreme patience and endurance with pains and difficulties in family life. We may think this couple had a happy family life. There was a real and cruel enemy between them; alcoholism. It destroyed the man life. In reality, he was a good person, intelligent, and had a creative mind. If he was not drunk and a very nice man.

After he had drunk and like a crazy person. He was living among Buddhists but never became a Buddhist. His children were also very good because under the protection of a good mother. Some of them became Buddhist practicers. He was successful in his livelihood and making money, but most (in his early life) was wasted by alcohol and gambling. His drunken behavior, especially speech, was creating a lot of bad deeds day in day out.

At the age of over 60, he was afflicted with terminal cancer and died in an unconscious mind state in the hospital, the sign of not a good rebirth. His wife because of her moral qualities and good deeds still alive, healthy, and nearly becomes a centenarian.

Here we can contemplate this man’s life what we have learned with the fourth, 5th and 6th blessings: living in a civilized land, having made merits in the past; directing oneself rightly. His present life was completed with the fourth and 5th blessings, but his great mistake was not directing oneself rightly.

At last ended his life with downfall. Even we had many good kammas in past lives and using them wrongly in this present life will end up with misery like this man. Also, our future lives in saṁsāra will be not good.

The second story was about a middle-aged woman. A tribal woman of a small tribe in Taiwan. Most of them have a history of alcoholism. It seems to me this came from their cultural background. Because I have seen many of them drink regularly from old to young ages, from grandparents to grandchildren. From this kind of cultural background, she was a low educated woman in this developed island. She also did not have a moral standard and education from her young age.

This could be clearly justified from her behavior and deeds, but she had the good kamma from her past life. Because she married a Chinese old man who was good and had a secure life. If she had the moral standards and gave up her alcoholism, it was no doubt that she would have a happy family life. After she was born a child to this old man and they ended up with separation. Now she is living a miserable life and doing a lot of evil deeds.

In these two true stories, the man’s life was worth contemplation. He had a very good kamma from his past lives. There was nothing lacking for his progress as a human, but he had two weak points. He did not have moral education like his wife. Another important cause for his downfall was an association with bad companions. But he also had the skill to make many friends; some were educated and high-class people. He met these good people very rare and learned nothing from them. His usual companions were the alcoholics and always gave them free drinks.

In the Maṅgala Sutta: The first blessing and protection are: not consorting with fools. What the Buddha taught was quite true. If someone lacks this first blessing, and then he/she will lack the others. He had never been consorting with religious people, even though he had many chances. All human problems and sufferings were caused by fools and not by the wise. Therefore, he had wasted his precious human birth and good chances. We could see this type of people in the world; some were government leaders and rich men.

Instead of using their political powers and riches for the benefits of others, they created evil deeds which would send them to the lower worlds and a lot of sufferings and miseries in the future to come. Drunkenness is like a culture in some tribal and hill tribe people. They never take it as harmful and unwholesome. Around the world, many people take alcohols as nothing wrong with them.

Therefore, alcohols and cigarettes are successful businesses and making a lot of money. I had been met a lot of people with drunkenness and alcoholism before but never seen anyone made progress in their life. Even originally if they had possessed good qualities which were spoiled with alcoholism. Therefore, the Buddha mentioned that there were four matters made a monk never shine. These were money, women, wrong livelihoods and alcoholism (all sorts of intoxicants).

There are six faults connecting with intoxicants:

(1) lost one’s wealth and fortune,
(2) leading to quarrels and fights,
(3) get diseases, illnesses,
(4) has bad reputation,
(5) without shame and fear to evil deeds,
(6) weaken in perception, memory, and knowledge.

  1. Lost one’s wealth and fortune

Because of intoxication, people become heedless (pamāda), or negligence. Therefore, easy to commit unwholesome deeds/ acts. If an immoral person with intoxication, there will be more and more misconducts. Appamāda means non-negligence and represents mindfulness (sati). Appamāda is not ordinary mindfulness, not forget in wholesome dhamma and actions. Always looking for doing good deeds.

Therefore, it is not easy to arise and has to be cultivated. So, the Buddha taught the four foundations of mindfulness for us. Without mindfulness, knowledge cannot arise. There was a jātaka story reminding us of the first fault of intoxicants—lost one’s wealth and fortune. In one of his lives as a human being, the bodhisatta had a son. After he died and born as Sakka—the king of heaven. He had been left some wealth for his son.

But he did not do any work and just spent the money left behind. The bodhisatta had a strong attachment to his human son, who became an alcoholic without him. So, he came down to the human world and gave his human son a wish—fulfilling magic pot. If he wished something just put his hand inside the pot and he would get it. He warned his son to look after the magic pot carefully, and not let it broken.

One day he was quite drunk and playing with the magic pot by throwing it up in the air and catching it when it came down. At one point, he could not catch it and fell to the ground and broken into pieces. Later he was very poor and died with misery. In the world, some had powers, wealth, and highly educated. With alcoholism or drug addiction, later their lives were spoiled like the foolish son of the bodhisatta.

  1. Leading to quarrels and fights

This fault is very common with drunken people. Someone drunk has noisy, clumsy, and foolish behavior. When some are drunk, they like crazy people and talkative, without any sense. They are talking and doing things blindly that it like insulting people. Therefore, it leads to quarrel and fights with others. Some drunkards are very good nature when they are at normal times.

After drunk, they are insulting people and beating their wives. People can be patience with a crazy person but not to drunkards. So, they can create enemies and dangerous for themselves. These quarrels and fights sometimes lead to crimes and murders. And then it spoiled their whole life.

  1. Get disease and illness

The common illness caused by intoxicants is cancer. Frequent consumption of alcohol and spirits can drastically increase the risk of esophageal (i.e., from throat to stomach areas) cancer. There are also some of them I do not know about it. It can also lead to mental derangement or mental problems. I had known a family who had two children with mental derangement. The father was an alcoholic and married two times. From their first wife, he had two children, a daughter, and a son. The son after graduated and had a proper job.

And later had mental derangement and became a crazy man on the street. From the second wife, the man had some children. The oldest daughter in her teens had mental derangement and became crazy. Sometimes the working of kamma is very strange and inconceivable. I am allergic to alcohols and have an aversion to alcoholics and drunkards.

But in my life, I can never run away or stay away from these people. Always encountered them and living near them. Did I have some kammas connected with intoxicants from my past lives? For example, I was selling intoxicants as a livelihood, etc.

  1. Has a bad reputation

Someone has a reputation as an alcoholic or a history of alcoholism, nobody trusts him. He will have difficulty to find a job, and nobody wants to hire him. Their bad reputations also affect their families. Not only they are looking down by others also to their family members. I am sure a good family will not marry their children into an alcoholic family. They will shun them and stay away from them.

A good reputation is very important in society to someone for progress and developing in the right direction. The Buddha himself encourage to associate with the wise and not the fools. Because human problems, sufferings, and dangers come from the fools, not the wise. Therefore, someone with a bad reputation will never approach by good or wise people.

So, they will not have the chances to correct himself/herself. Because of that in their lives, they cannot progress and develop in the right direction. Only bad people will contact him/her for their evil deeds. So, his life will become darker and darker. When I was young, I heard Buddhists doing morning and evening pūjas (worshipping in a shrine room). One of the wishes they made in their prayers was never encountering and making companionship with the fools while wandering in existences (i.e., saṁsāra).

At that time, I did not understand the meanings very well and clearly. Later after studying the Buddha’s Teachings in the Suttanta Piṭaka I was amazed and admired the wisdom of the Buddha. There were many stories in the piṭaka mentioned some people life stories. Mostly good people encountered or made companionship with bad people, then their lives never became good, always in dangerous problems, and even sometimes spoiled their lives.

If we research, human history, golden ages were the period when human beings had good moral standards. (e.g., see the Chou Dynasty in China). It is also important to read and contemplate on the discourse of the Buddha, The Lion’s Roar on the Turning of the Wheel—Cakkavatti Sutta (No. 26—Dīgha Nikāya, DN. 26 Cakkavattisuttaṃ or Cakkavatatisīhanādasuttaṃ), on these matters. We will understand today human problems in the world and the future to come.

  1. Without shame and fear of evil deeds

People sometimes may do evil deeds without shame and fear even they are in normal mind states. Therefore, for a drunken person, it becomes easier to be in misconducts. Because in the drunken state, he cannot think clearly and become an ignorant person. So, he is doing things foolishly and impulsively. Sometimes people in the drunken state commit heavy or serious crimes that which spoiled their whole lives.

Therefore, no one should take intoxicants as lightly as cigarettes. Because many people take smoking lightly that it is the great killer to human as cancer. But still many are worshipping their killer—intoxicants and cigarettes. How much stupid these people are? Money is not easy to come by. Everyone has to work hard for it. And then wasting it or paid their killers to murder them. Many more foolish than these people are businessmen who make money with these harmful things.

Their kamma debts will never end; they have to pay for it in the miserable states. There are many foolish people in the world wasting their times and money for useless things and matters. Even these types of people do not have common sense. As an, e.g., there are three things; foods, intoxicant (including drugs) and cigarettes give to a young boy and a dog. Which one the boy and dog will choose? Another, e.g., during famine time, if you ask people to choose only one of the 3. All will choose foods for survivals.

I do not think at that time alcoholics, and drug addicts (including smokers) will choose the others for their survivals. There are many things and matters with these kinds of stupidity going on around the world. Some foolish people give up their health and life for these kinds of useless and meaningless things and matters. We should always remember and remind us that shame and fear of wrongdoing (hirī and ottappa) are the two guardians of the world.

Without shame and fear of evil things (ahirika and anottappa) are the destroyers of the world. With ahirika and anottappa human beings do not have moral and moral standards. Therefore, all sorts of evil deed and action arise. This effect and change the weather and natural environments. And many social problems and natural disasters appear and human life span decreases. It is sure that with these kinds of unwholesome conditions, there will be no happiness, peace, and harmony among human beings.

Therefore, anyone desires for happiness, peace, harmony, health, long life should develop moral values and standards. There was a well-known story of a monk who had psychic power and after drunk behaved shamelessly in front of the Buddha. There was a powerful dragon (nāga) made trouble in a village. Ven. Nagata who had psychic power went there and with his super-normal power, defeated the dragon.

Out of gratitude and respect villagers, there wanted to offer him the best thing they could think about. Some foolish men suggested the best alcohol in their village. At that time the Buddha not yet laid down the training rule of forbidding intoxicants for monks. In his alms-round, the villagers offered him alcohols. With a lot of consuming and he flattened out on the ground at the entrance of the village.

Some monks found him and carried him to the Buddha. After arriving there, they laid him down in front of the Buddha with his head towards the Blessed One. But he changed his position by turning his feet towards the Buddha. (a sign of disrespectful) Then the Buddha said to the monks that before Nagata had psychic power and people respected him. Now, he had none and even could not conquer a water snake.

The Buddha laid down the training rule of forbidding the monks to consume alcohols. From this incident, a sensible person became insensible and disrespectful and lost all his good qualities under the influence of intoxicants. Even a person with dignity becomes without any of them.

  1. Weaken in perception, memory, and knowledge

Knowledge is a connection between mindfulness and perception (sati and saññā). It is the power of perception. Therefore, these people (alcoholics and drunkards) become without discernment and wisdom. Even with intelligent people, their minds slowly become dull and blunt. They do not have the power to distinguish good or bad, proper and not proper, etc.

There was a tragic story that happened in a very long distant past life of Ven. Sāriputta. In one of his past lives, he was a king and addicted to intoxicants and meat. Every day he must take his meal with meat. One observant day (religious holiday) the meat in the kitchen was eaten by the dog. It was the day there is no shops were killing and selling meat. The cook had to inform the king about the incident. At the time he informed him, the king was very drunk with the baby prince on his laps and the queen also sat near him.

Suddenly like a crazy man, he killed the baby on his lap by twisting the neck then he asked the cook to use the dead baby as meat. The cook was so frightened that just took the baby away and cooked the human meat for him. After his meal, the king was fallen into sleep. After awakening from the sleep, and his drunkenness was gone. At that time, he remembered his baby son and asked the queen to bring the baby to him.

After knowing what was happening to the child, he had great remorse with pain, grief, and sorrow. With the strong hatred and aversion to intoxicants, he made the following strong resolution (adhiṭṭhāna) on giving up this harmful stuff forever. This was from this life onwards until his last life in saṁsāra.

Intoxicants and drugs affect one’s mind states is very great indeed. I have mentioned two stories above; baby P and baby prince, both of them were killed by the drug addict and alcoholic. These seem a little better than killing one’s parents. There were also stories of alcoholics, and drug addicts killed their parents. These were very worse cases. All these crimes cannot be corrected. After death, the destination of rebirths will be sure to hells.

There is a lot to say about the problems, dangers, and result of intoxicants and drugs. Some evil conducts even become human cultures when unwholesome dhammas, things, and matters become human cultures. All these represent the degeneration of human status and dignity. Evil things, matters, and deeds becoming a culture, then many people will follow and go after them, e.g., alcohols, drug, smoking, guns culture in the U.S, homosexuality, etc.

From my own experiences of encountering alcoholics and the documentary on alcoholics and alcoholism, the problems and dangers it brings to family and society are very great. By seeing all these miserable things and matters give you the sense of gloom and disgusting, like seeing rats and cockroaches and their surroundings. It was also very clear why the Buddha included the abstaining of intoxicants in the five precepts. All human beings, whatever their backgrounds, views, and beliefs should never take the five precepts as insignificance and these were taught by the Buddha.

It is the law of nature, not a philosophy, not come from thinking, invention, and imposed by someone. It will always true, anywhere at any place, anytime in the whole universe. Truth is universal. Heavenly beings are depending on the results of their wholesome kammas, as their livelihoods. Therefore, they understand the benefits of wholesome dhammas and actions more than human beings. Human beings have to rely on their efforts more than merits that they do not much appreciate it. When heavenly beings are near death, they want to take rebirths in the human world.

Because in the human world, they have more chances of making merits. Not because they like the human world. With merits after death and they return to heavenly existences. In a sutta, Sakka—the deva king came down to the earth offered foods to Ven. Mahā-kassapa was for this reason. Because he did not have the chance to make merit in Heaven. Let us refraining on intoxicants and protecting oneself and others. Let us bring peace and happiness to the family and society. This is the highest blessing.

revised on 2021-03-16; cited from (posted on 2019-11-20)

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According to the translator— Ven. Uttamo's words, this is strictly for free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma—Dhamma Dāna. You may re-format, reprint, translate, and redistribute this work in any medium.

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