Monday, March 17, 2014

The 5th Precept

In Buddhism, there are five basic precepts, and while I balk at the mere concept of religious rules, especially given how obsolete they tend to be, I understand they're only intended as guidelines to practice. 

That is, they are not laws, there are no arbitrary make-believe penalties, but they tend to be considered fundamental advice, to making progress.  They're vows to abstain from violence, thievery, sexual excess, dishonesty, and lastly, from alcohol - worded quite specifically, fermented drink that impedes mindfulness.

I find it interesting, the way this fifth rule has changed, given cultural influence. Generally assumed that it's intended to refer to all intoxicants, all recreational drugs or "mind altering" substances. I've read that the wording is not at all ambiguous - of course that's what it means. Except yeah, it's not ambiguous, and that's not what it says.

Is it thought that they had no other drugs in those days?
Bhang has been used for well over a thousand years in India. Possibly well before Buddhism came along. Yet the flowers that expand mindfulness were never mentioned. Nor even any broad language that might include them. So why do we assume this is what was intended?

It wasn't until 1961, that the US manipulated the UN into pressuring the rest of the world into prohibition. India was given 25 years to rein in it's cannabis use, despite the fact that it was never a problem to begin with. This was the result of worldwide strongarming and propaganda. A worldwide failure, if you assume the real intent ever had anything to do with reducing drug use.

Brutally successful, if it had more to do with controlling markets - with the added bonus of being an effectively arbitrary tool for shackling and disenfranchising minority populations.  The US, the land of the free, has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  Considering prison labor and the private prisons that make more money, the more packed full of non-violent drug offenders they are, it starts to look an awful lot like we've insidiously managed to bring back a form of slavery.

The Drug War  is an atrocity that history will not look well on.  It's gone on for so long, that it's become deeply entrenched in cultures around the world, yielding policies that serve only to create needless bloodshed and ruin millions of lives. Despite a marked absence of historical complaints or condemnations of this plant that grows naturally all over the planet, these days it pretty much goes without question, that cannabis is just an intoxicant. Even as people finally start to lean towards more tolerant views.

People make these assumptions, based on our modern culture of puritanical intolerance. More likely, it never occurred to those early Buddhists that other drugs would be heedlessly tossed into the same category as as a substance that does nothing but dull the mind and senses, while both poisoning and addicting the body. Drugs affect us in so many very different ways. It's absurd to suggest that they all impede mindfulness, just as alcohol does.

Not only that, but the very idea that the mind is at its best in its unaltered state is actually antithetical to Buddhism. This ridiculously broad condemnation of drug use is based on an imagined dichotomy between different ways that everything in life intersects to form the illusion of self.  It's based on categories of experience that have nothing to do with Buddhism, just the global influence of America's asinine drug war. The only untainted self is no-self.


Dusty Dog said...

Beautiful piece of writing, and so on the mark. The drug war is nothing but a tool to control people, whether the controllers follow the precepts of Buddhism or the 10 Commandments, or money. Probably, as you pointed out, it's actually about the money, which is antithetical the other two reasons.

Joshua Abell said...

Seems to be a coalition of different elements. Starting a hundred years ago with overtly xenophobic hysteria, criminalizing immigrant cultures that indulged in something Americans weren't familiar with, but from there it snowballed into something all these different industries realized they had a financial stake in. Such as the The Partnership for a Drug Free America of the 80s and 90s being funded by alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical companies.

As the War on Drugs went into full swing, enforcement agencies accumulated so much clout, that they've become an array of massive self-serving businesses, doing everything in their power to keep money flowing in their direction. They even have control over medical research, which they've been preventing for decades. Law enforcement should never have that sort of power. It's really insane.

I'm inclined to say they're the biggest culprits these days, but all the layers of obstruction and knots and tangles of bureaucratic red tape make it difficult to even be sure. The entire racket's become heavily insulated against anyone even questioning it, never mind doing anything to scale it back.