Monthly Archives: July 2016

Did the Buddha Prohibit the Consumption of Drugs?

tumblr_o77n7y5jf81t2p3goo1_500In sutta 17 of the Digha Nikaya, the Buddha summarizes the full fivefold set of precepts plus one in his story of King Mahasudassana. Maurice Walshe translates this as: “Do not take life. Do not take what is not given. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not tell lies. Do not drink strong drink. Be moderate in eating” (DN 17.1.9, ii.175). However, in sutta 32 Walshe has the Buddha teaching “a code of refraining from taking life, from taking what is not given, from sexual misconduct, from lying speech, and from strong drink and sloth-producing drugs ” (DN 32.2). This comes after sutta 31, in which the Buddha refers to “strong drink and sloth-producing drugs” as a way of wasting one’s substance (31.7, iii.183), immediately following the fourfold restraint, consisting of not taking life, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, and lying speech, without any reference to drinking alcohol or anything else.

In the corresponding translation of the Rhys Davids’s, in sutta XXXII, they have “intemperance” instead of “strong drink and sloth-producing drugs.” However, in the previous sutta Rhys Davids have only “intoxicating liquors.” There is no reference to drugs, and in sutta XVII, they refer only to “maddening drink.”

The foregoing comparisons lead one to ask the question: What is the basis in the Pali for Walshe’s reference to “sloth-producing drugs” in suttas 31 and 32?

In order to make this comparison I referred to the Burmese Chattha Sangayana edition of the Pali Canon online. The key word here is Surā-meraya-majja-pamāda-(ṭṭhānā)-nu-yogo in the phrase “Surāmerayamajjappamādaṭṭhānānuyogo kho, gahapatiputta, bhogānaṃ apāyamukhaṃ” (CS 3.8.247), which we may parse as follows (note the word plays)::

  • sura (m): intoxicating or distilled liquor or brewage
  • meraya (nt): fermented liquor, rum
  • majja (nt): liquor, intoxicant
  • [jappa]: greed, desire, lust
  • [pa]: preposition indicating leading toward or intensification
  • pamada (f): remissness, negligence, carelessness
  • [mada]: pride, intoxication, sexual excess
  • nu: a
  • yoga (m): endeavour, effort
  • kho (ind): indeed, really, surely
  • gahapati (m): commoner, householder, head of the household
  • putta (m): son, child
  • bhoga (m): possession, wealth, enjoyment
  • apayamukha (nt): cause of ruin

I have bolded the three critical words in this sentence: sura, meraya, and majja. Checking these words in the Pali-English Dictionary, there is no allusion to drugs. Rather, the threefold formula seems to approximate to the English “beer, wine, and spirits” – but not “drugs”! The whole passage might be rendered, “Truly, addiction to drink, which leads to sin, will be the downfall of the householder and his heirs.” The same principle may or may not apply to drugs, but that is not what the Buddha says. The essential objection appears to be to the loss of self-control that results from imbibing alcohol, which was used in the Ayurvedic medicine of the time as an anaesthetic. We should also remember that the Buddha himself did not consider drinking to be a matter of much importance until the sangha was embarrassed by the behaviour of a single monastic during a time of famine, eight years after the founding of the sangha. It is these sorts of details that often get overlooked in the religious fundamentalist synthesis.

Similarly, the very same word appears in CS 3.9.276; there is no difference. The conclusion is that Professor Walshe’s translation, unlike the Rhys Davids’s, is loose, and that the Buddha does not refer to drugs in these passages, with all the redolence of that word in contemporary English, probably because the Buddha had no conception of drugs in the modern (non-medical) sense at all. The Buddha does of course permit the consumption of medicinal drugs, and even allows the rules of the Vinaya to be bent or broken in the service of treating illness or preserving health.


Crowley, Mike. Secret Drugs of Buddhism. Published Sept. 10, 2014. Accessed July 21, 2016.

Pinchback, Daniel. “The Link Between Buddhism and Psychedelics.” Sept. 8, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2016.

Redmond, Geoffrey. “Buddhism and Psychedelics: Zig Zag Zen.” Accessed July 21, 2016.

Rhys Davids, T.W. and C.A.F., trans. Dialogues of the Buddha: Translated from the Pali of the Digha Nikaya. 4th ed. Part II. Sacred Books of the Buddhists. Ed. T.W. Rhys Davids. Vol. III. 1959; rpt. London: Pali Text Society, 1977.

———-, trans. Dialogues of the Buddha: Translated from the Pali of the Digha Nikaya. Part III. Sacred Books of the Buddhists. Ed. T.W. Rhys Davids. Vol. IV. 1921; London: Pali Text Society, 1977.

Walshe, Maurice, trans. The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. The Teachings of the Buddha. 1987; rpt. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

A Vajrasattva Mantra Practice

0998480a744b4460abdc561b31704139The practice of the Vajrasattva mantra is the second of the Four Special Foundations, which come after the Four Ordinary Foundations (the Precious Human Birth; Impermanence; Action, Cause, and Result; and the Shortcomings of Samsara). The practitioner must have confidence in these four, to the degree of intellectual conviction, but not necessarily to the state of absolute automaticity implied by Right View. If they have confidence in the Four Special Foundations, they are ready to practise the Four Special Foundations of Ngondro.

The Hundred Syllable Mantra of Vajrasattva follows Taking Refuge and Engendering the Enlightened Attitude. To take Refuge is to trust in the truth of the dharma as the effect of accepting the Four Ordinary Foundations. Engendering the Enlightened Attitude is the Bodhisattva Vow. Thus if they have confidence in the truth of the dharma and have formulated the bodhisattva intention, they are ready to practise the Hundred Syllable Mantra of Vajrasattva.

The repetition of the mantra purifies the psycho-somatic complex from existing negative tendencies through frequent and prolonged repetition. This practice establishes a pure basis for subsequent spiritual activity. Because negative tendencies arise continuously, this practice should be performed daily.

8a2420dc6c2172a9c3990afa1f421516The practice of the Vajrasattva mantra includes:

  1. Intellectual realization of the nature of Vajrasattva.
  2. Intellectual realization of the meaning of the Vajrasattva mantra.
  3. An emotional affinity or bias towards Vajrasattva.
  4. Proper and actual auditory repetition of the Vajrasattva mantra.
  5. Visualization of a revolving double dorje above the head, as one invokes Vajrasattva, casting beams of purifying light in all directions, purifying the body and creating a purifying atmosphere of light radiating out in all directions until it fills the universe with light. As one recites, the double dorje is energized.
  6. Formulation of the intent to free oneself from all negative tendencies, and performance of actual acts of merit.

A corrected Sanskrit text of the Vajrasattva is as follows (NOTE: this differs somewhat from the Tibetan version).

oṃ vajrasattva samayam
vajrasattva tvenopatiṣṭha
dṛḍho me bhava
sutoṣyo me bhava
supoṣyo me bhava
anurakto me bhava
sarva siddhiṃ me prayaccha
sarva karma su ca me
cittaṃ śreyaḥ kuru hūṃ
ha ha ha ha hoḥ
bhagavan sarva tathāgatavajra
mā me muñca
vajrī bhava mahā samaya sattva

According to the translation of Dharmacari Jayarava, this means:

OM. O Vajrasattva, honour the agreement! Manifest as Vajrasattva! Be steadfast for me! Be very pleased for me! Be fully nourishing for me! Be passionate for me! Grant me all success and attainment and in all actions make my mind more lucid! HUM HA HA HA HA HO. Blessed One, diamond of all those in that state, do not abandon me! Become real, O great agreement-being. AH.

According to the great thirteenth century Guru Chowong, eight hundred repetitions of this mantra in one sitting guarantees rebirth as a bodhisattva (the operative words here being “repetitions” and “sitting”). f4dc1c0c838368b7e612406e0d4624faAs one recites, one must strongly realize the identity of Vajrasattva and the Clear Light Mind, aspire to him, imagine him fully entering into and purifying your being, and becoming real in your presence. Count on a mala while seated cross-legged before an image of Vajrasattva, followed by resting in the meditative attitude, meditating on impermanence, and the transfer of merit.

111,111 repetitions (1,000 hours) of this practice constitutes the essential requirement for Ngondro, remembering that the true practice is the interior realization, not the ritual.

It is said that the proper performance of this practice will bring a sensation of lightness, wakefulness, well-being, lucidity, and insight.