Restraint from Drinking Intoxicants
F. ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLES
F.1 Metaphor: Just as one match can burn a town down
Just as a single match can burn down an entire town — even a little alcohol can cause a lapse of mindfulness that may ruin your whole life.
F.2 Metaphor: The elephant’s trunk
In one metaphor told by Phramonkolthepmuni (1885-1959) — the Great Abbot of Wat Paknam:
“Abstaining from alcohol is the most important single Precepts because it ensures the reliability of all the other four. For this reason you must strictly abstain from all alcohol. If you cannot abstain from alcohol then no single one of your Five Precepts is safe. This precept prohibits the consumption of any substance which causes people to lose their sense of responsibility. The enlightened ones never think to touch even a drop of such substances and you should follow their example too if you really want to keep the Precepts. If the substance is one that causes heedlessness, you have the intention of consuming it, you make the effort to consume it and it goes inside your body (e.g. down your throat) then the Fifth Precept will be broken.
The Buddha compared the first four Precepts to the feet of an elephant and the Fifth Precept to its trunk. The whole of an elephant’s quality of life depends on the intactness of its trunk. With its trunk it can earn its living and feed itself. Without a trunk it cannot stoop down and eat grass like a buffalo — because it’s so tall. It would have to endure the difficulty of lying down in order to eat. That’s why the trunk is important. In the same way abstaining from alcohol is the important part of the Five Precepts. If you consume substances that make you heedless then before you realize it, you will break the other four Precepts.
Thus the Fifth Precept is the important one. This is because of greed, hatred and ignorance in the mind, ignorance is the most damaging. This is why the Fifth Precept is so important. All the benefits of the good things in the whole of the Buddhist Canon hinge upon our responsibility towards practicing them. If you are reckless then you will estrange yourself from all these good things and furthermore do evil things instead. Alcohol and drugs that dull the mind causing one to slip into recklessness. Thus only when you are able to abstain strictly from all such substances will you set yourself upon a foundation of non-recklessness.”