Like so many aspects of meditation, I’ve struggled to explain the importance of the 5th precept. Like most people, I’ve enjoyed the boisterous experience and getting a little crazy with some friends over a few drinks. In fact, I would have argued that alcohol allowed me to be more present with my friends because it washed away the distractions of the other stresses in my life. For that night, everyone knew that the only thing that mattered was the group of people around that pitcher. So why is it important to observe the 5th precept?
Vipassana wants to deal with those life stresses in a different way. Instead of numbing them, meditation wants me to observe every nuance of that stress. Meditation makes me look at that pain, not just for a second, but for hours and days on end. This is the ultimate secret of this practice. Miraculously, and you observe this deep-rooted pain with equanimity, this pain, both the mental and physical components, go away. If you react or ignore the pain, it becomes stronger and more deeply rooted. Alcohol gets in the way of this process of eradicating misery.
This process is so counter-intuitive at the beginning. If a knife is cutting into my flesh and I feel pain, I don’t just observe the pain or allow the blade to continue cutting through my flesh. The correct and natural reaction is to pull away from the blade. Alcohol is a tool to help numb mental pains. Before I had the mental tools to remove mental pain, it made perfect sense to use alcohol as temporary relief. Now that I understand Vipassana and the power and importance of continuous awareness, it no longer makes sense to drink alcohol. I choose to face the short term discomfort of the pain so I can permanently remove that pain in the future. I would never have considered becoming sober before learning to meditate, but now it just makes sense for me. Maybe some day it will for you too. Time to meditate.