Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Five Precepts Blues; #5.5 – Rye Whiskey

Tex Ritter - Rye Whiskey

One of the first posts on this blog was about my mis-adventures with a Korean Zen monk I'd befriended. realizing that the post broke the precept of right-speech on a couple of levels, I later removed it, but thought in the spirit of this week's posts, I'd like to repost a small section of it...

Korean summers are lush with vines and flowers and leaves sprouting everywhere. This was a perfect Korean summer day, insects buzzing as though the heat had a sound, the blue sky reduced to nearly white from the humidity. When we pulled into the hermitage there was already a group of monks sitting outside in the sunshine talking and smiling. They set up a couple large makeshift tables for lunch. There were about twelve of us in all, and then they brought the meal out from the shack. I think I gasped when I saw all the ducks they had in the pans, roasted with garlic, onions, and abalone. The ducks were given to them by some of the local laypeople and they said that as long as the ducks weren't killed on the temple grounds it was ok. The part I'll never forget, though, was when the monk sitting across from me leaned down, sun glistening off his grinning face, and came up with a bottle of 18-year-old scotch and a stack of little paper shot cups. I'd never felt more ridiculous than telling a group of Zen monks that I don't drink, but given that they were monks, if they said it was ok, no excuse was going to cut it. Besides, how many people do I know who have drunk 18-year-old scotch with a group of Zen monks? Perhaps more than I suspect! They told me as long as we aren't getting drunk, and all are drinking together, than just enjoy it. I had my shot and most of them had two.

After this weeks investigations, there are a few things in the story that I see differently, but that's how I saw it at the time.

As for the song I chose for this post, Tex Ritter's Rye Whiskey, there's something charming about good ol' drunken philosophizing, even if it comes from a a defective source. "If a tree don't fall on me I'll live 'til I die."

Can't argue with that one!


  1. You do realize that all your posts about alcohol is driving me to drink, right? ;) (I kid I would never hold you or anyone else responsible for that.)

    I think though your Zen monk companions were simply being Zen. The whole point of Zen is spontaneity; to be uninhibited, unconcerned with rules, norms and expectations; to recognize these things as absurd barriers that limit us from the experience of just being whatever, whoever and wherever we are. Being you means choosing not to drink. Being them means enjoying a tipple. I think if you would have declined on the grounds that you simply don't enjoy it they would have understood.

    I once read of a Zen master who described being enlightened, after explaining it couldn't be described, as being persistently drunk without ever having a hangover. Sounded good to me! ;) I think what he meant though was simply the way being inebriated makes people stop worrying, stop thinking and stop trying to control and be in control. Obviously this is disturbing, distressing even repugnant for sober people to witness. But once you've assigned a good or bad label to anything you've missed the point of Zen. There is no good or bad, there just is. Still, drink is definitely a shortcut to stripping away the all too human habits of thinking, analyzing, striving, improving etc. that Zen practice attempts to banish from our repertoire.

    I'm taking up way too much space in your comments but I also wanted to add the words of one of my favourite rabbis who advised a young man who confessed his greatest fear was that God didn't exist and he would regret determinedly not drinking or doing drugs or partying with his friends because his religion said it was wrong. Rabbi Kushner's advice was: "Life is a celebration. You might choose not to do those things because they don't interest you or you don't like them. That's acceptable. But, they obviously do if you think you'll regret not doing them. Let me assure you God considers it a sin to not enjoy the life he's given you and all the ways he's given you to do that." (Feel free to substitute Tao, cosmic vibe/great mystery, whatever word you prefer for God.)

    Which I think is the measure. Drinking in excess, or constantly, prevents you from benefiting from this life because you aren't really there, probably can't remember most of it. But doesn't abstinence, merely for it's own sake or as an exercise, do the same?

  2. Hello,
    It's funny, I just finally tracked down your new blog address the day before yesterday.

    I really appreciated your comment, don't worry about space, it's free! haha

    I think what the rabbi recognized is that the man was a spiritual level/space where he was ready to let go of those things, and in the end it's better not to suffer over it, which would be pretty much on par with Zen. On the other hand, though, I would prefer to be in a place where I'm willing to face those desires and do my best to uproot them. I think there's a reason hangovers feel the way they do, it's to let you know something's not right, and no one can deny the cause for their hangover! It's affects you negatively on a number of levels.

    The Buddha explained they when our behaviour doesn't measure up to certain standards we tend to engage in one of two kinds of denial, either (a) denying that our actions did in fact happen or (b) denying that the standards of measurement are really valid. In my experience, I've seen an awful lot of denial attached to alcohol and drug consumption.

    With the monks, I felt like they were being more Korean than they were being Zen, which you will notice at times, here.

    It's true though, there are no definitives, such as good or bad. There was a very famous Zen Master in Korea who wouldn't talk unless he was drunk, so other monks used to give him liquor to make him give a teaching, or they had to get him drunk before a Dhamma talk. I have a feeling he maintained enough of his mindfulness, but loosened it up just enough to get his tongue moving.

  3. Sorry to only reply to one part of your comment.

    This page seemed to address the "not remembering enjoying something".