In my work, I take clients out to eat often and at these times, everyone drinks. Taking the precept not to drink is not practical for me. Also, my family has a drink with dinner and my friends drink at parties. If I do not join them in drinking, they will think I am strange, that I am being unnecessarily prudish, or that I am pretending to be morally superior. They may even think poorly of Buddhism if I do not join in what “normal” people do.

An Australian devotee once told me she used to drink with her mum. According to her, it is part of Australian culture to drink; to drink alone means you are alcoholic, but drinking with someone is just being sociable.

Are we being unnecessarily prudish if we do not join in what “normal” people do? Is what “normal” people do always correct? In the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha advised us not to follow blindly what others do, but to use our wisdom to inquire. Only when we are satisfied that an action benefits us and others, then we proceed.

A sister nun of mine was studying in a university in Japan. Once she was invited to attend a function in her faculty, where she was offered a glass of wine by her professor. She would have appeared rude if she did not accept the offer, but she courageously decided to do so politely anyway. She confidently told her professor that since her ordination, she had promised the Buddha that she would not drink from then on. Her professor not only did not feel offended, he was very impressed by her courage and honesty, and got her a cup of fruit juice instead.

As the world globalises, there is greater acceptance and understanding of other cultures and behavioural systems. We need to learn to express our choice in a polite way. If we are clear about why we are upholding the precepts and of what we are doing, we can speak with confidence and sincerity. Our friends will accept our differences and respect the choices we make.

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