Alcohol : (Non-)Wisdom Soup?

Japan Adventures (12) : The Soup of Intoxication & Addiction

MtKoya-PrajnaSoup.gifKoyasan (Mount Koya) is a large seminary of Shingon (Japanese Vajrayana) Buddhism founded in 861 with some 117 temples. Today, there are some 53 shukubos (temples that provide lodging accommodations and dining). These shukubos have images of Buddha, but also offer a brand of sake called Hannyato and beer – served by priests in training. (I don’t think they serve it in large quantities.) Er… I prefer training mindfulness via a Zen tea ceremony instead. Surely, this is surprising, or even shocking to Buddhists who abide by the five precepts, which include the fifth of abstaining from consumption of intoxicants. Even more ‘appalling’ perhaps, is that ‘Hannyato’ literally means ‘Prajna (wisdom for spiritual liberation) soup’ (般若湯 ). Sounds like rationalisation for drinking? Well, the Buddha never even hinted that wine is an elixir for wisdom. And if it is, wouldn’t alcoholics be Buddhas already? Doesn’t wine muddles mindfulness instead of focusing and harnessing it for liberation? A Buddhist website says that Hannyato is added to cooking to give it that special spark and a dash of ‘enlightenment’. ‘In the same way, we want to listen to the Dharma with that spark of joy and gratitude.’ Hmmm… sounds like rationalisation again – addiction to wanting a kick from alcohol? We don’t need Hannyato to increase Prajna, just like we don’t need wine to spice up our dishes. If you unmindfully get attached to alcohol, there will always be rationalisation to taste it. See below, in contrast, on how some citizens of a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country reacted to the public listing of a beer company… Are Thai Buddhists too uptight or Japanese Buddhists too slack? I have my personal answer – but you decide yours!

Protesters protest planned listing of Beer Chang

From www.buddhistchannel.tv The Nation, Oct 27, 2008: ‘Hundreds of people, including youth, demonstrated outside Thailand’s Stock Exchange of Thailand on Monday to protest plans by Beer Chang company to list its shares on the market. Thai Beverage PLC, which brews Beer Chang, the country’s top seller, has applied for listing on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. It plans to complete the listing by the end of the year. If successful, the company would be the first alcoholic beverage company to list on the market in Thailand.  Many of the protesters were anti-alcohol activists and members of Buddhist organisations. Some carried banners reading, “Stop encouraging drinking, oppose the listing of Thai Bev on the SET.” Others showed pictures of victims of drunken driving. The protesters said allowing the firm to raise more money in the market means we are promoting alcohol consumption. It is not the kind of company we want on the Thai market. They will protest outside the Finance Ministry on Wednesday, he said…’

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