- Buddhists are meant to refrain from any quantity of fermented or distilled beverages
- The goal of Jainism is to escape the cycle of reincarnation
- Ayahuasca is used by South American tribes as part of a powerful religious experience
August 12, 2017: Throughout the history, Religion and Drug use have been seen as intertwined but the nature of this relationship has changed over time, from one place to another, one religion to another and with changing times. It’s true that Alcohol and other drugs have played some crucial part in the religious rituals of numerous groups. Some religions have specific laws, others have interpretations from religious texts, while some religions have no official message about the use of narcotics. In this article, we will explore the relationship between religion and drug use as per different religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism and many others.
Buddhism is not in favor of drug use. Though it offers suggestions on how one should try to lead their life. Buddhism make a valid point that alcohol and drugs should be avoided.
According to the fifth precept of the Pancasila, Buddhists are meant to refrain from any quantity of “fermented or distilled beverages” which would prevent mindfulness or cause heedlessness. The Pali Tipitaka (Buddhist scriptures) says, “I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.”
The Dalai Lama has stated, “drug use hurts the mind’s ability to be introspective, which leads to unintended and unguided consequences”.
Followers of Jainism are instructed to abstain from anything intoxicating, unless for a medical purpose. The pollution of the mind should be avoided so as to avoid disrupting the state of the Supreme Being called Jina (Conqueror).
Jainism has a strict diet that is vegetarian and also excludes some vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrot, and radish, basically all root vegetables. Unlike some other religions, Jainism does not allow alcohol use as the process of alcohol formation involves fermentation, which includes microorganisms, thus it is not considered vegetarian. This is because they follow the principle of non-violence. The goal of Jainism is to escape the cycle of reincarnation. The spiritual effect, or Karma, of violent actions, stop them from attaining this. Mahavira, also known as Vardhamana, was the twenty-fourth and last Tirthankara (who achieved salvation) of Jainism, said, “Kill not, cause no pain. Nonviolence is the greatest religion.”
Hinduism has one of the most intertwined connections with narcotics use in its origin. Arthashaastra of Kautilya (an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy, written in Sanskrit) states, ‘The mind of a drunken person becomes confused, then the confused mind commits sins…a wise person should never even try wine and other intoxicants.’
While there are some Hindus who still use marijuana or psychedelics most of the Hindus dissuade their use. Soma, a drink with psychedelic properties, is directly mentioned in the Vedas (the first Hindu texts). Some images of the god Shiva depict him with a marijuana pipe. While there is no direct religious text denying them, leaders declare it hurts the ability to achieve spiritual harmony. Again, the goals of spiritual harmony and drug use are seen as contradictory. Laws of Manu an ancient Hindu text states that ‘He must not get willfully addicted to any… substances of self-gratification; he must try to overcome such dependence through will power.’
Islam is one religion which has a strong stance against the use of any substance, with direct quotations in the Quran about it. “Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer.” Therefore, many Muslims are taught to be completely substance free. Under Islam, it is considered to be haram (unlawful). Quran states, ‘concerning wine and gambling…as per them is a great sin…the sin is greater than the profit.’ Though some Muslims argue the Quran only bans alcohol and if the Quran does not explicitly deny something, it is permissible.
Interestingly some extremist Islamic groups like ISIS give their fighters amphetamines and justify it by saying that it is being used for a higher authority and has medicinal purposes.
Sikh doctrine is one of the few religions to specifically mention drug use. It is not vague about the prohibition of drugs, Bhagat Kabir said, “Those mortals who consume marijuana, fish, and wine – no matter what pilgrimages, fasts, and rituals they follow, they will all go to hell.”
As per Sikhism use of alcohol, wine and other recreational drugs used with the intention of creating or enhancing recreational or religious experience are condemned by the Sikh Gurus. Recreational drugs like LSD, PCP, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy as well as inhalants like shoe glue, gases, aerosols, shoe glue, solvents etc are abhorred in Sikh religion.
The reason given is that the intoxicants affect your ability to focus on God all the time. Gurbani talks in the Guru Granth Sahib that “Those who do not use intoxicants are true; they dwell in the Court of the Lord.” There is an exception though, the Nihang of Punjab, a Sikh military order, used marijuana in meditation. But, this was banned in 2001 by the ruling body of Sikh clergy. The leader of the Nihang at the time refused to follow the ruling and was excommunicated. Its use for meditation is still continued by some Nihang.
There is no official doctrine on drugs in Catholicism. The Bible does not directly state not to smoke marijuana. Though, the Catholic Church has strongly been against the use of drugs and also for the nonprescription use of it. Pope Francis, the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, said, “Every addicted person brings with them a distinct personal history, which should be listened to, understood, loved, and, where possible, cured and purified. We cannot fall into the injustice of classifying them as if they were objects or broken junk.”
Pope Francis has called drugs “evil” and does not support their legalization. His approach, matching his more liberal style, has been to focus on saying “yes” to spirituality.
There are several lines of Scripture recommending a sober mindset in general. New American Bible states, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Though it’s confusing, how can the Catholic Church say no to drugs while allowing alcohol in their ceremonies? The answer is moderation. The Catholic Church argues consumption of alcohol can be moderated, while most narcotics cannot, which is the reason they allow the use of alcohol versus other substances. This does not mean it is encouraged. As most priests encourage sobriety.
Christianity has the same view as that of Catholicism: No substance use, although alcohol is okay in moderation. However, there are Bible passages indicating total non-use of it: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
The variation between different belief systems means there are different variations on the use of drugs according to different religions. Some religious practices directly involve the use of psychotropic drugs. The Native American Church uses Peyote (small, spineless cactus with psychoactive alkaloids) to have spiritual visions and as a part of their religious ceremonies. They are legally allowed to use drugs this as its part of their religion. Other groups appreciate the influence of alcohol as a part of the natural world.
Ayahuasca (one of the most powerful hallucinogens on the planet) is used by South American tribes as part of a powerful religious experience. This has gained them popularity globally, with thousands of tourists venturing to partake in the drug and the unique ritual.
Shinto has an intimate connection with alcohol; it’s an ethnic religion of Japan. There is no mention of narcotics in the religious texts, so it’s left to their personal choice. Sake- the liquor of the gods is consumed at special occasions such as births or weddings. There is even holy sake called Omiki and practitioners drink this when visiting a shrine.
Given the high alcoholism rate in Japan and few seeking treatment, it is unclear if this practice should continue or not. It may be linked to cultural practices that go way beyond the religion. There is some historical evidence that marijuana was used for religious ceremonies, but it was not consumed. There are no moral absolutes in Shinto. The main ethical code is to follow Kami (spirits/deities). But even the Kami makes mistakes and are contradictory at times.
Shinto does try to eliminate impurities. This is called Tsumi and stands for pollution or sin. While there is no specific mentioning of narcotics, it can be argued they are Tsumi. This would require a cleansing ceremony, potentially using alcohol. But, it’s uncertain how many Shinto followers abstain from drug use.
In Judaism, the body belongs to God; therefore, the body must be treated with respect and dignity. While alcohol can be consumed at festivals and ceremonies, like the Sabbath, it must be done in moderation. All other substances are banned in this religion.
The Baha’i Faith explicitly prohibits drug use, Kitáb-i-Aqdas or Aqdas (central book of the Baha’i Faith) states, “Beware of using any substance that induceth sluggishness and torpor in the human temple and inflicteth harm upon the body. We, verily, desire for you naught save what shall profit you.”
Alcohol is also prohibited. Baha’i scholars state this comes from purity of the soul. They believe the spiritual effect on an individual is far graver than the legal consequences or health effects of drug abuse. The sale and trafficking of such substances is also forbidden
Other religions like Rastafarianism (Africa-centered religion) which allow the use of marijuana for worship and as a part of religious rituals, Wicca (contemporary Pagan new religious movement) there is no official rule condoning or denying drugs and Taoism (Chinese religion) doesn’t condone drug use.
– prepared by Kritika Dua of NewsGram. Twitter @DKritika08
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