The straight-edge movement started as part of the Hardcore Punk music scene in the early 80’s. At that time, drugs and alcohol were thought by many to be ruining the scene, and punks began to abstain from intoxicants in response.
In fact, some adherents went so far as to abstain from promiscuous sex and eating meat as well. This was a response to the consumerist ideologies and rampant conformity that Punks stood against.
I was born a little to late to get involved in the punk scene, but I spent my early 20’s as a raver, so I can relate to a lot of the complaints that punks had regarding the mix of drugs, alcohol, and music.
I used to go to parties and dance until my whole body was sore; mesmerized by all of the glow-sticking and “four to the floor” beats. But it was always a bit of downer when I went with people who only wanted to score drugs, and get high in the chill-room. The breaking point came when I watched a close friend of mine overdose. She survived, but I was done with raves after that.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the straight-edge movement and how it relates to Buddhism. At its core, the straight-edge movement is all about renunciation, which is entirely in keeping with Buddhist practice. In fact, one could argue that Buddha was straight-edge before it was cool (see what I did there).
This has been on my mind a lot lately, because it seems like drugs and alcohol are becoming increasingly more accepted in Buddhist circles. In fact, some practitioners argue that drugs are an important part of the awakening process.
I have no interest in arguing with these people. But I’d like to present an alternative view. or Buddhist practitioners who aren’t monastics, what if we had a Straight-Edge Buddhist movement? That is to say, what if we abstained from drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sex in order to further our practice?
Could renunciation help us and suffering for ourselves and others?
Honestly, it’s not a very radical idea. In fact, when Mahayana Buddhists take the 5 lay precepts, they promise to refrain from a number of things. We’d just need to be stricter in our approach in the following ways:
To refrain from killing: This is generally understood as refraining from taking human life. But one could take it a step farther by being vegetarian/vegan… or doing Meatless Mondays.
To refrain from stealing: As straight-edge Buddhists, could we do one better and strive to practice generosity (the opposite of stealing) in our daily lives?
To refrain from lying/ gossiping: What if we went farther than simply not lying, and actively worked to give people compliments throughout the day?
To refrain from sexual misconduct: Most people read this as not engaging in acts of rape or incest. That certainly makes sense, but could we expand that to include choosing to be celibate or abstaining from sex outside of committed relationships?
To refrain from abusing intoxicants: For Buddhists who are interested in a straight-edge lifestyle, I’d suggest that this would involve not drinking alcohol, and abstaining from drugs that aren’t prescribed by a doctor.
I like the idea of Straight-Edge Buddhism because it allows lay practitioners to move closer to the orthodox teachings of Buddhism while still living the life of a householder.
Additionally, it provides a guidepost for enlightened behavior, which is helpful on days when we aren’t feeling very enlightened. In this way, we can protect our “scene” and refrain from harmful activities just like the Punks did all those years ago.