Straight-Edge Buddhism

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.

4 Replies to “Straight-Edge Buddhism”

  1. I have also heard from fellow Buddhists who felt drugs helped open their minds to essential Buddhist truths. But in my observation, these experiences made no lasting positive changes in their lives (but often negative ones), which makes me believe they were illusory. How could you get a taste of true wisdom and return to the status quo? Meanwhile, I’ve met many sober Buddhists who’ve had profound realizations on the cushion or through studying the Dharma and changed their lives for the better, not without struggle, but with something closer to lasting progress.

  2. Drugs prescribed by a doctor can often be incredibly mind altering, dulling and more powerful and than say drinking a beer or smoking a joint. Also, many Buddhists use herbs to cure mental and or physical afflictions, are they not also drugs? Where do we really draw the line? Legality? What does that have to do with being a compassionate being? Perhaps one should focus more on abstaining from drunkenness?

  3. please look into the term:sirat al mustaqim,you will find an amazing similarity in sufic thought,
    and perhaps you will be graced by the Ones
    of reality

  4. Many drugs can help a person to enter territory that could be considered on the progress of insight path. One particular stage, the A&P (Knowledge of the Arising and Passing Away) is pretty much a feature of hallucinogens.

    The problem is that as far as I know the jury is out on whether or not this can lead to awakening – other than the startling realization people often have that reality is not quite as it seems. The insight gained through drugs doesn’t really stick, as it wasn’t grown organically so to speak. When one meditates on sensation and cultivates equanimity the mind changes over time as wisdom develops naturally.

    I think getting high for the purpose of insight is akin to being dropped in the drivers seat of a car in the middle of a race as a 3 year old child with no idea of what is going on; you’re going to crash. That being said there may be benefit to guided ‘spirit quest’ type experiences that are well planned and organized. As long as the participant is trained to look for something resembling the 3 characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-duality/no-self in their experiences. I don’t knock any effort to wake up as the end goal is always the same – to awaken to the true nature of reality and eradicate suffering.

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