Should Buddhists smoke? The fifth precept of Buddhism tells us to “refrain from taking intoxicants.” This seems pretty clear.
However, a decade ago, if we asked the monks in Cambodia whether Buddhist should smoke, many of them would have excused it. Now those numbers are starting to decline.
Still, smoking is rampant in Cambodia. One third of monks and two thirds of the male population smoke. As the article Holy Smoke maintains, “While most industrialized countries have moved to control cigarette advertising, the lure of cash from tobacco means developing countries such as Cambodia fail to apply such controls.” The government of Cambodia does not strongly regulate the tobacco industry, which helps the economy and provides taxable goods. Religion, suppressed in Cambodia for decades, has reemerged, but with it a monastic body that has not been widely educated in the many harms caused by smoking.
The shift in the monks’ smoking habits is thanks to the Cambodian office of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). Starting in 2002 when they organized Cambodia’s first international workshop on Buddhism and tobacco control, the organization is helping to lower Cambodia’s staggeringly high smoking rates through educating monks. By offering anti-smoking programs to monks, they hope the rest of the population will follow the monks’ example, and quit as well.
In the West, with our long public struggle to educate on the dangers of smoking, I’m guessing that not many monks smoke. Smoking is, after all, an unnecessary luxury (though the addicted might disagree). Smoking is not only bad for the smoker, but also creates dangerous second-hand smoke. Thus, smoking could not possibly be called non-harming (or could it?). Yet smoking is rarely seen as a Buddhist issue; unlike meat-eating ─ a frequent Buddhist debate ─ smoking is a slow killer.
In one study, when a thousand monks in Cambodia were urged to quit smoking, only thirteen percent lit up again. These are tremendously positive odds, and testify to the will-power of Buddhist monastics. This also indicates yet another use for meditation: Replacing an itchy nicotine patch.
I'm somewhere between "trying to quit" and "I used to." I haven't had a cigarette for about five months, but I'm still on the Obama plan — chewing Nicorette. I'm gradually (in the sense of "O snail, climb Mount Fuji, but slowly, slowly") lowering the dose. I smoked heavily, having taken up the habit after hanging out with jazz musicians in my 30s, which was stupid, stupid, stupid. Alas, nicotine is a fine drug for writing; but it's a terrible drug for mindfulness and contentment. I realized how rigged a game nicotine addiction is when I was craving a cigarette desperately, looked down at my hand, and realized I was already smoking — Samsara deluxe!
I will not return to the habit. Now if I can only get my neurotransmitters back up to speed and quit the damn gum.
[youtube 9vb0-FjPHvE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vb0-FjPHvE youtube]
Having been a non-smoker for about 8 years now (well, a few slips here and there) I am hearkened at the resiliency of the body and how it adapts when it gets fresh air. Here is a website showing the time line for the body's repairing itself. http://www.stqp.org/quitsmokingtimeline.asp
Rod Meade Sperry says
Three fine teachers address meditation & smoking here: http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2008/spring…
I smoke, wish I didn't. There have been times when I was close, but I guess I wasn't ready. Although I know the dangers, I don't think I was ever ready to quit. Hopefully that day will come and I can lay this habit to rest.
While I am still smoking I am trying to make myself enjoy it. That happens less and less. I used to think I enjoyed it all the time. Am calling it mindful smoking these days. Sometimes it's actually uncomfortable and unpleasant. So it seems I am on the path to releasing this addictive practice.