This Sunday is jukai at the Zen Centre. (Link is to another centre, but it's the same idea.) Jukai is sort of like Buddhist confirmation, where you "become a Buddhist" by taking refuge in the Three Treasures (the Buddha, the teachings (Dharma), and the community (Sangha)) and by committing to the precepts listed in that link above.
I thought about taking jukai but it feels a little early to me. I still haven't had a chance to have one-on-one instruction with Sensei, although that's as much bad timing as anything. But my "dharma buddy" mentioned to me that it's better to take jukai later than earlier -- to really want it and not just to take it because it's being offered. (And jukai is more freely offered at our centre than at most, I think. It's not uncommon to require you to be a formal student, or to have completed some longish formal preparation for it.)
And on top of that, there's exactly one precept that I'm having trouble with, the one that's translated as "Not to misuse drugs or alcohol, but to keep the mind clear" or "Refrain from taking intoxicants." For lay students that's generally taken as not abusing alcohol; a glass of wine with dinner is fine, going out on a bender is not fine. But I've also heard that Sensei interprets it to mean abstaining.
Now, I agree that clouding the mind is not a particularly useful practice. But I don't drink because I want to get drunk. I drink craft beer, and single malt scotch, because I like the taste and the variety, and because I like the settings where you drink craft beer and single malt scotch. It's partly a hobby, knowing about the various breweries and distilleries, and partly a social thing because the people I socialize with tend to do the same.
I suppose that you could say I'm attached to the idea of social drinking, and that I should be able to let go of that, but at the same time I don't expect the precepts to be "give this up to demonstrate your commitment." I stopped eating meat out of compassion, not because a precept says "do not take life." Avoid drunkenness? Yes, but that's not the same as avoiding alcohol to me.
So I think my interpretation of that precept is one of moderation; that drinking isn't for the sake of getting intoxicated, and that if I do drink for the taste or the social situation I have to do so mindfully. But I don't think having a pint at the Victory Cafe is going to affect my practice any more than having a coffee at Starbucks.
So from there I wonder what's going to happen if I ask Sensei about that precept and he does interpret it to mean abstaining. It doesn't seem right to avoid asking. It may just be that by the time my practice is ripe enough that I'm ready for jukai that the question will have answered itself.
(I have a little jukai anecdote too but that'll go in another post to keep things separate.)