The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Smoking is the habit of inhaling the smoke of smouldering tobacco leaves either by means of cigarettes or pipes. Tobacco was unknown in ancient India but people did inhale smoke for medical and recreational purposes. According to the Suśruta Cikitsā, an ancient treatise on medicine, inhaling smoke is good as a purgative, a cure for tiredness, depression, throat and nose problems and is also beneficial for pregnant women. Certain herbs were burned and the smoke sniffed in through a small metal tube (dhūmanetti). The Buddha subscribed to this kind of smoke therapy and allowed monks and nuns to have smoking tubes (Vin.I,204), although some people apparently considered them to be a luxury (Ja.IV,363).
Cigarettes (dhūmavaṭṭi) smoked for enjoyment were made by grinding cardamom, saffron, sandalwood and aloe wood into a fine paste and moulding it over a reed so that it was about 15 centimetres long and with the thickness of a thumb. When the paste was dry, the reed was removed and the resulting cigarette was smeared with clarified butter or sandalwood oil before being ignited. These cigarettes were probably far less harmful than the modern ones. Another ancient medical work, the Caraka Saṃhitā, recommends sitting in an upright but comfortable posture while smoking, taking three puffs at a time and inhaling through both the mouth and nostrils but exhaling only through nostrils.
While smoking has a very negative effect on the body, it has little or no effect on consciousness and thus, from the Buddhist perspective, has no moral significance. A person can be kind, generous and honest and yet smoke. Thus, although smoking is inadvisable from the point of view of physical health it is not contrary to the fifth Precept.
Smoking is very common in all Buddhists lands although in 2005 Bhutan was the first country in the world to ban it. In Burma, Thailand and Cambodia monks commonly smoke, but in Sri Lanka it is considered unacceptable for them to do so, although it is often done in private. However, Sri Lankan monks are allowed to chew tobacco.