archives, wisdom

Making Mistakes Is the Way of the World.


For someone who doesn’t drink, I spend a lot of time in bars.

I support myself by working as a Business Analyst. And meeting coworkers for drinks is a time-honored tradition in corporate America, so when in Rome…

That being said, there are a lot of nice perks to being the only sober person in a bar full of drunk people.

For example, bartenders are often so taken aback that I only want a Sprite or ginger beer to drink that I get my beverage for free. I also get to patronize really nice establishments because $15 cocktails aren’t an issue when you aren’t buying cocktails.

This practice allows me to be in the world, but not of the world in a way that Buddhism often demands of us. After all, the sutras are very clear on the negative effects of intoxicants, but for lay practitioners it’s difficult to avoid them entirely.

Hōnen, the founder of Pure Land Buddhism, described this gap between life and scripture in the following exchange:

Student: Is it a sin to drink saké [alcohol]? 
Hōnen: Indeed one ought not to drink, but it is the way of the world. ~ Hōnen the Buddhist Saint

Hōnen does some interesting things in this passage. First, he states unequivocally that Buddhists shouldn’t drink. But he also acknowledges that drinking is an accepted part of life in samsāra. By acknowledging this tension between idealized practice and daily life, Hōnen gives us the space to decide the best course of action for ourselves.

To be clear, this isn’t an anything goes philosophy.  In fact, Hōnen regularly admonished students who thought they could break the precepts with impunity if they chanted Nembutsu every day.

Rather, it’s a teaching that encourages us to set a good example for our peers while understanding that they may lack the necessary karma to keep the precepts. It also allows us to treat ourselves with compassion if we make mistakes in our own spiritual journey.

Making mistakes is the way of the world

But Buddhism doesn’t demand perfection. Rather, it demands that we do our best. And it falls to each of us to take an honest look at our lives, and decide what our best looks like in any given moment.

So, I go to the bar with my work friends. And I enjoy my non-alcoholic ginger beer while they drink other things. We laugh too loudly. We get excited over mundane things. And when the party starts to get rowdy, I excuse myself, and go home to feed my cat.

This is the way of the world. As Buddhists, it’s not our job to make others act a certain way. Rather, we must be as street lamps in the dark — setting an example and showing others the way home. Maybe they’ll join us on the other shore, maybe not. But we’ll keep the light on all the same.


Sensei Alex Kakuyo is a minister in the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. In the tradition of Rev. Koyo Kubose, he teaches a nonsectarian approach to the Dharma, which encourages students to find Buddhist teachings in everyday life. Alex is a former Marine, and he holds a B.A. in philosophy from Wabash College. You can read more of Alex’s work by visiting his blog, The Same Old Zen.


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