Drink Like a Buddhist

Lodro Rinzler—Buddhist celeb and author of the best-selling book The Buddha Walks into a Bar—talks about his life with booze and how Buddhism can actually teach us how to be better drinkers.

When Lodro Rinzler went away to college, his parents gave him two family heirlooms as parting gifts: a mala—a set of prayer beads used to recite mantras—and a flask that had once belonged to his dad. Foreshadow much? At 28, he wrote the best-selling book The Buddha Walks into a Bar, a delightfully accessible and pop-culture-packed guide to living (and drinking) in the moment. His second book, Walk Like a Buddha—a Q&A style collection based on his Huffington Post column, “What Would Sid Do?”—came out in October, but most of his fan mail still involves readers inviting him out for a drink.

A meditation practitioner and teacher in the Shambala Buddhist lineage, Rinzler was inspired to write his first book when he realized the “lack of conversation around what it means to be young and practicing Buddhism.” Buddhism is often equated with being monkish—abstaining from alcohol and sex and meditating in robes for hours on end—and a lot of the books on the subject are about as fun as that sounds. “I knew that these meditators, or people who wanted to meditate, were all going out to bars on Friday and Saturday nights.” They were all doing things that young people do: drinking, dating, getting their hearts broken, navigating new careers, having one-night stands, nursing hangovers. Rinzler realized that he wanted to write a book for them.

Rinzler’s been meditating since age five, but he wasn’t always so level headed. His teenage rebellion consisted of stealing his mother’s vodka, then getting punished by being told he couldn’t go to a Phish show. (“Probably for the best,” he says now.) In his college years he switched to Sapphire and Tonics (“I listened to far too much Oasis”) and dabbled in drinking to excess.

He likens it to the notion of sex-ed. “If we’re going to give high school kids condoms because they’re gonna go ahead and have sex anyway, why shouldn’t we be teaching people mindfulness and being present and how to drink if they’re gonna go out and drink anyway?”

Basically it all comes down to intention. As he writes in TBWIAB: “A beer by itself is not a bad thing…when our intention is to relax with some friends and catch up, a beer is often a great motivator to get together.” But if you’re going out to get wasted in hopes of forgetting that you just got fired or dumped, then your intentions aren’t exactly on the up and up. You can’t blame the beer for your hangover or regrettable drunk text. “The beer didn’t make us do anything: it was our own mind not being able to grasp our intention that put us in such a state.”

Rinzler’s been meditating since age five, but he wasn’t always so level headed. His teenage rebellion consisted of stealing his mother’s vodka, then getting punished by being told he couldn’t go to a Phish show. (“Probably for the best,” he says now.) In his college years he switched to Sapphire and Tonics (“I listened to far too much Oasis”) and dabbled in drinking to excess. But by his mid-twenties, he found a personal balance—his own “middle way” so to speak—and redefined himself “a browns man.” While living in the East Village, he and his friend Alex Okrent discovered Bulleit Bourbon and began a tradition of polishing off a small bottle before heading out to the bars. Rinzler still drinks his Bulleit neat, but the habit has turned bittersweet. His friend Alex died suddenly last year, while at work on Obama’s re-election campaign. “It’s not something I like to talk a lot about,” Rinzler admits, “but I find myself talking a lot about it, just because it’s shaped so much of what I’m doing now.” 

A slight and stylish guy of thirty with a blond halo of curls, Rinzler currently lives in Lefferts Gardens in a yellow-walled apartment with a cozy meditation corner, lots of books, a cat named Justin Bieber, and a collection of whiskey-filled crystal decanters on his desk. “It’s kind of my equivalent of ashes on the mantle.” When he takes a girl out for a drink, he gives the choice of cocktail bar or dive. “I’m all for either one,” he says, “but the answer says a lot about the person right off the bat.” The former usually means a trek to Little Branch or Amor y Amargo for a Boulevardier (“my go-to, gun-to-the-head cocktail”), or maybe to Maison Premiere if he’s in the mood for absinthe.  If it’s the latter, that means a trip to the East Village for a visit to Sophie’s or Blue & Gold, where he appreciates the top shelf liquor and low-key feel. His advice to young people who also enjoy a night on the town is simple: “Drink in a way that makes you more present.  Don’t create harm for yourself or others. Check in with yourself.”

There’s arguments to be made that this is completely heretical,” he says of his message, citing the “raging debate within Western Buddhism” on the topic of alcohol. “But I’m not a monk,” he explains, and he doesn’t expect his readers to be either. Heck, he doesn’t even expect Buddhists to be. “The Buddhists I know are all wonderful drinkers and lovers,” he says, with a smile that can only be described as enlightened.

THE OKRENT

Three fingers of Bulleit.

Rocks on the side.

Sip while thinking of a loved one.

 

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