A painter whose painting hangs in a public museum, a writer that has their works checked out of the library frequently, a singer with melodies that calm the mind, and a comedian that gets people laughing are some cases I have in mind.

A harder case would be a rapper. Say their song offends a few people, but doesn't actually hurt anyone. Further let's say that their target audience gets some value from their craft, be it enjoyment, being able to relax, or some other beneficial state. Get creative, feel free to discuss cases not listed here. I only list them to help clarify what I am asking.

However impermanent and fleeting the benefit they provide to others is, when they provide it to thosands or millions of people how does it end up stacking out?

We can also consider the two cases of the artist being, or not being, a Buddhist.

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    possible duplicate of Will actors really go to hell? – Buddho Jul 25 '15 at 11:50
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    I don't see how these questions are the same. They share a common theme, but are asking very very different things. – user382 Jul 25 '15 at 19:06
  • I agree. I don't see this as been duplicate or too broad. The question could be made tighter perhaps in the line of do entertainers cause craving or somethin. The do actors go to hell was one of my questions and I was after someone unpicking a specific reference in the Pali canon so different to this. Just my opinion – Crab Bucket Jul 25 '15 at 20:41

The one thing that really jumps out at me is intention.

About 6% of the world's population is Buddhist and might be familiar with the concepts explained in Ryan and Buddho's answers. Not all Buddhists would though, due to differences in teachings, understandings, and traditions.

So an overwhelming majority of the world's population (94% or more) may be unfamiliar with this idea of art forms as objects of desire and clinging. So with this, I think we have to allow that the majority of artists, musicians, writers of fiction books, etc. don't have an understanding that their works potentially create suffering. There is no bad intent.

If a person (Buddhist or otherwise) truly understands the potential for their art to create desire, clinging, and rebirth into samsara, and continues to do so for the purpose of malice; that's a whole different thing. But also a very odd hypothetical situation; likely not the norm. :)

I don't think you can paint this with a broad brush due to the relatively small number of people who potentially have the understanding of art as a source of suffering. For most of the world, art including fine art, music, books, etc. is considered a source of beauty and is crafted with love and passion; which is also not understood to tie one to samsara. It's hard to imagine that people with pure intentions would receive a significant demerit; but also hard to imagine they would receive merit.


I don't believe this view conflicts with the Talaputa Sutta in that, if a person is an artist and full of passion, they aren't leaving samsara anytime soon. There will be more rebirths and certainly some of those rebirths would be in hell realms. I don't understand the Talaputa Sutta to be any sort of a god like judgement or condemnation to a hell realm as a direct punishment for passion in art forms. That would be a theistic view, in my understanding.

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    that is a good point, Robin. I tend to take things to the extreme without fully thinking through them :) – Ryan Jul 25 '15 at 12:46
  • The specific actor, and his specific wrong view that he had might have led him to say those things as well. I also wonder if there are any actors who might have a right view, or a developing one. – hellyale Jul 25 '15 at 15:00
  • There's a legal maxim, ignorantia juris non expudat. Ignorance of the law does not set one free from crimes committed. Similarly ignorant acts committed with right intention but wrong view will still get one negative consequences per Buddhist doctrine. This is why all ariyas who aren't yet Arhats get subsequent lives on account of residual ignorance, even though they have pure intention. This should serve to underscore the rarity of human life, and why the Buddha says work towards salvation as if one's hair is on fire. The next chance to practice maybe aeons away. – Buddho Jul 25 '15 at 15:23
  • @Buddho, sure, being passionate is being stuck in samsara. And having wrong view means not understanding how to get out of that tangle. – Robin111 Jul 25 '15 at 15:30
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    I strongly agree here. I don't think Talaputra Sutta can be used to draw much about artists or art. At best, it talks about wrong view, heedlessness and sensual intoxication. Not only it would be limiting to equate (great) art and aesthetics (and regard sensual intoxication as its mere function) in human history, but the suttas themselves have verses: an (artistic) modality explicit endorsed by the Buddha. (Great) art makes use of aesthetics as much as melodies in the suttas. In its complete form, it is regarded as precious because it opens, not because it closes the eyes of the beholder. – user382 Jul 25 '15 at 18:48

According to the Talaputra Sutta, one time an actor approached the Buddha and asked him if he would go to heaven with the devas because he made people happy and forget their worries. The Buddha tried to dodge answering, but at the actor's insistence, he had to tell him that he'd probably go to hell or the animal realms.

See also:


when they provide it to thosands or millions of people how does it end up stacking out?

I think that an artist might get rich: which, is not necessarily the same as "accumulating positive merit".

If you're asking about artists' livelihood, you might like to read quotes from the suttas about Right Livelihood.

Further let's say that their target audience gets some value from their craft, be it enjoyment, being able to relax, or some other beneficial state

I think that Buddhism might describe music and so on as "conditioned" (you can only hear it in certain conditions and you are unable to listen to it permanently); and, recommend that people seek or learn (instead) an "unconditioned" enjoyment and relaxation.

From that point of view, if you give someone music to help them relax, then they might find it pleasant (relaxing) albeit temporary, however maybe it doesn't for example help to make them a better person.

It might depend on the subject, too, for example books which spread Dhamma might be seen as more beneficial than books which don't.

And as Robin's answer said it might depend on the artist's intent.

  • Have you ever heard of the 3 schools described as motivational scopes? Where there is the starting out budding buddhist, like a child in it for self interest, trying to figure out the laws of karma from life to life, moment to moment. Then there is the stone still buddha, attempting to as quickly as possible reach enlightenment so that "they singular" can be free of samsara forever, then there is the scope they call the greatest scope, and it is to not only free yourself from samsara, but all other beings, as they have all been your mother, in a past life. I believe they call this Bodhicitta. – hellyale Jul 25 '15 at 13:14
  • But the thing is karma is still law, it has no ego, the enlightened self interest of the beginner works, if they pop the second paramita in conjunction of compassion and skillful means. Renunciation though would be a large obstacle to a talented rich human though. – hellyale Jul 25 '15 at 13:19

It seems to me that this is akin to selling drugs to people. It is of no real benefit to them, and only cultivates in them craving for this pleasure. If anything, I would go as far as to say that such a profession is BORDERLINE on wrong livelihood; Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs. Music elicits such a response in the form of hormones released that it is possible to become addicted to music.

  • There is a huge difference between art and drugs. – hellyale Jul 25 '15 at 11:19
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    What is this difference. Art is just a word used to create esteem around a sense object that people deeply enjoy. – Ryan Jul 25 '15 at 11:19
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    To the negative voter: Negative votes are only to be used IMO when the answer is inappropriate or offensive. Please don't cast them merely because of the answer is not to your liking. – Buddho Jul 25 '15 at 11:49
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    It's not my negative vote but I would also downvote any answer that I think is wrong, misleading, or counterfactual -- or incomprehensible or perhaps even unjustified -- in short, any answer that's "not useful". To consider another example this answer says that the third precept ("sensual misconduct") means (specifically) sexual misconduct (its standard meaning is not "don't indulge in chocolate"). Similarly one might have reasonable doubt about this answer, which equates music with intoxicants in order to call it "wrong livelihood". – ChrisW Jul 25 '15 at 12:21
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    IMO this could be a better (more informative) answer, if it quoted or referenced some standard doctrine rather than only a personal opinion: for example music is a subject of the seventh precept, not of the fifth. – ChrisW Jul 25 '15 at 12:23

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