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I've read here about sensual pleasure and music and I agree with what I've read: that boredom breeds states of unwholesome pleasure and that when we give up our thoughts to entertainment we do just that; that we should instead focus on the teachings and right employment.

However, do you believe there is anything wrong with actually playing an instrument? It is a skill, surely: can musicianship in any sense be thought of as an example of right employment? Is there a Buddhist approach to music? Or to photography and film and etc.? I am maybe generally a little confused on what right employment can be, I am a student and want to consider carefully what I will do for work. While becoming a monk is here out of the question, do you think it is possible to find good employment in an economic system which fundamentally values consumption as a positive value, or will this not create unwholesome pleasure necessarily by contributing to it?

Maybe another question I have which is not wholly separate is how can a young person living in a western city separate themselves from pop cultural influences without withdrawing from society? For instance, it seems like withdrawing from my life would hurt and confuse more people (family, friends) than it would cause happiness, and since there is not even a temple here it is hard for me to accept Buddhism itself as a religion in the strict sense since it would be a profoundly personal study for me to undertake (as opposed to one I could practice with others).

I'm sorry if these questions are too personal, but they are problems that bother me about this path that I have trouble reconciling with my day to day life. The economic world seems geared in a very different direction to the wisdom of the teachings, and it frightens me. Thank you for reading and replying and I hope you are well. And please, point out where I am going astray, because I am in no small need of guidance. If this is an inappropriate place to post this, I am sorry.

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    Bear in mind that a lot of teachings are directed to ascetics: those who are willing to dedicate their life to the greatest spiritual attainment. It's required more of them because these attainments require more. One way of put it is that the Buddha taught "cessation of suffering" to those willing to go for it, and "less suffering" to everyone else. – Thiago Dec 3 '15 at 15:16
  • Hi Amby and welcome to Buddhism SE. We have a Guide and a Resource tab for new users that you might find useful. – Lanka Dec 4 '15 at 17:49
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The most hard-core interpretations of the suttas would probably make anyone feel as though their chosen career doesn't jive with Buddhist doctrine. Fortunately we're all encouraged to take a middle-way approach in all things, so we needn't be tied to the strictest way of thinking about our careers.

Right livelihood, the fifth element on the Noble Eightfold Path, is actually fairly easy to summarize:

Right livelihood means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings. (Source)

I think a musician would need to go out of their way to harm other living beings. The career is inherently peaceful in nature, and does a lot of good. Buddhism isn't about avoiding all sense pleasure and completely eschewing anything "fun"; it's more about following a middle way that makes sense for the practitioner.

On a personal level, I have a profound appreciation for musicians. Music helps me relax, and I really enjoy opportunities to listen mindfully. Back when my children were babies, there were some nights when being able to tune into the classical radio station meant the difference between complete peace and total discord within the household. Music does wonders for people, and musicians make it possible for people to benefit from it.

So, music as a career: no problem. Go for it, and don't look back. Your other concern, about economics driven by consumption, could have an entire book written in response. But, simply put, there is nothing wrong with providing a service and charging a fair price for it. This basic practice of trade transcends all modern economic theory, all "-isms", and all other ways of thinking about money, goods, and services. Charging money for the consumption of music is no different than charging money for the preparation of food; both are perfectly valid ways to make a living in the world. Both provide something of value to a consumer. It's all good.

Finally, you needn't withdraw completely from life to be a good practicing Buddhist. Again, it's easy to get caught up in the strict interpretations of precepts and rules, and to let that push us into thinking that the only way to live the "right" kind of life is to put on robes and meditate all day, but it's important to unwind a bit and always remember the Middle Way. You also don't need access to a temple, a Dharma center, or anything else. You can simply read Buddha's words and apply them to your life; you can accept the Four Noble Truths; you can follow the Noble Eightfold Path. You can do all of this within the context of your current life, being who you are, with school, work, friends, and family. If you would change your life in any radical way in the pursuit of Buddhism, and if such changes would result in suffering for you, then what would be the point? The principal teaching of Buddhism is suffering and its elimination; no one's practice should ever cause suffering.

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    Thank you, I appreciate the sincere response. I come from a Catholic family originally so I find myself drifting towards the more ego-driven sense of sin found in their doctrines sometimes, but this has reminded me that the other thing I appreciate about Buddhism so much aside from it's wisdom is it's ability to be so down-to-earth. I hope you have a good day. – amby Dec 3 '15 at 11:08
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boredom breeds states of unwholesome pleasure

Boredom already is an unwholesome state. It is a form of aversion. It is caused due to paying unwise attention.

However, do you believe there is anything wrong with actually playing an instrument?

One plays or listens to music because of the wanting to please the ears. That is indeed unwholesome. But this does not break any of the five precepts or go against the right livelihood. So playing music for entertainment/money is allowed for a layman.

do you think it is possible to find good employment...

Yes, there are plenty of options for Buddhists. You just need to avoid wrong livelihood. ex: teacher, doctor, mason, engineer, farmer etc.

how can a young person living in a western city separate themselves from pop cultural influences without withdrawing from society

Buddhists need not separate themselves from pop culture. They just need to avoid breaking precepts.

it seems like withdrawing from my life would hurt and confuse more people

If prince Siddhartha thought like that, we wouldn't even have Buddhism today. Trying to satisfy the clinging of others is never a good reason to stay away from the Dhamma. As long as they have clinging, you can't stop them from getting hurt, no matter what you do. But usually it's our own clinging that keeps us in lay life or away from the Dhamma. That clinging can conceal itself as caring for others. Defilements can be very tricky. When you disallow them in their raw form, they try to get in by taking the form of the things you allow.

since there is not even a temple here it is hard for me to accept Buddhism itself as a religion in the strict sense

You don't need a temple to be a Buddhist. You just need to take refuge(spiritual) in the Triple Gem. You can do it privately. There are lot of free Dhamma books/videos available online. If you can't meet a monk face to face, there's a community of online Sangha.

  • Thank you for the response, this is very good advice. I wonder if you could elaborate on what you said about "unwise attention" or recommend where I could read more myself on the subject? – amby Dec 3 '15 at 18:10
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    Welcome! Read the Yoniso Manasikara Sampada sutta – Sankha Kulathantille Dec 4 '15 at 3:59

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