I am wondering what is the buddhist view on Art and especially being an Artist? Meaning someone who creates something with an aesthetic quality that may or may not reflect the reality and express thoughts, feelings ideas etc.

As I try to study the basics of buddhism I am encountering this strange conflict when, for example (in my case filmmaking), you like to create a fictional stories, character and even entire worlds, universes.. and that often leads you away from the actual reality. Of course all the thoughts, concepts, stories, songs, plays, paintings, movies etc. in most cases have some symbolic, deeper meaning that does not changed much from the early times. They are rather variations of the "big" questions, pain, love, suffering, live and such and therefore can have the ability to enrich the viewer, provoke thinking and feeling or any other response.

But the creation process takes a huge amount of energy, and a lot of thinking about. I am not sure if that's such a good thing in the end...

  • 2
    I have never met a monk or nun that disliked art.
    – Thien
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 13:53

8 Answers 8


I am not sure if that's such a good thing in the end.

There is a sutta which suggests that that's a valid worry: it's the "Talaputa Sutta: To Talaputa the Actor"

Getting the Message by Thanissaro Bhikkhu seems to me to soften that message, by suggesting (more specifically) that you should not inspire your audiences to greed, anger, and delusion:

In this case, the Buddha's reticence and tact helped to make his teaching effective. A similar set of events happened when an actor asked the Buddha if there is a special heaven reserved for actors. The Buddha's reticence and tact in informing the actor of a hell for actors who incite their audiences to greed, anger, and delusion inspired the actor to respond in the same way as the soldier.

Some modern examples:

Music and entertainment and so on are against the Eight Precepts:

The Eight Precepts are precepts for Buddhist lay men and women who wish to practice Buddhism more strictly than through adherence to the usual five precepts. The eight precepts focus both on avoiding morally bad behaviour, as do the five precepts, and on leading a more ascetic life.

In Theravada Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand, Buddhist laymen and laywomen will often[citation needed] spend one day a week (on the Uposatha days: the new moon, first-quarter moon, full moon and last-quarter moon days) living in the monastery, and practicing the eight precepts.

The Buddha gave teachings on how the eight precepts are to be practiced,[21] and on the right and wrong ways of practicing the eight precepts.[22]

According to the Visakhuposatha Sutta, the reason for the Eight Precepts is that Arahants refrain from music etc.:

"[He considers:] 'For all their lives the arahants refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garments, smartening with perfumes and beautifying with cosmetics; so today I refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing ornaments, smartening with perfumes and beautifying with cosmetics. By this practice, following after the arahants, the Uposatha will be entered on by me.'

So I don't know; maybe it's a grey (not black and white) area, i.e. it's something to think about: neither always forbidden nor always recommended.


Buddha suggested that a lay person should not engage in five types of businesses; namely - business in weapons, in human beings, in meat, in intoxicants and in poison. This is Right Livelihood for a lay person (Source: Vanijja Sutta). So, I don't think being an artist violates any of these principles. Vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka said, "If the intention is to play a useful role in society in order to support oneself and to help others, then the work one does is right livelihood." Basically we have to be always mindful of our work. Check out these links:

  1. http://buddhism.about.com/od/theeightfoldpath/a/rightlivelihood.htm
  2. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.079.than.html
  3. http://www.buddha-vacana.org/sutta/anguttara/05/an05-177.html
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLCM5UXXEAA

ChrisW is absolutely right that the Talaputta sutta is very negative about actors. But one could argue that may have been a product of culture at that time and the relationship between Buddhism and the arts is one worth re-examining in a modern context. As Buddhism moves into different cultures then it changes and the relationship with the arts could be part of that change.

The Buddhist community that I practice with (Triratna) is extremely positive about the arts and sees them as a helpful way into personal growth and Buddhist practice. If you are interested there is a magazine about Buddhism and the Arts and the movements positive attitude towards the arts is one of it's defining characteristics. The Triratna community has had all kinds of criticism over the years but I don't think that it's relationship with the arts is one of its aspects that has concerned people.


I found this article, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists (and related book) that might help?

But I think there is another side to this. I am a practising artist too and have recently started being drawn towards certain Buddhist teachings, starting with mindfulness meditation etc. As I progress though, I am finding that there are conflicts with being an artist and pursuing such teachings. My problem though is not with being or thinking as an artist (I think of art as a type of philosophy, just as Buddhism is) but rather with being an artist as a 'career path' or 'social position'. I find that there is a certain element of narcissism that artists need to possess in order to succeed as an artist within society. It is not enough that an artist creates. An artist needs to sell, show, promote, market his/her work in order to find an audience and be able to sustain a career as an artist. It is a competitive industry after all. Doesn't this fly in the face of concepts such as detachment and selflessness?

Maybe this narcissistic element is something that is essential towards the start of a career and becomes redundant as time progresses and a career is established, but I am finding it hard of thinking of alternative mindsets at least within Western society. Any thoughts?


The real issue with creating art, I think, is that you can't be mindful while doing it. Writers, especially, have to imagine a lot, create images and basically delude oneself. And also, there is a great deal of attachment. As an artist, one has to be very dedicated to one's work, force things, alter things all the time, be a perfectionist.

So maybe there is no specific text forbidding it, there may even be texts that could be interpreted as art-positive.

But in practice, I really do not see how it can benefit. It's another craving, and strongly linked with the ego. I believe it is more harmful than, say, plumbing. Who'd be attached to plumbing?


I can see that there is a lot of us struggling too much in confusion when pracising mindfulness with regards to buddhism and also to relate our earning in accordance to buddhist practises ,Crab bucket has kindly pointed out 5 type of trades( for the latter) that a buddhist should not involved. As for mindfullness in works, fundamentally, that is to be aware that you are at the "present" while doing works rather than thinking of other family or friends stuff. I understand for artist, there is a lot of creativitiness and imagination during the works, but at least one have to be "aware" that he is in his imagine works at "then". And that is that. In facts...artist or writer at work is at quite a focus mode. They are totally absorbed in their works to prevent error.

Go back to the fundamental, with understanding that you are not a monk that had already give up worldy stuff, and therefore need to go almsround asking for food. Thus we have to make a living base on the five precepts and five don't trade. As long as it does not consists of the 5 trades, as long as it is not done cheating in all form, and there is no ill intention of cheating. All is good for a living being.

Though the ultimate goal is to end suffering and to stop ourselves to rebirth again in samsara, buddha understand that it is not possible for everyone to click a button and thus stopping being rebirth. Thus buddha lay down the 5 precepts for one to follow, to achieve prosperity in life with less suffering. Thus to follow by inner peace and able to practise well. With less suffering and more peace...it is easier to practise rather than having problematic human lives and frustration when one is living thru his karma.

Do a lot of chanting and meditation to let wisdom arise instead of keep reading hungrily into sutra which made one more confuse(if you are). When the heart (mind ) is quiet, wisdom arise naturally. There are many monks in thailand that are illiterate that can't read books and yet they become arahant thru diligent chanting and meditation. Chanting and meditation train one mind muscle to be able to focus easily...when one go deeper...one will understand that we suffer because we are attached to our body and senses. And thru this 5 senses thoughts arises...when thoughts arises....judgement arised...when judgement arised...feeling arised...and the basic feeling are the greed, hatred and lust that is causing us to suffer.


The nature of Mind is infinitely creative. Why would "small mind" (i.e. individual mind) be anything other than creative at its source. Making what human beings call "art" can be one of the most profound ways of observing the difference between what arises from egoic mind and what arises directly from the Source. Everything comes up: all of our egoic fixations, fears, self-cherishing, etc. It's much easier to have a profession that everyone views as "worthwhile service to others". If you choose to make what is called "art" in a way that is deeply meaningful, don't expect recognition, even from other practitioners.

  • I guess you're saying that, caught within the flow of creativity, within the very moment of creating, one is not concerned with what is being created, not concerned with the outcome, nor concerned with what people will think about the creation in the future. I think the best creations come out of such selfless endeavours. +1
    – user17652
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 9:51

I was having similar thoughts recently, but come to think of it,there are infinite possibilities.Maybe you can create your own mental space in which you can be artistic and still be at peace.We have to look for a balance.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .