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In the Talaputta Sutra the Buddha says that actors will either be reborn as an animal or go to hell

When an actor on the stage, [he thinks that] after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas,' that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.

Why does the Buddha have such a dim view of actors? I can imagine all kinds of professions that would be less ethical than acting. Was acting a very different sort of profession in Indian 2500 years ago? Would the same kind of fate be shared with actors today? Are actors frowned upon in modern day Buddhist countries?

The motivation for this question is that I am due to give a talk on right livelihood at a local Buddhist centre. The last time I did this talk I told this story. Unfortunately there was an actor in the group and she was shocked. I couldn't really justify this harsh opinion so I just muttered an apology and moved on.

Many Thanks for any/all responses.

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    It seems to me the quote above is just about wrong view (Talaputa seemed to have strong faith in joining the laughing devas by being an actor). The other part, pertaining to the question, states that by intensifying delusions, passions and aversions, being "himself intoxicated & heedless, having made others intoxicated & heedless [...] he is reborn in what is called the hell of laughter". – Thiago Feb 14 '15 at 18:33
  • A more moderate view is probably the 'Bodhisattva's sphere of intimacy' chapter of the Lotus sutra, which says that actors are a type of person whom a bodhisattva shouldn't be intimate with. The reasons are probably things like acquiring bad habits and being drawn into bad company. (I don't intend this as a criticism of what may be a Pali text btw. If it seems so, please delete). – user10515 Nov 5 '17 at 2:49

13 Answers 13

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The Buddha quote from the sutta says that anyone with some passion, aversion or delusion, reinforces it by watching the actor's performance. The actor too is intoxicated with emotions due to getting into character to play the role. And by acting out the role on stage, the actor has the intention of getting the audience to experience the same emotions. This intention is karma.

So, this is a question about Right Livelihood. The butcher had the intention and actions to take the life of the animals he slaughtered. And in this case, the actor had the intention and actions to reinforce emotions in the audience that are filled with passion, aversion or delusion. So, it stands to reason that such an acting career is not following Right Livelihood. This surprises me too, but it makes sense.

However, if the acting role results in reinforcement of thoughts and emotions that are conducive to the dhamma, then that can't be wrong in any way, can it?

The last time I did this talk I told this story. Unfortunately there was an actor in the group and she was shocked. I couldn't really justify this harsh opinion so I just muttered an apology and moved on.

Exactly! For the very same reason, the Buddha said "Enough, headman, put that aside. Don't ask me that" and refused to answer the question the first time. An actor shouldn't be put off or judged as being a bad person in public. This will take them away from the dhamma. After all, acting by itself is not bad. It's about intentions.

  • how is having emotions a "wrong view" ? – user3293056 Mar 10 '15 at 22:07
  • and how can you compare a butcher to an actor ? – user3293056 Mar 10 '15 at 22:18
  • With "emotions", I have summarized what the sutta lists specifically as passion, aversion and delusion (the three poisons). The Ajivaka Sutta also mentions the three. – ruben2020 Mar 11 '15 at 1:03
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    The comparison is not regarding the actions. It is about intentions. The butcher had the explicit intention to take the life of the animals, while the actor did have the explicit intention to inflame emotions in the audience, including passion, aversion and delusion (at least in some cases). As I said, it surprises me also. – ruben2020 Mar 11 '15 at 1:05
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Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.

I think the Buddha was referring to People with Wrong View. Which in this particular story happened to be an actor.But could be anybody from different kind of professions. On the other hand when you come to think of it this profession requires someone to intentionally sum up anger,hatred,passion to get into "character" where you may be lost in it,or become it for it to be believable.So it might have some detriments.Or vice versa actors may take up roles of playing a holy man or a noble individual which may have some benefit.

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Enough, headman, put that aside. Don't ask me that.

I think this line is also important, apart from the answer. There's a reason why the Buddha refused to answer even for the second time. Because the answer to this question could potentially turn certain people away from the Dhamma. But Talaputta was wise and matured enough to figure it out.

To understand this, you have to analyse the mind states of an actor. An actor is a person who glorifies and savors emotions like anger, rage, lust, craving etc. So if a person dies with such a mindstate, his/her destination cannot be a good one. The following passage clearly explains it.

Any beings who are not devoid of aversion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of aversion, focus with even more aversion on things inspiring aversion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival.... Thus the actor — himself intoxicated & heedless, having made others intoxicated & heedless — with the breakup of the body, after death, is reborn in what is called the hell of laughter.

Also, believing that such a profession would lead one to a happy destination makes it worse as false view comes into play as well. But this does not mean that all actors are hellbound. It depends on what Kamma comes forward to bear fruit at the time of death.

To take an example, an actor getting angry and pretending to kill someone on stage usually does not involve mind states corrupted enough to kill a man for real. So the Kamma he accumulates by acting the scene is much less than someone doing it in real life.

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Acting leads towards hell (or lower destinations), it is one of those things perceived to be harmless but actually causes harm.

But it's not true that all actors would go to hell just that acting itself leads towards hell.

In fact believing "all people who do certain things go to hell" is a wrong view that leads towards hell according to The Buddha:

'Our teacher holds this doctrine, holds this view: 'All those who steal... All those who indulge in illicit sex... All those who tell lies are destined for a state of deprivation, are destined for hell.' There are lies that I have told. I, too, am destined for a state of deprivation, am destined for hell.' He fastens onto that view. If he doesn't abandon that doctrine, doesn't abandon that state of mind, doesn't relinquish that view, then as if he were to be carried off, he would thus be placed in hell. (Sankha Sutta, SN 42.8)

The Buddha also explains in other suttas the complexities of kamma that it's not true that all people who do evil go to hell or that all people who do good go to heaven, some people who do evil still go to heaven and others that do good go to hell.

"Now there is the person who has killed living beings here... has had wrong view. And on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination, in the heavenly world.But (perhaps) the good kamma producing his happiness was done by him earlier, or the good kamma producing his happiness was done by him later, or right view was undertaken and completed by him at the time of his death." (Maha Kammavibhanga Sutta, MN 136)

What happens to a person after death relies on much more than just one thing or one deed, but also earlier kamma, later kamma, and the view at the time of death, which is why sometimes good people go to hell and evil people go to heaven.

The effects of kamma however will always be felt in some form either now or in some existence

"...he will feel the result of that here and now, or in his next rebirth, or in some subsequent existence" (Maha Kammavibhanga Sutta, MN 136)

The Buddha also explains how an evil deed can take one individual to hell but for another individual gets experienced here and now and barely appears for a moment, depending how developed the individual is in body, virtue, mind, and discernment:

"Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual takes him to hell? There is the case where a certain individual is undeveloped in [contemplating] the body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment: restricted, small-hearted, dwelling with suffering. A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual takes him to hell.

"Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in [contemplating] the body, developed in virtue, developed in mind, developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the immeasurable. A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment." (Lonaphala Sutta, AN 3.99)

Since everyone has intentionally or unintentionally done evil deeds, had wrong views, etc...either now or in the past they should try to become developed in body, mind, virtue, discernment, and large-hearted.

So will "all actors go to hell?" the answer is no. But will "most actors go to hell?" I'm not sure, The Buddha seems to indicate that most people in general go to the three lower destinations after death (hell, the animal realm, realm of ghosts).

Then the Blessed One, picking up a little bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monks, "What do you think, monks? Which is greater: the little bit of dust I have picked up with the tip of my fingernail, or the great earth?"

"The great earth is far greater, lord. The little bit of dust the Blessed One has picked up with the tip of his fingernail is next to nothing. It doesn't even count. It's no comparison. It's not even a fraction, this little bit of dust the Blessed One has picked up with the tip of his fingernail, when compared with the great earth.

"In the same way, monks, few are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn among human beings. Far more are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn in hell... in the animal womb... in the domain of the hungry ghosts.

... "In the same way, monks, few are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn among devas. Far more are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn in hell... in the animal womb... in the domain of the hungry ghosts." (Pansu Sutta, SN 56.102)

So most people in general go towards the three lower destinations (hell, the animal realm, realm of ghosts) after death including actors and non-actors...very few go to the more pleasant destinations (humans, devas (heavenly world)).

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Buddha is aware person. He is careful about his actions and it's effects on others. Buddha understands that existence treats you according to what you are. You become what you do. Whether it is subtle action like thinking or gross action, you become what you do. You are what you do. Existence treats you according to what you are. Buddha did not just mean actors, he also meant those who arouse passions in others whether they are politicians, priests, actors or anyone. Hence Buddha said that blessed is the one word that brings peace...... According to Buddha, because actors arouse passions in people and push them deeper in to ignorance, Buddha understood what actors are and what existence will do with them. Hence he said that actors will go to hell of laughter not the heaven.

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Firstly, i have to say, i do not know the passage of the text. So my help may be limited or in fact unless!

But, here goes. When the Buddha was referring to an "actor" is it possible that He was referring to a person who lives a deluded life of ignorance, resulting in extreme manifestations of imagination, thus the "actor" is created (but not a real film or stage actor, as a job). This would make sense as, the Buddha went on to say that there are only two destinations for such a mind. Which is true, ignorance at it's highest level would result in poor choices and actions in this life and the next. And the reference to the " stage" well, that could be Earth or existence.

Again, not sure i have been of any help, but this is my view with such little knowledge of the text.

Metta.

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More like the Buddha had a dim view of people with wrong view. Being an actor doesn't always mean the actor is going to have wrong view about devas laughing at the actor. The Buddha doesn't specify how much wrong view leads to lower realms so we have to take this in context. The Buddha's words are tailored for individual audiences and he says things in a way these individuals can understand. This is a reason there seems to be contradictions galore in the Buddha's teaching and another reason there seems to be contradictions is because ultimate and conceptual teachings seem to clash at first like, "there is a self and there is not a self to be found". That only seems contradicting if we don't understand the Buddha is talking about two ways to experience reality.

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no.. in that sutta, he didnt guarantee that actors will go to suffering realm in next life. only truly doomed people are those who committed 5 heinous crimes (Ānantarika-karma).

Let me see if could remove that (-) off my comment by explaining it further. This one prince (i dont recall his name but something like Sorakani Sakaya-he was related to buddha,hence, sakaya) was an alcoholic. After his death, Buddha proclaimed him a stream enterer. All others were skeptical and said something like if a habitual drunkard could be a stream enterer then who isnt? Buddha answered that question in two parts: prince Sorakani had always had unshakable confidence in Buddha, dhamma, and sangha tho his will to stop drinking was too weak while was still alive. However, a moment at his death bed, he determined to practice dhamma by holding the 5 precepts. He had every quality to be a stream enterer.

this is my own thought.. stream enterer is one who has the right view and starting to take that first step in the right direction.

this go back to the original question, will all actors go to hell? it is not a guarantee. Buddha only guaranteed rebirth in suffering realms for those who have commited Ānantarika-karma. Not all actors will go to hell because there are many factors to it as sample above. Also look up red bearded executioner.

Please do not wait until last minute to practice dhamma like prince sorakani because we do not know when that last moment will come. :-)

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A quote by the Buddha himself implies it depends on the view, right or wrong, that your mind has when practicing any action. This can be seen in the Digha Nikaya 21 Sakkapanha Sutta (Sakka's questions), in which Pancasinka, a gandhabba (lower celestial being), recites a song he composed on a passion he had for a deva princess, and praises the Buddha and the Dhamma. The Buddha compliments his song by saying it's lyrics perfectly match the melody, and does not reprehend any part of it. So the same can be said about art. If Pacasinkha wrote a song praising anger, delusion and other wrong views, the Buddha would have censored him because of his wrong intentions.

[...] 1.6. When he heard this, the Lord said: ′Pañcasikha, the sound of your strings blends so well with your song, and your song with the strings, that neither prevails excessively over the other. When did you compose these verses on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Arahants, and love?’

‘Lord, it was when the Blessed Lord was staying on the bank of the River Nerañjarā, under the goatherd’s banyan tree prior to his enlightenment. At that time I fell in love with the lady Bhaddā, bright as the sun, the daughter of King Timbarū of the gandhabbas. But the lady was in love with somebody else. It was Sikhaddi, the son of Mātali the charioteer, whom she favoured. And when I found that I could not win the lady by any manner of means, I took my yellow beluva-wood lute and went to the home of King Timbarū of the gandhabbas, and there I sang these verses [...]

In the case described here, an actor who has a wrong view immerses himself in dangerous emotions. The only logical and possible consequence is lowering the quality of his state of mind, therefore, identifying himself with the lower realms. If, however, an actor has the right views, and plays an acting role of a character with correct thoughts, his mind will not be contaminated with wrong emotions. Therefore, he will not be destined to hell.

[Ref. 590] The Buddha refrains from rebuking Pañcasikha for his somewhat inappropriate song, and pays him a neat compliment. In the ‘household life’ Gotama must have heard many love-songs, even if we disregard all the legends of his upbringing.

Pancasinkha's music might have been inappropriate, but the Buddha explicitly praises its intentions on the Dhamma.

Hopefully this Sutta in which the Buddha explicitly praises good music (with right intentions) will answer any other questions regarding right and wrong views on art.

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Neither the Buddha nor the Sutta quoting the Buddha here, say that an actor is generally, because of the job actor, destinated in lower realms but, again:

When an actor on the stage, [he thinks that] after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas,' that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.

And missing passage in the Sutta:

Any beings who are not devoid of passion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of passion, focus with even more passion on things inspiring passion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of aversion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of aversion, focus with even more aversion on things inspiring aversion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of delusion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of delusion, focus with even more delusion on things inspiring delusion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Thus the actor — himself intoxicated & heedless, having made others intoxicated & heedless — with the breakup of the body, after death, is reborn in what is called the hell of laughter.

Something that counts for everyone with ever kind of livelihood.

So if one is eager to move more worse and encourages other as well, that is the reason for hell.

And if a person even holds the view that such leads to heaven, then even more worse.

It's just that it is tge nature of common acting an show business, that such might be often the case.

There are plenty actors who actually work against passion, aversion and delusion.

If in this view an ice-cream seller is crazy ofter ice and makes the mass crazy in seeking for consuming it, if he holds the view that passion after ice-cream leads to heaven, then hi case is the same of that of this actor here.

Many ways of offensive advertising on illusion, look on advertisement generally, are fully in the frame of being destinated to hell.

It would be totally against the Dhamma and the Buddhas approaches to say biased an preoccupied that this or that job lead, because of this or that job, to hell.

So Suttas should be carefully readed and Kamma be understood. Otherwise bias and grave A-Dhamma is naturally.

So one telling people with delusion and views: "Yes, actors are destinated to hell. Yes, that is wrong livelihood!" in general, increasing others bias with his bias, such a person is in this way destinated to hell. Why? He does actually not know, not understand, listens to his teacher and soon may cry, for having been cheated in that way. Actually teaching without knowing is much more dangerous as acting, since most people would at least do not take acting serious, but if one appears "acting" as a teacher, such is much more serious!

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

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An actor is a micchā-vācā of micchā-ājīva in 8-mijjhā-magga, akusala-kammapatha-offense career that buddha said "reborn in hell", because it is 7th of 10 akusala kammapatha, samphappalāla-akusalakammapatha. And that mijjhā-ājīva is wrong livelihood in vanijjasutta (english translation).

Actor/singer career is direct hindrance career for the meditations, because 8 fold path require right speech and right action of right career first as adhi-sīla (observe-practice that is an important base of meditation-practice, higher level practice).

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When an actor on the stage, [he thinks that] after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas,' that is his wrong view. Now,there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.

Seems quite straight forward. At the time some actors obviously believed they'd be going to be with the laughing devas after death. This was wrong view which meant they were buggered especially if they were born into the animal realm if the Chiggala Sutta is anything to go by.

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I hazard that the question is confused cos of the way that belief and humanity has changed since the Buddha's time. Actors that don't hold the wrong view that they will be be reborn into the deva realm don't have that wrong view. QED.

If you meant that the actor believes they will be reborn there - in this life, well is it even a wrong view if they are a good enough actor?

The questions seems wrong headed :)

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