I recently read Buddha Dhamma for University Students by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. In the book he says that ordinary lay people are Buddhists in name only, and that devout Buddhists, who he calls ariyans, shouldn’t dance, sing, or laugh. Here is a quote (sorry for the length):
"An ordinary lay person is a Buddhist at most by name, only according to the records and according to the register, through having been born of parents who were Buddhists. This means he is still an ordinary lay person. Now, to be a “true Buddhist”, to be an ariyan (one well advanced in practice, a noble one) a person must meet the requirement of having right understanding about the various things around him to a far higher degree than the ordinary lay person has.
The Buddha said humorously, “Between the view of the ariyan and the view of ordinary lay people there is an enormous dif-ference.” Thus, in the view of the ariyans, in the ariyan discipline, singing songs is the same thing as weeping; dancing is the antics of madmen; and hearty laughing is the behaviour of immature children. Th e ordinary lay person sings, laughs, and enjoys him-self without noticing when he is weary. In the discipline of the ariyans, singing is looked upon as being the same as weeping. If we observe a man who sings and shouts at the top of his voice, it not only looks the same as weeping, but, furthermore, it stems from the same emotional conditions as does weeping. As for dancing, this is the behaviour of madmen! If we are just a little observant, we will realize as we are getting up to dance, that we must surely be at least ten percent crazy or else we couldn’t do it. But because it is universally considered something pleasant, we don’t see it as the behaviour of lunatics. Some people like to laugh; laughter is some-thing enjoyable. people laugh a lot, even when it is not reasonable or appropriate. But laughing is regarded by the ariyan, and in their discipline, as the behaviour of immature children. So if we could laugh less, it would be a good thing, and not to laugh at all would be even better."
I know monks and nuns are not supposed to sing, listen to music, and dance, but this book is saying even devout householders should do the same. Is this true?
I also recently read a book by Dr K Sri Dammanada called What Buddhists Believe. In this book he says the following about the 8 precepts: “Some people find it hard to understand the significance of a few of these precepts. They think that Buddhists are against dancing, singing, music, the cinema, perfume, ornaments and luxurious things. There is no rule in Buddhism which states that lay Buddhists must abstain from these things. The people who choose to abstain from these entertainments are devout Buddhists who observe the precepts only for a short period as a way of self-discipline.”
Dammanada is saying devout Buddhists can sing and dance, and that most only temporarily refrain from doing so. Doesn’t this contradict what Buddhadasa Bhikkhu is saying, since he says “true Buddhists” shouldn’t sing or dance at all?