Music and right livelihood

Hi all,

I have a qualification in music education and I am about put that education into practice. For lay people right livelihood is not doing business in weapon, human being, meat, intoxicant and poison. Clearly music is not one of them.

What comes to mind is, teaching music instrument such as piano, violin, etc can increase attachment and pleasure for sound, I believe the whole teaching is to reduce sensual pleasure and attachment.

Can I hear your thought, can it really be considered right livelihood?

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Isn’t there a difference between sensual pleasure on the one hand, and attachment on the other? From what I understand (and I will be corrected if I am wrong), enlightenment involves, among other things, the ability to experience sensual pleasure (and pain) but to simply experience those senses without forming attachments that cause suffering. A person can hear a pleasant (or unpleasant) sound, note it with equanimity, let it pass without forming an attachment, thereby avoiding suffering.

Besides, music is sound. Whether it is pleasant or not is subjective. “These kids today! How can they listen to that crap? You call that music? It’s just a bunch of noise!” So say unenlightened individuals. Enlightened people say, “I hear sound in the form of music. I like it (or I don’t like it).” That’s it. Ears have made contact with sensory experiences, feelings and thoughts are registered. Those feelings and thoughts are met with equanimity. On to the next sensory experience.

I don’t think the Buddha intended his followers to avoid enjoyment or pain. Enjoyment and pain are inevitable. You stub your toe, it’s going to hurt. Suffering is the attachment to that pain, just as it is attachment to enjoyment.


Exactly. They increase attachment. After all the second path factor - right thoughts, Samma Sankappa - is about renunciation, loving kindness and harmlessness. And it is a progressive path meaning that one cannot practice renunciation while enjoying music.

IMO teaching music, although it does not violate the path factor of right livelihood, does violate the second path factor . To say that one can teach music without being attached is very hard for me to understand.

With Metta

Music may or may not be right livelihood, I cannot argue it is not. However, when a person performs a song, drama or dance etc, he drags people more and more into rāga dosa and moha. That may mostly result a bad rebirth as explained in Tālaputa sutta.

When sentient beings are still not free of greed, and are still bound by greed, a dancer in a stage or festival presents them with even more arousing things. When sentient beings are still not free of hate, and are still bound by hate, a dancer in a stage or festival presents them with even more hateful things. When sentient beings are still not free of delusion, and are still bound by delusion, a dancer in a stage or festival presents them with even more delusory things. And so, being heedless and negligent themselves, they’ve encouraged others to be heedless and negligent. (attanā matto pamatto pare madetvā pamādetvā) When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in the hell called ‘Laughter’.

But if you have such a view: “Suppose a dancer entertains and amuses people on a stage or at a festival with truth and lies. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in the company of laughing gods (pahāsa deva)”. This is your wrong view. An individual with wrong view is reborn in one of two places, I say: hell or the animal realm” (SN 42.2).


Playing music requires discipline, awareness and coordination. Sadly, I am so terrible at it that people flee when I play guitar. @SC1100, you are clearly much better at music than I. But I am also a parent who advocated for music education as a necessary and nurturing study for my daughter. I still find deep value in music education.

However, I’d also share a cautionary note that as my own study and practice deepened, music itself has become less compelling and almost a distracting annoyance. My guitar sits sadly alone. My piano is long gone. I once memorized Beethoven’s First Piano Sonata. And now I could not even tell you the first note let alone play any part of it all. Music is still beautiful. But now I’d rather just listen to a sutta.


I share the argument about the power of attaching to music-listening.

But aside from the attaching-power of music, learning to play an instrument is a very good exercise in observing manual, general physical, and in some cases even breathing processes.
The question I had on musical education is whether the courses succeed in improving the self-observational abilities of the disciple. Some twenty years ago I was engaged in one of these late-Osho, Neo-tantric study groups where we trained sensorical awareness-without-attachment to high qualities. That (completely unplanned) even improved my musical skills as a side-effect: listening deeper and more conscious to the sounds of the instrument as well as to the sounds of the birds and as well as to the sounds of the forest when doing walking meditation (or meditating walk). The training of awareness to the details of sensoric contact, arousal and stilling led to a completely new ability to play piano with two hands independently - well, there was the beginning of it, not towards a professional perfection.
On a later stage -but this may not be part of a child’s musical education- there is to become aware of the communication power of music: to the function of little songs, of canons, of playing music in groups or orchestra, the fine-tuning in timing, harmony, rhythm and expression. Again this seems to me a potential brilliant candidate of making the unintentionally “building-of-a-world”/making a mental state transparent, observable, and making this an object for further analysis and meditation.

After that all, an awareness-trained one can also observe the attaching-power of music and the dysfunctional aspect of consuming music unconsciously, which is more what you address in your question. Cows gave more milk when classical music sounded in the stables, rats got an unhealthy skin when exposed to punk-music a couple of weeks (two experiments I remember to have read about). In a community the lovely sound for one can easily be the torture for the other, so I completely understand that it is recommended not to have music, for instance, in a monastery from such a conflict alone. Or, to have music from the radio, all over the day…

One could surely extend on this all. But I like especially one word of my dear mama long years ago: whereever you are: don’t forget the music, you can take it everywhere and it might help you through bitternesses of the life. (She meant especially singing, which helped her staying through the many deep and elementary post-war troubles here in germany and the troubles of getting up a bunch of children under that circumstances, but for instance me, where possible, I take my guitar with me besides the singing).

I remember a side-remark of the Buddha, where he spoke of the prettyness of the well-trained singing and play, but well: this single remark does not mean, that in general music (as well as for instance, theater ) were not meant as distractive for the monastic or the engaged lay-person and of which they should stay apart. … (A short search in my bookmarks gave this in DN 17:

When those rows of palm trees were blown by the wind they sounded graceful, tantalizing, sensuous, lovely, and intoxicating, like a quintet made up of skilled musicians who had practiced well and kept excellent rhythm .”

But reading the context around it is of course still meant that in a big city full of its sounds even this adds merely to a cacophony, attracting drunkards, distracting from any mindful awareness… )


Among many well intentioned, probably more interesting responses to

Can I hear your thought, can it really be considered right livelihood?

I will add only this idea (which might already well understood): it is your own thoughts on this which will determine Action.
I think “best for now” will be best for now; maybe try not to get too attached to it. :pray:


This touches on familiar a dilemma for me. I am a householder, married, own two businesses, operate in the outer world. I take the Dhamma very seriously and it’s the center of my life.

In my reading of the suttas, the Buddha gave different teachings and instruction to lay people than he did his monks.

I wrestle with holding myself to the standards the the Buddha set for his monks and have a difficult time “compromising” by living this life as a lay person.

To address the OP, I’m a lifelong musician and have played less and less over the years. The reason is because I began carefully monitoring my thoughts when I played music. It generally activates and strengthens my mind’s sense of self, becoming, performance, acceptance by others, acclaim, superiority and inferiority and other related issues. I also began to pay close attention to the other musicians I played with, to try and see their motivations. When I became aware of this I lost interest in playing with a band and haven’t in several years. When I play it’s 99% when I’m alone and I try and flesh out my feeling tones, to feel via what I play, as I only compose and play improvisationally.

It’s pretty clear that the Buddha instructed his monks to avoid music for many reasons. I don’t know if he gave that advice to lay people.


If you like teaching and if you are passionate about music you can give people a lot, and I don’t think music is wrong livelihood for laypeople.
I used to be a professional orchestra musician and also a violin teacher for many years. In my case I didn’t really like teaching and my great passion for expressing myself in music died slowly. Now I’m a nursing student and I feel so much closer to the Dhamma, especially when I’m blessed to help patients during my clinicals.
Having said that I still think it is possible to be a wonderful music teacher or performer and at the same time to practice the Dhamma well.

The Dhamma will guide you, just listen to your heart :anjal:


I think it greatly depends on the type of music you’re creating/promoting/teaching etc.
There is music that is made with greedy, egoistic intentions like Marylin Manson, and there is something I call “music of the heart”. For example ambient spiritual meditative music like this:

To me it is amazing an d beautiful, because this music is neither “catchy” nor negative nor disturbing. Quite the opposite, when I feel very anxious sometimes, putting it on my closed headphones (good isolation) and closing my eyes is the easiest way to do samatha meditation for me. Also when I stop listening, it is easy to let go of this music, it doesn’t stay with you later like some pop melody. I would never consider life of this artist as wrong livelyhood, quite the opposite. :pray:

Bhante Sujato said on the retreat that samatha meditation is like letting the object soothe you. Be it breath, ocean or just wind in the tress - if it soothes you and you let it do its job, it is samatha. I find meditation music to be most calming thing in the world for me, except for total silence, which sadly is very rare in many places.

Another type of music, evoking emotions related to metta and compassion, example:

It really helped me with metta meditation at the begining of my path. The flute part is like expression of true love and forgiveness for me and it helped me feel this in my heart at the beginning stages of my practice and sometimes help me still.

Also, some energetic music can be very helpful when one is in depressive mood. Music can be very energising and is much less invasive than for example stimulants like coffee. To get energy from coffee you have to change your biochemistry for hours. Music can give you this spike energy for shorter period of time without feeling drained afterwards, and you can just turn it off anytime. It helps me to keep my dynamic vinyasa yoga practice on weaker days, when I lack energy to practice, I just turn on some music, get my yoga done and feel much better afterwards that I’ve done it. And energetic music can really give this spike of energy needed to start practice or work on bad days.

Also there is something called “therapeuthic music”. For example gongs or tibetan bowls when played can make people start feeling piti and even experience very soft light in the mind. I use them to aid people in getting into meditation and it works wonders. In yoga there is practice called nada yoga, which also sometimes uses specific types of music to support sadhakas in on their journey to higher states of consciousness (especially gongs, bowls). This is great example of such music used for meditative/therapheutic effect:

At the same time I consider most of music in the world as unwholesome and egodriven, especially pop, rap and various kinds of metal music. But there are genres that are very deep sounding, not designed to addict from it, without any words or strong emotions so don’t influence your mood expect from calming or stimulating or heartwarming. Music can also cut off various really annoying noises when travelling etc, which can be helpful for people with strong anxieties. The fact that we have so much genres today can make people choose whatever music suits them to help them in their life.

I consider such types of music to be very wholesome. Egodriven music just to evoke “samsaric” emotions and make people just worship the musician - unwholesome.

Speaking in language of yoga, I would say music can be made of sattva (spiritual energy aimed at liberation), rajas (wordly energy aimed at sensual pleasures), and tamas (destructive and unprogressive energy). More or less these intentions can drive music and I think it more depends on whether music is sattvic or not, rather than saying that all music is bad, period. Even monks are chanting suttas which in a way is sacral music, just like christian choirs, tibetan or hindu mantras etc. I think every or almost every religion considered some form of music to be sacred and evoking feelings conductive to spiritual practice.

Right now I’m almost on 8 precepts, but the only thing I don’t want to let go of is such music. I envy people who can get all calmness and motivation in life without music, but for people with some weaknesses of character like me, wholesome music can be very helpful in life. From my experience gong is very helpful to get people into meditation at the beginning so I also think it is wholesome and it is part of my livelyhood and I consider it very good.

I’m moving slowly towards not needing music at all, but it is a gradual path. Buddha was also speaking of gradual path. Sattvic music can be very helpful for people less advanced on the path, and it is much more healthy and wholesome than many other ways of “helping ourselves”, like drugs, sweets, dwelling on toxic emotions or getting entangled into hurtful relationships. And as it is difficult to let go of everything at once, having sattvic music even as some sensual entertainment, in comparison to other types of sensuality seems like no big “sin” to me. :slight_smile:

Thing is some music can be exatly the exprression of loving kindness, designed to help people in various ways. :slight_smile: in germany and UK gongs and bowls are normal as aids in healing in some hospitals.

There is even something called “Peter Hess Academy” that is studying effects of sound on healing.

One of many articles on the subject of sound healing:

I hope you don’t mind me posting some examples of music I was speaking about. I also hope my post is somehow conductive to the discussion. :slight_smile:

Metta :anjal:


May the sound of a falling leaf :fallen_leaf:
one day
bring you peace and grace your heart.


This is interesting. I have looked at different translations but it seems there are two versions of translation.

So attanā matto pamatto pare madetvā pamādetvā kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā pahāso nāma nirayo tattha upapajjati.

The first translation:
And so, being heedless and negligent themselves, they’ve encouraged others to be heedless and negligent. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in the hell called ‘Laughter’.

Second translation:
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.

I’ve looked at different Pali-English dictionary, matta can be translated as either intoxicated or immersed in or get carry away by something or simply intoxicated as translated by Bhikkhu Sujato in Sutta Central. How do we know if it meant to be figuratively or literally? They are similar, but they have different meaning and understanding. You can look at the context of course, but in this Sutta I think both figuratively and literally can apply. Does anyone have any thought how to understand this Sutta more clearly?

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(@SC1100) Could you shortly explain for me (but a bit more) in which way there is a relevant difference between the translations? Resp. the “figurative” and “literal” style - english is not my native tongue and I don’t get the difference from your words/the given snippets so far.

The word matto is used to show bewilderness created from immersing into dance or music performance. The preson who is watching the drama or listening music is immersed in a into it in a way that he cannot think straight. Generally something like lost in music. This considered similar to intoxication. Have to find a better word to express the meaning. Any suggestions?

This can be understood reading Gītassarasutta. When someone relishes a melody he cannot keep his mindfulness, his mind tends to rāga towards the sound.

sarakuttimpi nikāmayamānassa samādhissa bhaṅgo hoti
When you’re enjoying the melody, your immersion breaks up

Also the person who get used to dancing, music, etc seeks it.

There are these six drawbacks of frequenting festivals. You’re always thinking: ‘Where’s the dancing? Where’s the singing? Where’s the music? Where are the stories? Where’s the applause? Where are the kettle-drums?’ These are the six drawbacks of frequenting festivals (DN 31).

I am not saying music is a bad thing that should be avoided. Some people use music to meditation and to sleep and relaxation. Music may be serving as an object to so called meditation or calm your mind down and it might be some sort of micchā samādhi (Not sure).

Then there is this sutta, AN 3.107.

“Singing is regarded as wailing in the training of the noble one. Dancing is regarded as madness.Too much laughter, showing the teeth, is regarded as childish. So break off singing and dancing; and when you’re appropriately pleased, it’s enough to simply smile.”

This sutta is for monastics not for lay people. Lay people who practice uposata (8/10 precepts) can avoid all kinds of dancing, singing, etc.

And the word pamatto: means something like slothful, indolent, careless or negligent.
Those who like to enjoy dancing music and all the kinds of festivals and parties has a desire towards them, he tend to seek those pleasures, where he lose his day-to-day practice of dhamma (eight noble path).
Those who are mindfull and diligent can see arisng and ceasing of five aggregates.


There is some evidence that “suggests that instrumental music training may enhance auditory discrimination, fine motor skills, vocabulary, and nonverbal reasoning”.

These skills are probably quite useful for understanding Dhamma. Especially the fine motor skills if they become a monastic and have to repair their own robes :wink:

I think that there are also some studies on dementia and learning a musical instrument which suggest that it is good for maintaining a healthy brain. Which is of course essential for understanding Dhamma.

Maybe you could consider using your skills in a ‘music therapy’ context?


When it comes to attachments and intentions, right livelihood is seldom white or black. On the other hand, being overly concerned about the kammic consequences of your actions can be in itself a form of attachment and obsession. This is why i believe that if your livelihood does not explicitly break the precept, then it should be fine.


There are those who stand on cliffs and take selfies. The Buddha suggests we not.

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There are other translations we can take a look into, one of them is Chinese translation. I do not know the Chinese word but the word is 陶醉, it basically means partying and enjoying yourself in noisy way, particularly with drinking and dancing. Other word is revel or bacchanal.

So it does make sense now, it’s intoxication. Both figurative and literal meaning can apply, but for this one I will go with the latter.

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To elaborate a little on my post, what I wanted to show is that music is not black and white phenomenon, but a lot depends on intention behind and content and purpose of particular music.

Also we should remember that path to enlightenment is gradual path. It is also gradual path of renunciation. Imagine a person with extremely strong greed, hate and ignorance. If this person would want to become a bhikkhu immediately, it would probably be a disaster and he would sooner or later do a parajika offense and get disrobed. On the other hand, if that person took very gradual path, he could one day become a very good bhikkhu and transcend things he needed to get to that stage of the Path.

Before people can enjoy bliss of jhanic states, fruits of discerning wisdom, non-grasping, boundless metta etc., oftentimes we need practices that are mixture or spirituality and sensuality, for example sacral music, divine art, contemplation of wonderous beauty of nature etc.

So, perhaps making beautiful music is not highest thing in the universe, like teaching jhanic states or four noble truths. But it can help those who are not ready for jhanas yet, but need something spiritually uplifting at their lower level of the path.

Thats why music isn’t wrong livelyhood in itself. If it is type of music that can help people grow on lower levels of the path, to be transcended one day into higher stages, I think it is wholesome, it is good kamma. It helps people ascend higher and higher on spiritual path. And I think that being able to appreciate beauty of art/nature, helps appreciate beauty of subtle meditative states as well, especially in the beginning of practice.

On the other hand, if music is for example made to hate particular people (like sometimes rap or pop or metal music lyrics and vibe tend to do) then of course it is unwholesome, it is bad kamma.

We should remember that not everyone was born as stream enterer, and many people first need to feel spirituality somewhere along the lines of sensuality. I’m sure I wouldn’t be on the path if not for some things other than pure buddha-dhamma, like music, art, beauty of nature, and other stuff. And of course I consider buddha-dhamma to be the highest path, but I am still grateful to those artists who helped me feel things deeper. And it would be a shame if they were to go to hell for that. Which to me seems that hell could be a rebirth only for artists with hellish, egoistic, manic intentions.

We should always read suttas in context of other suttas. And it is one of most fundamentals aspect of wisdom, that good intention lead to good kamma, bad intention to bad kamma. To me eyes same must apply to music.

If householders can go to heaven in future life, why would a musician who does music which evokes wholesome states of mind not do so?

Of course heavenly realm and Nibbana are different things. But right livelygood relates to both heavenly and “nibbanic” kamma. :slight_smile:

So I would ask yourself what kind of music you’re gonna teach, what states of mind will it bring to listeners… will it uplift them, make them feel/think deeper? Will be attatch them to this music or point them to something beyond it? Will there by lyrics, and if yes, what states of mind will they evoke and where will they direct the mind? :heart: :dharmawheel:

I think only then will you know if it is right or wrong livelyhood.

Also I think music has evolved greatly since time of the Buddha. In few cases, it has become truly artistic endevour that sometimes touches spirituality. It isn’t just festive dance & drinking, sometimes music points (like the one I’ve posted) to exactly opposite direction, to very pure and wholesome qualities of mind.



This could be true. But letting go includes everything that we we grasp whether they have any therapeutic value or not.
I understand that Bhante Sujato was a musician before he ordained. I do not think that he listens to music in any way since his ordination.
The Buddha said “sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya”.(MN.37).

With Metta