Reading Fiction

I heard a Venerable saying they read Fantasy Novels. I’m not criticizing, just curious. wouldn’t that be a form of entertainment? And against one of the 8 precepts?


Bumping out of interest. I‘ve heard talks and read books by Venerables with literary references (though in all cases but one it could have been remembered references from pre-monastic life) and was wondering the same.


Wouldn’t listening to some Jātakas (e.g., the Bodhisatta as an elephant defeating a giant crab) be a form of entertainment?

It depends on where you draw the line between ‘entertainment’ and ‘learning something of value’. Different Theravādin cultures at different times have predictably drawn different lines, and still do in spite of the homogenizations of the modern age.

1 Like

I think you’ve perhaps summarized a huge portion of the value and purpose driving the Jātakas: Buddhist-friendly entertainment. Hearing stories about the Buddha’s past lives and journeys is related to Buddhism, virtue, striving, etc., and yet it can be very entertaining for monastics and story-telling to lay followers or children alike; this would be a very valuable tool in an evolving Buddhist community. In a way, this indirectly speaks to how non-Buddhist fiction may be perceived: the idea that myth, fiction, or entertainment should be somehow Buddhist.

That said, you raise a really important point that how a community understands and practices certain rules varies, along with how someone perceives and uses fiction. If someone is reading fiction as a tool to exercise their brain and stay lucid, to learn about the human imagination and connect to their audience or be educated in current cultural happenings, they may perceive that as being justified and not sheer entertainment. Others may perceive that as still entertainment and irrelevant to the holy life. So there’s a difference of interpretation and preference at play that isn’t clear-cut, rather than an issue of formal/legalistic Vinaya rules.

If there are more specific rules that outline this and what monks are/aren’t allowed to use for entertainment though, I too am very interested.



Something occurred to me just now. Both the Buddha and the authors of the Canon had an in-depth knowledge of literature and poetry, and used it as a teaching tool. According to translators‘ notes, the Canon is full of sophisticated humor. The Buddha and his disciples engaged in battles of wit, even in the Brahmin custom of intellectual riddles. This is all in service to the Dhamma, but it engages in non-Dhammic customs and sensibilities that must have been studied beforehand. If it’s worth it to engage in these things to make the Dhamma more palatable, why would it only be admissible to bring knowledge from before one took up the holy life? Additionally, the entertainment mentioned as unsuitable for serious practitioners, as far as I can see, never included written literature, just narrations of legends and such.
Now, I assume that literature back then, because there wasn‘t a suitable medium that survived the hot and humid climate for long, was largely an oral affair, like the Canon. Literacy might not have been widespread (on both points, please enlighten me if you have any historical knowledge), so literature as a solitary form of entertainment would not have been an issue needing to be addressed. So we can‘t just take this observation to mean that literature doesn‘t fall in the unwholesome category. What it does imply, however, is that things really aren‘t that black and white.
All that said, I‘m wary both of narrow interpretations that might make one sour-faced and protestant-minded, and loose interpretations that become apologetics for sensuality, and so far none of the few takes I‘ve seen have convinced me. :face_with_diagonal_mouth: