The 8 Precepts and Music

The 8 precepts say that you shouldn’t listen to music. I know most lay followers don’t keep the eight precepts all the time, but I’ve seen sites where it’s recommended to do so. This has made me wonder, why is music prohibited by the 8 precepts? Can a lay Buddhis listen to music?

Nacca-gita-vadita-visukkadassana mala-gandha-vilepana-dharana-mandana-vibhusanathana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami;
undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.

There is no mention of listening to music here.

It is logical, because you can’t really control what your ears hear. If somebody is singing next to you, then you broke the precept… . . That is silly, right?

You broke the precept if you sing along with him.

There is a reason lay buddhist only maintain 8 precept for one day. For that one day, you become aware of the tendency of your mind to get attached to things. Most of them are sensory stimulants, entertainment, such as music.

Try to maintain the precepts just one day. And then back to normal life for several days.
With more understanding, the attachment to music and other entertainment should be naturally decreased.

When you try to force it, you feel guilty. So don’t force it


Funny, I was just reading something from Sakyadhita Canada Association of Buddhist Women about a new academic article that’s been published on Tina Turner and black Buddhism in America, “Some Will Hear: Tina Turner, African American Buddhist Teacher,” by Ralph Craig.

Be happy.


This is not from any suttas, but just the way I process the purpose of the precepts.

The first 5 are to create a basis for sila that supports the development of samadhi and panna. They also provide living beings with freedom from our ill will, which also has good consequences for us.

The next 3, in my view, are there to highlight to us when the mind acts from a place of greed, aversion or delusion.

For example, if you like a really comfortable bed and it is not a medical necessity, you will notice that you are averse to sleeping on a simple bed. This gives you the ability to contemplate the nature of aversion. What causes aversion? How do you overcome it? Do you have any underlying beliefs that make you feel like you absolutely have to have it? Using this kind of contemplation we can start to uproot aversion until the mind doesn’t get agitated by a simple bed.

Similarly with music.

However, keeping these 3 precepts only make sense if you’ve managed to gain some measure of pleasure and satisfaction from keeping the first 5, and also have seen the benefits of samadhi. Without this, the mind will feel like keeping the 3 precepts is not worth it, even if you tell it that it is.

If you develop a level of samadhi that can rival the the pleasure you get from music, it may become much easier to keep those next three precepts. The foundation is key.

It is a case of gradual progress.


Hi. For me, it depends on what you are seeking from Buddhism.

For example, if you are meditating, is the music hindering your concentration/meditation? Is music always popping into your head when you meditate? If so, then it is a hindrance. If not, then it is not a hindrance.

Otherwise, does the type of music you listen to impair your moral judgment/sensibilities?

For me, it is important to understand the harm caused by not following a precept. If there is not much or any discernable harm occurring then we probably need to reflect upon the precept more deeply.

Personally, I’ve never found music to be any great problem. Personally, for me, transitioning (many years ago) from sexuality to celibacy had some challenges. I imagine being sexually active may cause some strong hindrances to meditation concentration. But starting & practicing meditation many years ago was never hindered by music if it was listened to.

This said, when I gave up sex, certain types of music naturally dropped away at the same time. For example, ever since I gave up sex (before I found Buddhism) I have been unable to listen to the music of the rock band called Led Zeppelin. Once my mind developed a sense of sexual responsibility or harmlessness then their music instantly became dumb to me.

I think the 8 precepts are a whole package. They include refraining from sex, drugs, music, dancing, wearing make-up, etc. But, in my experience, types of music that are not inherently related to sex, drugs, dancing, sexual attractiveness, etc, are not a significance hindrance. :sunny:

The 8 precepts are for lay followers during Uposatha days and for mendicants.

6yrs without listening to music and the answer is still; yes! :laughing: Every song every released from 1995–2015 seems to be stored in my databank for the appropriate, or not so appropriate moment.
Ajahn Amaro once said his first 5 years of monastic life had a constant soundtrack of musicals.

Music is incredibly catchy. One should know the pleasure, the danger and the escape.


And then there are these extremely talented Buddhist monks who explore these issues in the very media under criticism. Everyone should have seen at least one Khyentse Norbu film. The Cup, of course, is extremely famous, and took the world by storm.

Unless one has attained and maintain sati/samadhi for 24/7. It is impossible to not like, not to desire about sound. Because sound is part of 5 senses.

For householder or even a monk, it is close to impossible to have fully developed sati/samadhi, because one needs perfected ariyan precepts and samma ditthi from hearing true dhamma.

As SN 35.132 said:

… When they know a sound with their ear, if it’s pleasant they hold on to it, but if it’s unpleasant they dislike it. They live without the kayassati and a limited mind.

That’s how someone doesn’t guard the sense doors.”

O btw don’t feel bad if you can’t let go sound/music yet, because even the sensual realm deva(s) are still trapped by the heavenly music.

Having remorse is even worse, because one can go to lower realm. So don’t feel guilty, you don’t do anything wrong against yourself and others. But if you want you can take up 8 precepts once in a while such as uposatha days.

Good luck.

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You might want to check out this thread where this sort of thing has already been discussed.


If there is listening from a silent mind, it doesn’t matter what kind of sound there is. It’s dhamma, short and straightforward.
If sound activates the mind and brings it out of stillness, one shouldn’t expose one’s senses to that particular vibration.

Well, unless of course, it’s something like the sound of a baby crying. Not music to the ears, but definitely something to attend to.

If the is a sound of crying, there should be a natural response following dhamma. If there is said something in a dhamma talk that starts a vibration in the silent mind, one should follow that vibration and investigate.

Thank you for stating this.
It’s an often forgotten fact.

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They don’t say that you shouldn’t ‘listen to music’, perhaps because, in the Buddha’s time, you would rather approach and see music. The point might seem pedantic but, in my view, it’s symptomatic of a wider problem, which is that we automatically tend to translate Buddhist ‘rules for life’ to familiar, present-day settings, bypassing a two-millennia cultural gap. In the Pali texts, music is not considered to be an art form that can broaden your outlook on life or provide insight into the human condition—with a few exceptions. Modern secular music (at its best) is considered such. So we have a problem here, and if we fail to recognize it, we have two problems.

It is very possible that, when quitting music, Iron Age upāsakas were not quitting something as meaningful to them as music is to you. While you hear of monastic characters missing their parents and families, never do you hear of a monastic missing music as something that was existentially fulfilling. I’m not saying that we should redefine the precepts; I am saying that we haven’t really defined them, cross-culturally speaking.

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Following dhamma? As in non-Buddhists should, or will, or shall, or do, neglect care. Buddha wandered the world, my dear, and he did it as a teacher.

Laypeople can listen to music if their aspirations are limited. There are two levels of practice one for monks and the other for laypeople. The eight precepts are practised on certain days to give laypeople an experience of the higher practice. There are specific levels of thought generated by music which are just above the human plane in the deva realm, within samsara. This is why in the West, female opera singers are called ‘Divas’:

"an ascetic who has two-sided Samadhi, both heavenly sights and heavenly sounds are experienced. Then Mahali asked if it is for the attainment of such psychic powers that monks lead this holy life under Buddha. Buddha replied: " No Mahali, there are other things that are higher and more perfect than these psychic attainments and stages of Samadhi which lead the monks to live this ascetic lives. " —Digha Nikaya 6

In the contemporary world, if monastics go to a medical appointment they likely are going to hear music played in the waiting room.

It has seemed strange to me that there aren’t restrictions on looking at great Art, or reading great books (of course not in existence then).

The point being that it’s ok to view a Rembrandt exhibit, or read Tolstoy, but not ok to listen to Brahms.
As was alluded to above, modern Western concepts of music may be needed to be accounted for.

Honestly, I wonder whether the question here doesn’t relate to Buddha-kṣetra. I would have to go pull out my books on the history of mandala and other things, but these beliefs were pretty gosh darn early.

Reading back from the history of Western music onto Buddhist beliefs circa the turn of the millennium is, I think, questionable. At least in Europe, the history of Western music (the dominant stream) is closely connected to the Church, and of course, there were prohibitions against things like the famous tritone - 'devil’s tone - now so common in metal, because of its dissonance. I guess it depends on what you classify as “modern music,” but taboos against dissonance were definitely rejected by the Sturm und Drang movement, which is Romanticism, so before what we label modern music.

Music is easily one of the most complex of human activities - it involves a lot of math and can get very programmatic. Certainly, too difficult to master at any technical level for someone who needs to invest much of their time into meditating. And there is no doubt it grabs ahold of the mind; many musicians suffer because of the muses.

And yet we share it with the birds, whales and other mammals, and even insects.