Ven Buddhadasa's definition of "true Buddhists"

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?



It’s in 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.”


It is just for nuns and monks. Those activities distract people from practice and encourage worldly pursuits.

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I wouldn’t say that Buddhism is against singing, dancing and/or laughing. One can sing the Metta Sutta. There are many great monks and nuns that regularly smile and laugh during excellent Dhamma talks. One way to answer this question, it seems to me, is what is the intention behind the act?

“Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.”
AN 6.63

Our Eightfold Path sets us on a behavioral, mental, and ethical course to the jhanas. Celebrating mundane pleasures distracts us from this pursuit, distracts us from cultivating the mindfulness needed for the jhanas. So, any mundane expressions of singing, laughing, or dancing might distance us from the practices needed to cultivate this path.

A couple of paragraphs after the part you quoted the ajahn clarifies his point:

The point here is not that we should never do such things. The Buddha wants us to know that there are higher and lower ways to behave, and that we need not create hardships for ourselves more than is necessary. Don’t behave commonly too often. Though we aren’t yet ariya, we may still raise our standards of behavior. Certain behaviors are at times amusing, but eventually we get tired of them. We then raise ourselves to the level of Buddhist practice and discipline of the ariyas.
(My emphases)


But doesn’t that quote still imply that ariyas do not sing or dance? And doesn’t that mean “true Buddhists” shouldn’t sing or dance since, according to Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, only ariyas are true Buddhists?. Sorry if I’m misunderstanding what he is saying, my reading comprehension isn’t the best.

There is a sutta somewhere in the Anguttara Nikāya which states that when householders observe the eight precepts on uposatha days, they are, in effect, spending the day living like arahants. From this we can infer that arahants wouldn’t sing or dance, for these actions are contrary to the seventh precept.

As for sekha disciples (i.e., ariyans who are not yet arahants), if they are monks or nuns, then they too will refrain from singing and dancing, for their training rules require this. But if they are householders, they won’t necessarily abstain from singing and dancing, but since, as ariyans, they will regard such activities as “wailing” and “madness”, I would expect that they will have a diminished inclination for such things.

This issue is honestly causing me a lot of stress. I love music and singing, but texts like this make it seem like I have to give them up to be a devout or true Buddhist. It’s like I have to choose between one or the other.


I think this may be at the root of your issue. It may seem that way to you, but I don’t think that is the case. As far as I know even in the commentary stories we don’t find the Buddha criticizing lay disciples for simply dancing and singing. Even the great lay disciple Vishakha danced with joy around the monastery that she had just donated. When people asked the Buddha if she had gone crazy, he explained that she was simply experiencing the joy of a long held wish to make this kind of an offering.

Part of the problem for many people is being able to hold ariyas in the highest regard while at the same time being ok with the fact that they themselves aren’t always going to act like one.


But Buddhadasa Bhikkhu says only ariyas are true Buddhists, and that ordinary lay Buddhists are Buddhist in name only. Doesn’t this mean a “true Buddhist” shouldn’t sing or dance since these are considered pathetic by the ariyans. Here is another quote from Buddhadasa “These are illustrations of the way in which the ariyan discipline differs from the traditions of ordinary people. According to the traditions of ordinary people, singing, dancing, and laughing are of no consequence and are normal events, while in the ariyan discipline they are looked upon as pathetic. Such is the view of those whose minds are highly developed.”

Yeah, I’d care more about what the Buddha said that what the good Venerable has written. He’s somewhat of an iconoclast.

If you want to observe this part of the eight precepts full time, then that’s great. However if it is causing you stress or doubt, then please don’t.


You are clinging to sense pleasures and it’s the cause of your suffering. You are clinging to the self-view of being a true Buddhist and it’s also the cause of your suffering. Fortunately for you there’s Buddhist practice to help with all this clinging. :slight_smile:


I was wondering how you interpret that last quote where he says [quote=“Mumfie, post:5, topic:28459”]
The point here is not that we should never do such things.
Because to me that only adds to the confusion. In one part of the text he seems to be saying don’t sing and dance, but here it’s like saying we can.

Budai monk in Chinese Buddhist temples is also known as the Laughing Buddha. Why he is laughing?

It’s like I have to choose between one or the other.


People will come on this thread and equivocate with you, but the reality is that these behaviors under discussion are completely contradictory to peace, composure of mind, renunciation, and the abandonment of the world. The ultimate goal of practicing the Dhamma is the total abandonment of craving and clinging towards every single source of ultimately unsatisfactory “satisfaction” that you habitually attempt to extract from your senses through your engagement with the world. Attempting—mind you—while eternally failing to succeed. Singing, dancing, and raucous laughter are completely incompatible with terminating the futile process of attempting to find happiness through passionate living; these behaviors are in fact some of the most intense forms of movement in the exact opposite direction. They are moving in the direction of entanglement, agitation, distraction, heedlessness, craving, and madness. The only behaviors more incompatible with Dhamma would be sexual intercourse and breaking the five precepts.

If you want to practice what is commonly understood as “Buddhism”, then by all means, glean whatever happiness you can from this religious tradition, its mythology and meditation techniques, and then go on living mostly how you already do. Buddhism can be—and usually is— another religion like any other. But if you want to practice the Dhamma then, well, some major life changes are going to be in order.

For a practicioner of Dhamma, sitting and doing nothing all alone in a hut in the forest all day should sound like an appealing lifestyle. Eating a single meal of assorted almsfood a day, all dumped into a jumbled pile in a bowl and scooped out with your bare hands, should sound like an appealing lifestyle. Never having sex or engaging in entertainment or any social or political or economic or artistic activities or shows or gatherings whatsoever should sound like an appealing lifestyle.

With that mode of living that is presented in the EBTs in mind, it’s not hard to imagine how insane something as coarsely sensual as dancing would appear to such deeply restrained, aloof, composed, unproliferated and austere samańas as the Buddha and his disciples.

There is sensuality and there is the end of suffering. Pick one.

You can believe that there isn’t a choice to be made, but that belief will itself be an expression of what choice you’ve made.


This is a kind of “black and white” thinking that’s looking for things to either be one way or the other.

But the Buddhist path isn’t really like that. It’s more of a continuous process of maturing.

The analogy is to playing with toys. It’s not wrong to play with toys. A childhood without would be deprived! But at some point, you grow out of blocks and dolls and so on.

If you’re still frightened by the prospect of “having” to give up X or Y, then now isn’t the time for you to renounce those things, that’s all. Just focus on giving up those habits you already know aren’t serving you.


I’m still confused about how a devout or “true Buddhist” is supposed to live. Buddhadasa seems to be saying they shouldn’t sing or dance at all, while K Sri Dammanada seems to be saying devout Buddhists only temporarily abstain from them when he says: “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.”

Aren’t those contradictory?

Taking his answer as a whole, I believe the ajahn was trying to stretch and challenge his audience, and to inspire in them a wish to live in a dhammically more refined way. But he was also realistic enough to know that there’s a limit to how far this particular audience (Thai university students, mostly from well-off urban middle -class families) was actually open to being stretched. And so he added the part you quoted so as not to scare them off.


Yes, of course. How can you reconcile those two. If singing and dancing was of great concern the Buddha would have admonished some lay people for doing so, yet he hasn’t. So go by the suttas rather than comments by later teachers.

best wishes!


I’m a layperson, not a monk, but never liked singing or dancing anyway.

Don’t try to take me to a disco
You’ll never even get me out on the floor
In ten minutes I’ll be late for the door
Bob Seger

In my version, it would be ten seconds.