What did the Buddha mean by 'music'?

Satisfied, the mendicants were happy with what Sāriputta said. - DN33

Maybe that should read: Neither satisfied nor unsatisfied, the mendicants remained in equanimity with what Sāriputta said. :wink:

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I think it’s about intention more than anything else. A monastic who hears music as they’re going on almsround can’t help if their mind finds flits off and finds delight in it. Old habits die hard and the mind often whisks off to where it wants. Hopefully they would be mindful enough to realize what’s going on and redirect the mind to a wholesome object. There’s no fault there. If that monastic found themselves favoring a particular alms-route so they could delight in music while along it, that is a fault. Similarly with birdsong, sounds of nature, etc. At a high level of diligence in practice, one is seeking to fully replace one’s delight in the 5 cords of sensual pleasure with delight in the Dhamma which occurs at the mind.


I have come at this from a slightly different direction within my practice. I’ve never set out to enforce the precepts, but rather found that the deeper one is immersed in the Dhamma and mindfulness, the less appealing ANY distractions become. Music is a hollow distraction that draws attention away from what is perceived as important. As such it is interferring with equanimity. As such it is preferable not to have this distraction. If it is unavoidable, then it’s just part of what is noticed. But the purposeful seeking out of distractions becomes distasteful. The same with reading non-dhamma, watching tv, engaging in small talk, etc etc.

I understand that one may need to restrain these things in the beginning, especially if one can not abide in seclusion for any significant amounts of time. So my perspective is that enforcing the precepts is like mimicking the conditions that arise from seclusion.

The interesting thing IMO is that the outcome (disenchantment with these things) is a natural result of right mindfulness.

I hope this is useful and sparks another perspective :slight_smile:


IMO he meant dance rhythms and ear worms. That thump thump that gets in your heart whether its a frame drum or electronic bass. And that repeating lick, that riff, that Ohrwurm. IMO that’s what he means.

Or the fourth note of Beethoven’s 14th String Quartet IMO


Ok, what about white sound generaters, or environmental records such as surf? Thoughts?

@Polarbear From your later post

The point in chanting and dhamma talks should ideally be to grasp the meaning of the sentences being chanted or spoken. If one indulges in the pleasant sound I’d say that is problematic.

… “should” these be delivered via computer generated voices?

It seems to me that at some point, disembodying communication from theses fortunate human-life lives becomes a barrier.

(No species-ism intended!)


If listening to music is the worse thing one does as a human, then you’re still doing pretty well!

Let’s not be too hard on ourselves or others, not everyone is a renunciant. We don’t want Buddhists to be seen as the kind of fundamentalists who try to ban music in their countries, yeah? I think it’s important for general readers on this forum to know that the 7th precept is for committed Dhamma practitioners. One can still be a Buddhist and listen to music. Interestingly, many people listen to music to calm down or to find a sense of beauty in their life. Others use it to create joy. All of these are far better than some other sorts of activities which are actually more harmful. Some forms of Buddhism and other religions use music as a spiritual tool. For some, it’s a pathway into meditation. I know many monks who are former musicians and they turned out ok, so it’s not an evil… And listening to it might not be a black and white, good or bad thing, especially for most Buddhists, who are lay people.

Humanity’s relationship to music is very complex and it has played an important part of our evolution. Don’t feel too upset if you still like a bit if Bach or Metallica even. There are sounds all around us at all times and even the engine of a bus or the hum of an air conditioner can turn musical when you haven’t heard music for a long time!
As you practice more meditation you might find you want less music in your life, and more quietness. But to be clear, for most people, you don’t need to give up music to be a buddhist.


I don’t think that people living in monasteries or renunciants should be listening to white sound or environmental records. If they think they need it to sleep well, the Buddhist answer would be to try Metta:

“Mendicants, you can expect eleven benefits when the heart’s release by love has been cultivated, developed, and practiced, made a vehicle and a basis, kept up, consolidated, and properly implemented.

What eleven? You sleep well. You wake happily. You don’t have bad dreams…- AN11.15

This is because someone striving to realize that nothing is worth adhering to shouldn’t depend on music as a source of well-being.

For monastics and non-monastic renunciants and monastery dwellers, I think the below advice applies:

“Don’t indulge in sensual pleasures, which are low, crude, ordinary, ignoble, and pointless. And don’t indulge in self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and pointless. Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One woke up by understanding the middle way, which gives vision and knowledge, and leads to peace, direct knowledge, awakening, and extinguishment…

Know how to assess different kinds of pleasure. Knowing this, pursue inner bliss. - MN139

Using sound as a source of pleasure is in opposition to the internalization of well-being, I.e. inner bliss.

I think monastics should ideally chant according to the guidelines laid down by the Buddha.

Agreed, I was listening to some pretty sweet ragas on Pandora’s Indian Classical Radio Station today. My points on the whole no music deal only apply when one is at a monastery or if one is not at one but is a monastic or has taken on the 7th precept as a practice.

I myself usually listen to music at least 3 days a week. I did not mean to come across as criticizing lay people, such as myself, who listen to music when not following the 7th precept.

The OP was asking about the conduct of arahants and the proper following of the 7th precept and all my responses about not listening to music should be read with that in mind.



ok, ty, fyi white noise is also a sound barrier, made to cancel out soundwaves, by physics. It’s not a medicine, though it can be therapeutic or helpful to lowering distractions or input.

One of things I notice, in living as I now do in poorer areas, is that quiet is a luxury the poor often cannot have. Thin walls, closer quarters, less vegetation,… Everyone makes do, as best they can.

edit: oh, I do use Metta meditation often when I lie down, it’s wonderful, and I think good practice for eventual death. Also good of course during wake cycle. And of course breath meditation, can be effective at both those times, as well, though I prefer to do just one at a time usually.


If this was so, I totally misread the OP! zif this was so, I apologize; please, disregard my comments as they certainly are not advice to or effort to describe the conduct or perspective of arahants!

=D running away now, as quietly as possible but with speed! While keeping (somehow) my right side towards any arahants nearby!



I’m now listening to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports and checked out some of Chris Watson’s field recordings. So thanks :headphones:




I’m reading this thread at a blues festival, but nothing for me when on retreat, except perhaps 4’33”. :zipper_mouth_face:


Well, as is often the case, I wasn’t really sure what I asking in the OP :blush:, but I think that things are becoming clearer with all of your kind responses so far… :thinking:

… I’m not a Buddhist, but I’m attempting to integrate some of the Buddha’s advice into my practices. I guess that I’m interested in how you guys pick up, handle and use the idea contained within the 7th precept of not listening to music. I’m also interested (as always) in how we can take these ancient ideas and apply them in our modern world.

So the advice to not listen to music seems to be within the broader category of not seeing shows. Which makes a lot of sense in the time of the Buddha. If you wanted to listen to some music, you would need to go and hang out where the musicians are. Now that behaviour is fraught with a lot of problems for practice as you are now involving yourself in socialising with others and a two way communication between performer and audience - play and applause for example. Today it is different we can listen to music without the need for a performer - we can alter our sonic world at the press of a button.

Since I last posted I have spent a few hours, eyes closed, in a room without any other humans, sitting in front of an open fire with it’s crackling and spitting playing beautifully on my ears. Occasionally one of the old dogs would come in and their deep breathing and occasional snoring would also become part of my delightful sonic environment engendering deep love and appreciation. Then came that natural turning inwards towards deeper states of calm, peace and happiness where those sounds retreat. Then after some time, a natural return to the world of the senses as I return to the sound of the fire and slumbering dogs accompanied this time with the little pitter patter of rain on the windows. So these sensory (delightful, subtle, musical??) periods form handles on either side of that deeper non-sensory experience. One might say that I have built here a suitable place for meditation?

In one of the suttas if I remember correctly (hopefully one of you wonderful people will be able to supply a reference - I have tried but can’t find it so maybe my memory is faulty), the Buddha gives up the ascetic life but finds a suitable place for striving - maybe a secluded grove or a glade in the forest - something like that. Now, there are a lot of ‘natural’ sounds in those sorts of places - birds, insects, rain on leaves. If my memory serves correctly the Buddha does seem to delight in finding this place.

As @ERose suggested, in the modern world it is difficult to find such places. But these days we can alter our sonic environment to a great degree to block out some sounds and promote others to the forefront. Perhaps this gives us opportunities to create a personal space that is suitable for striving?

One assumption was that all practicing Buddhists on this forum would be engaging with these 8 precepts at least once every two weeks on uposatha days.

You might want to check out the late Pauline Oliveros and her work on Deep Listening and Sonic Awareness too.



I think there’s many people like yourself who use this forum but are not Buddhists. Also, lots of people who are attracted to Buddhism would still hesitate to call themselves Buddhists, and there are many people who are Buddhist but still don’t follow the 5 precepts, let alone 8! :grinning:

It’s great that you’re here and so open minded. It’s good for us Buddhists to remember that other readers are not Buddhists, or are curious maybe-Buddhists, or entirely new Buddhists, so we should temper our more dogmatic tendencies here.


I have asked a similar question before.

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Thank you. This seems a sensible way to handle it. Those musical bits that rattle around your head. These are the sort of sonic things that get in the way during meditation.

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That was a nice thread. I’m wondering where you draw the line between sound and music yourself?

I found it amusing that Thag 4.1 was offered as a counter, where it was said:

Thag 4.1 is a verse and when I sounded it out (as verses need to be) even using my beginners pali it sounded most musical! :wink:

“Alaṅkatā suvasanā,
mālinī candanussadā;
Majjhe mahāpathe nārī,
tūriye naccati naṭṭakī.

Piṇḍikāya paviṭṭhohaṃ,
gacchanto naṃ udikkhisaṃ;
Alaṅkataṃ suvasanaṃ,
maccupāsaṃva oḍḍitaṃ.

Tato me manasīkāro,
yoniso udapajjatha;
Ādīnavo pāturahu,
nibbidā samatiṭṭhatha.

Tato cittaṃ vimucci me,
passa dhammasudhammataṃ;
Tisso vijjā anuppattā,
kataṃ buddhassa sāsanan”ti.


'dem bones, 'dem bones,
ooooooh 'dem bones,
'dem bag 'o bones.


I feel that Buddhist conduct for practitioners, that the Buddha taught at least, was all focused around jhāna training. He wanted people to stop the tendency to chase after sensual affect, or emotional affect triggered by sensory affect, and instead train in the deliberate generation of non-sense-based affect, such as pīti, sukha and so on.

So, there are many rules to isolate us from generating pleasant sensory affect, such as avoiding eating for pleasure, not refusing unpleasant tasting food, only using clothes and shelter to stop unnecessary negative homeostatic affect (hunger, thirst, illness) and negative sensory affect (insect bites, cold etc.) but not for sensory enjoyment, not using perfume, avoiding shows and music etc., and not even chanting the suttas musically.

I think that it’s worth remembering that this is about jhāna practice - to stop us from being stuck in the sense shpere, unable to break through to the non-sense sphere of jhāna. Why? Because most people have no intention to do jhāna practice, and indeed most of Buddhism has rejected jhāna practice. So in that case they have no need for these rules, it just makes them stuffy protestant-type people for no good reason!

Interestingly, I wonder whether the Mahayana rejection of these types of rules, engaging more in the sense pleasures (Vajrayana in particular perhaps, though of course plenty of Japanese Buddhism also), might be directly connected to their rejection of jhāna.


You present a dichotomy of two. Jhāna vs. sensual.

Yet there is a third. The battle between jhāna and sensual ceases with the ending of the search. It ends with Right Freedom.


This is a big part of it, certainly. But there’s another aspect as well. Even for non-renunciate Buddhist who is not practicing jhana, or even trying to attain it, there are still drawbacks to sensual pleasures:

[F]or the sake of sensual pleasures kings fight with kings, aristocrats fight with aristocrats, brahmins fight with brahmins, and householders fight with householders. A mother fights with her child, child with mother, father with child, and child with father. Brother fights with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, and friend fights with friend. Once they’ve started quarreling, arguing, and fighting, they attack each other with fists, stones, rods, and swords, resulting in death and deadly pain. This too is a drawback of sensual pleasures apparent in this very life, a mass of suffering caused by sensual pleasures.

How much does listening to one song, one album, or one concert contribute to this? Only an infinitesimal amount, to be sure. But it’s probably good to have a reminder that sensual pleasures easily tempt people into cruelty. Wear them lightly at best!