Saturday, May 2, 2009

Commandments And Precepts VIII

The seventh of the eighth Precept is, I take the precept to abstain from dancing (nacca), singing (gita), music (vadita), visual entertainments (visukadassana), wearing garlands (malagandha), cosmetics (vilepana) and wearing (dharana) ornaments (mandana) and various decorations (vibhusanatthana). Now as soon as people, particularly Westerners, learn of this Precept they immidatly think of the Puritans or their modern-day equivalents, those gloomy religious fanatics who in we Australians used to call them 'wousers'. Now I believe they call them 'the fun police'. These types believed that people should live with a continual sense of sin and in fear of God, and and anything that diverted attention from such thoughts was wrong. In other words, their objections to people enjoying themselves was, you might say, religious. The seventh Precept is not about religion, it is about psychology.
The list of things mentioned in the seventh Precept can be divided into two parts, (1) popular entertainment, and (2) personal adornment. Now the purpose of entertainment is to do or participate in activities that stimulate, titillate and arouse the mind in ways that are pleasant, a perfectly normal and legitimate persuite – at the right time and in the right place. For example, dancing to music would be appropriate at a party or a wedding, but it would be completely out of place at a medical conference, or a parliamentary debate on the budget. Why? Because one of the purposes of a wedding or a party is to have fun, while the other activities have more serious and important goals and singing and dancing would be a distraction. Once or twice a month, the mature Buddhist takes the opportunity to focus fully on contemplating the Dhamma and trying to purify the mind, and as singing, dancing or other entertainment would be a distraction to this serious goal he or she abstains from those such things for the day.
What about personal adornment? The purpose of wearing cosmetics and jewellery is to enhance physical beauty or to make the ordinary look more attractive – a perfectly normal and legitimate persuite. But personal adornment is, one would have to admit, a 'cover up'. It is an attempt to deceive, to make something look better than it really is. It is motivated by the need to win attention, approval or the admiration of others. Nothing wrong with that either, within reason. However, once or twice a month the mature Buddhist wants to spend time trying to 'see things as they really are'. He or she wants to be more concerned about being in complete harmony with the Dhamma rather than trying to present a 'front' to others. Therefore, on that day, he or she will not bother about how they look.

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