354. Thus have I heard — On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha in the Squirrel Sanctuary in the Bamboo Grove. Then Tālapuṭa,¹ a leader of a troupe of actors, approached the Blessed One, and having approached, paid homage and sat at one side. Sitting at one side Tālapuṭa said to the Blessed One:–
“I have heard, venerable sir, as it has been passed down by the lineage of teachers of actors, ‘If an actor in the centre of the stage in the midst of a festival, makes the audience laugh,² after death on the breakup of the body he is reborn among the laughing deities.’ What does the Blessed One say about this?”
“Enough, headman, set this aside. Do not ask me this.”
A second time, Tālapuṭa … a third time, Tālapuṭa said …
“Evidently, I have not been able to get you to set this question aside, and not ask me this, so I will tell you. Headman, an actor in the centre of the stage in the midst of a festival, focuses on things that excite lust, those beings who are not free from lust to start with, who are bound with the bond of lust, making them even more lustful. Headman, an actor in the centre of the stage in the midst of a festival, focuses on things that excite anger, those beings who are not free from anger to start with, who are bound with the bond of anger, making them even more angry. Headman, an actor in the centre of the stage in the midst of a festival, focuses on things that excite delusion, those beings who are not free from delusion to start with, who are bound with the bond of delusion, making them even more deluded. He, being intoxicated and heedless himself having made others intoxicated and heedless, after death on the breakup of the body he is reborn in the laughing hell. If one holds this view: ‘If an actor in the centre of the stage in the midst of a festival, makes the audience laugh, after death on the breakup of the body he is reborn among the laughing deities,’ this is a wrong-view. For an individual holding wrong-view, headman, I declare one of two destinations — hell or the animal womb.”
When this was said, Tālapuṭa cried and shed tears.
“I was not able to get you to set this question aside, and not ask me this.”
“I am not crying, venerable sir, because the Blessed One said this, but, venerable sir, for a long time I have been cheated, deceived, and seduced by the lineage of the teachers of actors that ‘If an actor in the centre of the stage in the midst of a festival, makes the audience laugh, after death on the breakup of the body he is reborn among the laughing deities.’
“It is wonderful, venerable sir, it is marvellous, venerable sir! It is as if, venerable sir, what was overturned was set upright, what was concealed was revealed, the right path was pointed out to one who was lost, or a light was brought into the darkness so that those with eyes could see forms. Thus the Blessed One has point out the Dhamma in various ways. venerable sir, I take refuge in the Blessed One, the Dhamma, and the Saṅgha. venerable sir, may I obtain the going-forth in the presence of the Blessed One, may I receive the higher ordination?”
Then Tālapuṭa the leader of a troupe of actors received the going-forth and the higher ordination in the presence of the Blessed One. No long after his ordination the Venerable Tālapuṭa attained the goal for which clansmen rightly go forth, realising higher knowledge and abiding in it he knew: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what should be done has been done, there will be no more of this.” The Venerable Tālapuṭa became another of the Arahants.³
1. This discourse is followed by three similar discourses: the Yodhājīva Suttaṃ (S.iv.308), the Hatthāroha Suttaṃ (S.iv.309), and the Assāroha Suttaṃ (S.iv.310). A soldier, an elephant mahout, and a cavalryman approached the Blessed One and asked him if it was true that warriors who were killed while fighting in battle were reborn in heaven. The Buddha explained that since they were striving with ill-will, trying to kill others at the time of their death, they would be reborn in hell, and if they believed that they would be reborn in heaven, that was a wrong-view, with one of two definite results. At the end of each discourse, the warriors all took refuge, but they did not request the going-forth as Tālapuṭa had done. Apparently, their perfections were not yet ripe, or perhaps because they were still enlisted, they were not free to ordain. The monks cannot give the going-forth to someone who is still a member of the military. No doubt these teachings will be very unpopular with members of the military and their relatives, who have been tricked, deceived, and seduced for a long time by war films and propaganda that to fight the enemies of the state is an heroic and noble deed. If they read this, they should reflect carefully on what their mental state is when fighting in a battle, when killing or trying to kill enemy soldiers, and what their last thoughts will be like if they are killed while engaged in battle. If war and killing cannot be avoided, at least one should be aware that killing is an unwholesome deed, and is not something to be praised.
2. This seems to refer to comedians or comic actors, but focusing the mind of the audience on lust, anger, and delusion is also done by movie or stage actors in dramas. War movies, disaster movies, sci-fi movies, even cartoons — they all excite unwholesome mental states. Only very few movies and plays stimulate wholesome mental states such as faith, moral shame, generosity, compassion, etc. Even in movies that include moral lessons, the entire story is often a complete fabrication, so delusion will predominate. Traditional Buddhist entertainments that relate stories from the Jātaka commentaries may be an exception to the general rule as they aim at teaching the Dhamma.
3. The Verses of Tālapuṭa are found in the Theragāthā. Thag.96, vv.1094-1148.