Tālaputta and “The Avatar”

When the actor Talaputta went to the Buddha, he had an important question on his mind. And it was one of the few times when the Buddha at first did not want to answer. Not, because he did not know, but because he knew:

SN.42.2 Tālaputo
Then Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain approached the Blessed One, bowed before the Blessed One and sat on a side.
3. Sitting on a side Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain said to the Blessed One: Venerable sir, I have heard, the early teachers of teachers who danced say, `they that danced, said lies as truth to entertain people, made laughter and amusement in front of a crowd, after death will be born with the gods of laughter.’ What does the Blessed One say about this?
Talaputta, enough of it, do not ask me!
4. For the second time…
5. For the third time, Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain said to the Blessed One: Venerable sir, I have heard, the early teachers of teachers who danced say, `they that danced, said lies as truth to entertain people, made laughter and amusement in front of a crowd, after death will be born with the gods of laughter’ What does the Blessed One say about this?
Talaputta, you do not gain by it! Enough! Do not ask me! Yet you ask me I will explain.
6. Talaputta, when beings are greedy, bound by greed, they dance in the midst of crowds and exhibit passionate things to increase attachment, pleasure, and enjoyment. Talaputta, when beings are hateful, bound by hate, they dance in the midst of crowds and exhibit hateful things to increase hatred. Talaputta, when beings are deluded, bound by delusion, they dance in the midst of crowds and exhibit deluded things to increase delusion.
7. These intoxicated and negligent beings intoxicate and cause negligence in others and after death are born in a hell called laughter. If it happens, they cling to a view, `they that danced, said lies as truth to entertain people, made laughter and amusement in front of a crowd, after death will be born with the gods of laughter.’ They will be born with the gods of laughter. It is wrong view to him. Gamini, to a person who has wrong view, I declare two courses of action either hell or an animal womb.
8. Hearing this, Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain cried loudly with tears streaming.
There! Talaputta, I told you it is useless! I told you do not ask me!
Venerable sir, I do not cry for what the Blessed One has told, yet I have been deceived, enticed and cheated by the early teachers of teachers who knew, saying, `they that danced, said lies as truth to entertain people, made laughter and amusement in front of a crowd, after death will be born with the gods of laughter.
9. Venerable sir, now I understand, it is like something overturned is put upright, something covered is made manifest, as though the way was shown when someone has lost his way, as though an oil lamp is lighted for the darkness, for those who have sight to see forms. In this manner the Blessed One has explained the Teaching in many ways. Now I take refuge in the Blessed One. May I gain the going forth and the higher ordination in the Blessed One’s dispensation.
10. Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain, gained the going forth and the higher ordination in the presence of the Blessed One.
11. Soon after his higher ordination Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain became a worthy one (arahant). *

If the recent “The Avatar” movie shows us anything (and I won’t go into its content, because that’s what all of us do anyway day in and day out)  it is the amazing fact of how our world is based on and shaped by our sense impressions – better still: how our cognition interprets the experience of sense-contact.

While we are on an accelerating path to a more and more realistic replication of sense stimuli tricking our mind into generating new worlds (think 3-D technology** and touch devices) we are traveling on the same path as the insight meditator – however in the opposite direction 🙂

This has a fascinating consequence: Similar to the simile of the movie experience [here] this technological advance could be an eye-opener for many samsaric travelers about the nature of their mind and senses. But, more realistically they will probably fall for it, like the devas do: More enticing sense impressions leading to more craving instead of a deeper realization of the “magic show of the mind”.

So, there is or might be a point along that technological vs. insight journey were the insight meditator feels that the world he sees with his natural eyes appears exactly as shallow as the fata morgana presented to him through a screen (still a few centimeters away but coming closer and maybe one day behind the eye instead in front of it. Not really making any difference in the purpose, however 🙂 )

The question then remains, do we want to continue getting fooled by our six-sense-spheres, the names-and-forms and our own cognitive interpretation – or do we intend to disengage and wake up? That is exactly the question Talaputta was faced with, after listening to the Buddha’s answer. He decided to wake up:

Theragatha, v.1091-1145

1. When, O when shall I live all alone
in mountain caves, unmated with desire,
clear seeing as unstable all that comes to be?
This wish of mine, when indeed will it be?

2. When shall I, wearing the patchwork robes
of color dun, be sage, uncraving, never making mine,
with greed, aversion and delusion slain
and to the wild woods gone, in bliss abide?

3. When shall I, this body seeing clear —
unstable nest of dying and disease
oppressed by age and death, dwell free from fear
in the woods alone? When indeed will it be?

4. When indeed shall I dwell seizing the sharpened sword
of wisdom made? When cut the craving creeper —
breeder of fear, bringer of pain and woe,
and twining everywhere? When indeed will it be?

5. When lion-like in the victor’s stance
shall I draw quick the sage’s sword
of wisdom forged and fiery might
quick breaking Mara with his host? When indeed will it be?

6. When myself exerting, shall I be seen
in goodly company of those esteeming Dhamma?
Those with faculties subdued who see things as they are?
Those who are ‘Thus’? When indeed will it be?

7. When indeed will weariness not worry me —
hunger, thirst and wind, heat, bugs and creeping things,
while bent on my own good, the Goal,
in Giribbaja’s wilds? When indeed will it be?

8. When indeed shall I, self-mindful and composed
win to that wisdom known by Him,
the Greatest Sage, the Four Truths won within,
so very hard to see? When indeed will it be?

9. When shall I, possessed of meditation’s calm
with wisdom see the forms innumerable,
sounds, smells and tastes, touches and dhammas too,
as a raging blaze? When will this be for me?

10. When shall I indeed, when with abusive words
addressed, not be displeased because of that,
and then again when praised be neither pleased
because of that? When will this be for me?

11. When shall I indeed weigh as the same:
wood, grass and creepers with these craved-for groups,
both inner and external forms
the dhammas numberless? When will it be for me?

12. When in the season of the black raincloud
shall I follow the path within the wood
trodden by those that See; robes moistened
by new falling rain? When indeed will it be?

13. When in a mountain cave having heard the peacock’s cry,
that crested twice-born, bird down in the wood,
shall I arise and collect together mind
for attaining the undying? When indeed will it be?

14. When shall I, the Ganges and the Yamuna,
the Sarasvati and the awful ocean mouth
of the Balava-abyss, by psychic might
untouching go across? When indeed will it be?

15. When shall I, like charging elephant unbound,
break up desire for sensual happiness
and shunning all the marks of loveliness
strive in concentrated states? When indeed will it be?

16. When, as pauper by his debts distressed,
by creditors oppressed, a treasure finds,
shall I be pleased the Teaching to attain
of the Greatest Sage? When indeed will it be?

17. Long years have I been begged by you
‘Enough for you of this living in a house.’
by now I have gone forth to homelessness
what reason is there, mind, for you not to urge me on?

18. Was I not, O mind, assured by you indeed:
‘The brightly plumaged birds on Giribbaja’s peaks
greeting the thunder, the sound of great Indra,
will bring to you joy meditating in the wood?’

19. Dear ones and friends and kin within the family,
playing and loving, sensual pleasures of the world:
all have I given up and reached at last to this,
even now, O mind, you are not pleased with me.

20. Mine you are, mind, possessed by none but me;
why then lament when comes this time to arm?
Seeing all as unstable this is now renounced:
longing for, desirous of the Undying State.

21. Said He who speaks the best, Best among mankind,
man-taming trainer, Physician Great indeed:
‘Unsteady, likened to a monkey is the mind,
extremely hard to check by not rid of lust.’

22. For varied, sweet, delightful are desires of sense;
blind, foolish common men long have lain in them
seeking after birth again, ’tis they who wish for ill,
by mind they are led on to perish in hell.

23. ‘In the jungle you should dwell, resounding with the cries
of peacocks and herons, by pard and tiger hailed:
Abandon longing for the body — do not fail’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

24. ‘Grow in concentrations, the faculties and powers,
develop wisdom-factors by meditation deep
and then with Triple Knowledge touch the Buddha-sasana.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

25. ‘Grow in the Eightfold Way for gaining the Undying
leading to Release and cleansing of all stains;
Plunge to the utter destruction of all Ill!’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

26. ‘Thoroughly examine the craved-for groups as Ill.
Abandon that from which arises ill.
Here and now make you an end of ill.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

27. ‘Thoroughly see inward the impermanent as ill,
the void as without self, and misery as bane,
and so the mind restrain in its mental wanderings.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

28. ‘Head-shaven and unsightly, go to be reviled,
among the people beg with skull-like bowl in hand.
To the Greatest Sage, the Teacher’s word devote yourself.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge at me on.

29. ‘Wander well-restrained among the streets and families
having a mind to sensual pleasures unattached,
as the full moon shining clear at night.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

30. ‘You should be a forest-dweller, almsman too,
a graveyard-dweller and a rag-robe wearer too,
one never lying down, delighting in austerities.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

31. As he who having planted trees about to fruit
should wish to cut a tree down to the root:
that simile you made, mind, that do you desire
when on me urge the unstable and the frail.

32. Formless one, far-traveler, a wanderer alone,
no more shall I your bidding do, for sense desires
are ill, leading to bitter fruit, to brooding fear:
with mind Nibbana-turned I shall walk on.

33. Not from lack of luck did I go forth,
nor shamelessness, nor caused by mind’s inconstancy,
nor banishment nor caused by livelihood,
and therefore I agreed with you, O mind.

34. ‘Having few wishes, disparagement’s abandoning,
with the stilling of all ill is praised by goodly men’
so indeed, my mind, then you urged at me,
but now you go back to habits made of old.

35. Craving, unknowing, the liked and the disliked,
delighting in forms and pleasing feelings too,
dear pleasures of the senses — all have been vomited:
never to that vomit can I make myself return.

36. In every life, O mind, your word was done by me,
In many births I have not sought to anger you.
That which within oneself produced by you, ingrate,
long wandered on in ill create by you.

37. Indeed it is you, mind, makes us brahmanas,
you make us noble warriors, kings and seers as well,
sometimes it is merchant or workers become,
or led by you indeed we come to gods’ estate.

38. Indeed you are the cause of becoming titans too,
and you are the root for becoming in the hells;
sometimes there is going to birth as animals,
or led by you indeed be come to ghosts’ estate.

39. Not now will you injure me ever and again,
moment by moment as though showing me a play,
as with one gone mad you play with me —
but how, O mind, have you been failed by me?

40. Formerly this wandering mind, a wanderer,
went where it wished, wherever whim or pleasure led,
today I shall thoroughly restrain it
as a trainer’s hook the elephant in rut.

41. He, the Master made me see this world —
unstable, unsteady, lacking any essence;
now in the Conqueror’s Teaching, mind make me leap
cross me over the great floods so very hard to cross!

42. Now it’s not for you, mind, as it was before,
not likely am I to return to your control —
in the Greatest Sage’s Sasana I have gone forth
and those like me are not by ruin wrapped.

43. Mountains, seas, rivers, and this wealthy world,
four quarters, points between, the nadir and the heavens
all the Three Becomings unstable and oppressed.
Where, mind, having gone will you happily delight?

44. Firm, firm in my aim! What will you do, my mind?
No longer in your power, mind, nor your follower.
None would even handle a double-ended sack,
let be a thing filled full and flowing with nine streams.

45. Whether peak or slopes or fair open space
or forest besprinkled with fresh showers in the Rains,
where frequently are found boar and antelope,
there will you delight to a grotto-lodging gone.

46. Fair blue-throated and fair-crested, the peacock fair of tail,
wing-plumes of many hues, the passengers of air,
greeting the thunder with fair-sounding cries
will bring to you joy meditating in the wood.

47. When the sky-god rains on the four inch grass
and on full-flowering cloud-like woods,
within the mountains like a log I’ll lie
and soft that seat to me as cotton down.

48. Thus will I do even as a master should:
Let whatever is obtained be enough for me,
that indeed I’ll do to you as energetic man
by taming makes supple a catskin bag.

49. Thus will I do even as a master should;
Let whatever is obtained be enough for me,
by energy I’ll bring you in my power
as a skilled trainer the elephant in rut.

50. With you well-tamed, no longer turning round,
like to a trainer with a straight running horse,
I am able to practice the safe and blissful Path
ever frequented by them who guard the mind.

51. I’ll bind you by strength to the meditation-base
as elephant to post by a strong rope bound;
well-guarded by me, well-grown with mindfulness,
you shall, by all becomings, be without support.

52. With wisdom cutting off wending the wrong path,
by endeavor restrained, established in the Path,
having seen the origin of passing, rising too —
you will be an heir to the Speaker of the Best.

53. You dragged me, mind, as on an ox’s round,
in the power of the Four Perversions set;
come now, serve the Great Sage, Compassionate,
He the sure cutter of fetters and bonds.

54. As a deer roams in the very varied woods
and goes to the pleasant crest garlanded by clouds,
so there you will delight on that unentangled mount.
There is no doubt, mind, you’ll be established there.

55. Men and women enjoying any happiness
controlled by thy desires and delighting in life,
blind fools they are who comply with Mara’s power,
they driven on, O mind, servants are of thee.



*This text has been quoted frequently to show Buddha’s negative stance on entertainment. And that is true and makes sense once one is looking at the Buddha’s evaluation of sensual pleasure vs. devine happiness or any form of existence vs. Nibbana. In this context, however, the text itself shows that at the same time the only beneficial art form would be one were the artist strives to free himself from greed, hatred and delusion and tries to decrease greed, decrease hatred and decrease delusion in the audience. As we all know, this does not happen very often in the realm of entertainment but Venerable Talaputta, in this Theragatha (poem of the elders), gives a prime example how such an enlightening art work could look like 🙂

** Real3D: (Wikipedia)


RealD 3D cinema technology uses circularly polarized light to produce stereoscopic image projection. Circular polarization technology has the advantage over linear polarization methods in that viewers are able to tilt their head and look about the theater naturally with no loss of 3D perception, whereas linear polarization projection requires viewers to keep their head orientation aligned within a narrow range of tilt for effective 3D perception; otherwise they may see double or darkened images.[6]

The projector alternately projects right-eye frames and left-eye frames 144 times per second. [6] It circularly polarizes these frames, clockwise for the right eye and counterclockwise for the left eye. A push-pull electro-optical liquid crystal modulator called a ZScreen is placed immediately in front of the projector lens to switch polarization. The audience wears spectacles with oppositely circularly polarized lenses to ensure each eye sees only its designated frame, even if the head is tilted. In RealD Cinema, each frame is projected three times to reduce flicker, a system called triple flash. The source video is usually produced at 24 frames per second per eye (total 48 frames/s), which may result in subtle ghosting and stuttering on horizontal camera movements. A silver screen is used to maintain the light polarization upon reflection and to reduce reflection loss to counter the inherent losses by the polarization filters. The result is a 3D picture that seems to extend behind and in front of the screen itself.[7]

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