Buddha won’t play

Lauching BuddhaThere is a list of games on Wikipedia which appears in a number of Buddhist works such as the Vinaya Pitaka (a monastic rule for monks and nuns) and which apparently Buddha would not play. Check it out.

  1. Games on boards with 8 or 10 rows (note that Chess as we know it was not invented at this time, though earlier Chess-like games such as Chaturaji may have existed
  2. The same games played on imaginary boards
  3. Marking diagrams on the floor such that the player can only walk on certain places.
  4. Using nails to place or remove pieces from a heap with the loser being the one who causes the heap to wobble (such as pick-up sticks).
  5. Throwing dice
  6. Hitting a short stick with a long stick (there is still some debate about the translation of this line)
  7. Drawing a figure on the ground or wall after dipping a finger in lac, red dye, flour or water, and having the other players guess what the picture is going to be (a guessing game similar to Pictionary).
  8. Ball games.
  9. Playing with toy pipes made of leaves.
  10. Ploughing with toy plough.
  11. Somersaulting.
  12. Playing with toy windmills.
  13. Playing with toy measures.
  14. Playing with toy carts.
  15. Playing with toy bows.
  16. Guessing at letters traced with the finger in the air or on a friend’s back.
  17. Guessing a friend’s thoughts.
  18. Imitating deformities.

What does it mean? There are a few musings on this post from the Ludologist, some of which I reckon might be near the mark, for instance that they are not helpful towards someone working towards peace and enlightenment. He may have been focusing on those games which were most detrimental to humans as he saw it, for instance, games that attracted particularly high levels of gambling (which is addictive and highly destructive) or games that seemed to move towards witchcraft of some sort, such as the game trying to guess another’s thoughts. Obviously making fun of someone with deformities is grossly insensitive and unfair.

Anyway,  I found it intriguing because there is little evidence of frivolous play in Jesus’s life or any gospels within the accepted canon. It is true that he took ritual seriously, engaged in communal identity and accepted the play of the universe against him as it represented God’s will. He certainly played with people’s expectations of him and he wasn’t averse to enjoying the kind of frivolous relaxation which would eventually get him in trouble iwth the authorities (The wedding at Cana and the walk through the corn fields on the Sabbath).

I think the absence of such a list is just another example of how unprescriptive the Bible can be, a guideline for life rather than a rigid set of rules that must be adhered to and perhaps can be circumvented.


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