Is It Alright For Buddhists To Gamble?

As featured in September 2018 issue of ‘For You Information’ (佛友资讯)

What furthers greed, hatred and delusion
should not be supported in any way.
What furthers generosity, compassion and wisdom
should be supported all the way.

– Stonepeace | Books

Often, Buddhist friends are curious about why the Buddha did not discourage gambling by making it a precept to be upheld. Indeed, at least in the basic lay moral guidelines of the Five Precepts (against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and taking of intoxicants), they do not frown upon gambling. However, this does not mean it is considered wholesome or encouraged.

The Buddha probably did not straightaway teach against gambling because it is not always perceived as a direct misgiving by those involved. For instance, if that staked when betting was not attained through killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and support of intoxication, the cash or kind spent is not of evil origin, and that won might not be used for doing evil too. Perhaps the Buddha did not want to seem like a ‘killjoy’ at first, before laying foundations for more advanced moral teachings?

When engaged in gambling of any kind, the intention is surely to win – as much as possible too. This is especially tempting when the means to participate are legal, with the lure of big prize money pending. (Think lottery draws with accumulated unclaimed wins.) The motivating factor is greed. Of course, some wish to win, as motivated by compassion instead – to donate to the needy. However, these folks are far and few between. In fact, it is hard to find those who donate more than keep their winnings.

Usually forgotten is the truth that to win, there must be karma that allows it. Counterintuitively, the direct cause of wealth is diligent generosity in the present and past lives. By giving to others for their material and spiritual needs, one will karmically have abundance sooner or later. This also means that when money is staked in a bet, there is depletion of one’s limited positive karmic ‘abundance’. Even if big money is won, there is significant depletion of one’s store of positive karma, with it ‘cashed out’.

What happens after much positive karma is expended? Studies show that many who struck it big with sudden fortunes tend to have their lives go downhill merely a few years later. This is due to loss of trust of family and friends, especially after their wins get publicised. There is the perpetual bugging question of, ‘Is he or she nice to me only for my money?’ If without change in the original greed that propelled the gambling, the winner is likely to deludedly waste or ‘invest’ the prize money unskilfully, making even millions ‘easy come, easy go’.

As such, Buddhist teachers advise that it is wiser to live frugally, to cherish, cultivate and use our blessings bit by bit. Why condition crazy upheavals, by having much positive karma abruptly exhausting, that leaves significant negative karma next in line to come? Our positive karma should be skilfully used to further our much more consequential spiritual lives, instead of ‘perpetuating’ already fleeting material lives.

Whether personally donating ‘back’ to society or not, some might argue that since state-run gambling boards do some charity and provide work for those involved, it ought to be alright to gamble through them. However, if the takings are fuelled by the poison of the masses’ greed, it is surely better not to support it.

Also, when one gambles, the main intention is always to win big; not to do charity sincerely. Lacking clear altruistic intentions, most gamblers cannot be considered charitable merely due to gambling. Ironically, even criminals who might profit from illegal gambling occasionally do some charity – as if to ‘make up’ for their misgivings? But surely, society at large would prefer none of their harmful crimes to thrive in the first place. As Buddhists, we should strive to wholeheartedly avoid doing all evil, while diligently cultivating all good.

Beyond context of the Five Precepts, as a general yet important teaching, especially for laypeople, the Buddha advised against gambling in the Sigalovada Sutta – ‘These are the six dangers inherent in compulsive gambling: winning breeds resentment [among the losers, who might become enemies]; the loser mourns lost property; savings are lost; one’s word carries no weight in a public forum [due to habitual greed expressed through much gambling]; friends and colleagues display their contempt [as gamblers tend to be greedy and lazy]; and one is not sought after for marriage, since a gambler cannot adequately support a family.’ Although these dangers pertain to compulsive gamblers, it is noteworthy that compulsive gamblers seldom admit their addiction, while all addictions start from small ‘dosages’ assumed to be ‘safe’… until they become truly dangerous!

In advanced teachings, of the ‘Brahma Net Sutra’s Bodhisattva Precepts’ (梵网经菩萨戒本) Thirty-Third [Secondary] Precept On [Coarse] Apprehension [And Fine] Analysis [Of] Evil Livelihoods’ (第三十三邪业觉观[轻]戒), the Buddha taught that, ‘If [as] Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, … [they] should not gamble [in “games” with throwing of five-coloured dice], surround chess [i.e. “go”], prasena [i.e. military chess], flicking chess, six gambles [i.e. a board game], bouncing ball [matches], throwing stones, casting pots, [chess with] eight leading paths [for] moving cities… Each and every one must not be done. If intentionally doing them, they commit a light[er] defiled misgiving.’ (若佛子,… 不得樗蒲、围碁、波罗塞戏、弹碁、六博、拍球、掷石、投壶、牽道八道行城。… 一一不得作。若故作者,犯轻垢罪。)

To summarise, the Buddha instructed that practicising monastic and lay Bodhisattvas, who are those keen on attaining the spiritual perfection of Buddhahood, should not participate in any form of gambling, even via all manners of games and sports, be they simple or complex. This strict prohibition is considered an advanced teaching since the path towards spiritual perfection is to help one and all rid the Three Poisons – here, of greed (that motivates gambling), hatred (that might be stirred when losing) and delusion (that winning will suddenly make life ‘better’).

We should simply reflect on how there seems to be no prominent greedy ones in history, with windfalls of fortune, whose lives did turn for the better once and for all, who lived happily ever after. This is while there are many cases of big winners who become bigger losers when ‘landslides’ of misfortune fall next!

That which is legal
is not always moral.
That which is moral
is not always legal.

– Stonepeace | Books

Related Articles:

Is The Gambling Trade Right Livelihood?
Should We Receive Charitiable Donations From All?
Kasino Karma
Charity & Lottery?
Gambling or Investing?

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