Many Buddhist scriptures include a list of games that Buddha would not play. It is the first list of games in history.
So, what did Gautama Buddha have against games? Well, the Brahmajāla Sutta – one of the scriptural texts of Theravāda Buddhism – lists many things that are best to avoid if you want to be free of cravings and longings. These range from the obvious (murder, theft, lying) to the tricky (not talking “in clear, detailed, and understandable words”) to the downright difficult (using make-up, having a fancy bed, or “discussing people, politicians, criminals, terrors, food and beverages, clothing, places, families, cities, wars and battles, heroes, ghosts, street rumors, speculation on how the world is created, or about existence and non-existence”).
Now that I think on that last restriction, I think I’ve covered most of those topics in this blog. Damn.
Included in the Brahmajāla Sutta’s list of things to avoid were games. This list dates back to the 6th or 5th century BCE. Because it lists specific games, it’s actually the first recorded list of games. For example, it prohibits those played on boards with an 8×8 or 10×10 grid. And you can’t get around this by just imagining the board either – the list specifically calls that out. Sorry, rules lawyers. Also, why are 9×9 grids okay?
No hop-scotch. No dice. No balls. No toy pipes, ploughs, windmills, carts, or bows. You shouldn’t trace a word on a friend’s back and then have them guess what it was. I’ve never heard of this game, but my friends reliably inform me that it’s still pretty common. No making fun of disabilities (okay, that one I agree with). No pick-up sticks.
Actually, the description of pick-up sticks (“games where players either remove pieces from a pile or add pieces to it, with the loser being the one who causes the heap to shake”) sounds a lot like Jenga. So there you go, Buddha would not play Jenga.