Campaign calls on tourists to boycott Buddha souvenirsDecember 2, 2019
Violence against Buddha – A History of BlasphemyDecember 2, 2019
12 October 2016
Off one of Bangkok’s busy streets is a winding road bedecked with businesses, condominiums, a Christian Church,
and near its end, the School of Life. It is here that one can find the base of operations for the
Knowing Buddha Organization.
Only four years old, the KBO boasts over 5,000 members and has effectively launched campaigns to protect
Buddha images in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and Thailand. KBO is the brainchild of a young Thai
entrepreneur turned meditation master, Acharavadee Wongsakon.
Since its inception, the organization has successfully coordinated 100 cases to protect Buddha images worldwide. Many of
the KBO’s campaigns have been quite successful.
Buddha images on toilet lids were removed in France, seductive poses in front of Buddha
images in Maxim magazine were cancelled. In 2013, the Dutch company Boels created Buddha image toilet boxes in Brunssum,
Netherlands. KBO wrote to the embassy on January 25, 2013, requesting that the government take action. The Netherlands
responded immediately; they ordered a removal of the toilet boxes and followed with an apology letter on February 15, 2013.
KBO considers these problems the result of a general ignorance about Buddhism.
In a world of mass commercialization that transforms Buddha heads into flower pots, the KBO acts as a transnational censor. Acharavadee sees Thailand integral to the larger global problem of disrespecting Buddha images. While most Thais do not disrespect the images, they mass produce and sell these images to foreigners, who take them abroad and use them for various commercial interests. One of the ways to combat this problem has been through protesting the manufacturing of Buddha heads.Acharavadee has channeled her entrepreneurial skills and
business tactics into artistically powerful productions of the KBO website, Facebook page, LCD displays, billboards, DVDs and
Her efforts have not gone unrewarded. There is wide support of the KBO; in addition to its growing number of members,
the organization receives significant contributions from local and national Thai businesses. KBO is comprised largely of educated Thais,
the majority of which are female. Their wide membership also attracts local Thais who occasionally join in their marches, such as the annual
protest down the famous backpacker streets of Khao Sarn Road. They post brochures in tourist favorite Grand Palace and have submitted a video campaign for Thai Airways.
The majority of scholarship on Buddhism and globalization track the ways in which Buddhists use technologies to enhance the dissemination of the dhamma and the growth of Buddhist transnational organizations. While globalization provides promises, it also provides problems. In Thailand, Acharavadee’s Knowing Buddha Organization seeks to redress the global commercialization of the Buddha image, which they consider a desecration of the sacred.
This paper examines the methods in which the Knowing Buddha Organization (KBO) engages in the consumerism of Buddha images internationally and on a national level. This paper draws upon ethnographic work with KBO practitioners and organizers and locates their efforts in the larger discourse on Buddhism and blasphemy.