Bangkok Post Newspaper
PUBLISHED : 25 JUL 2012 AT 00:00
I believe all of us must have had someone whom we hold in high regard and don’t wish to see him or her being insulted in any way. It feels good to see other people show him or her respect the same way we do but we can’t help feeling offended if they do the complete opposite.
Complaints are common reactions in most negative cases, and things often get much more intense as far as religious figures are concerned.
Late last month, an activist group of Thai Buddhists called “Knowing Buddha” organised a demonstration in Bangkok to protest against commercial practices that show disrespect to Buddha.
They accused the Paris-based Buddha Bar chain (which has a dozen branches worldwide) and the Disney animation Snow Buddies of setting a bad example in using the Buddha’s name inappropriately, and also attacked the way the Buddha image has been misused in merchandise.
The march was an attempt to tell the world to stop disrespecting Buddha, making it clear that “Buddha is not meant for tattoos, furniture, any kind of logo, or to be used as merchandise”. The peaceful rally to raise this issue was the first of its kind in the Kingdom – and probably in the Buddhist world too.
Their action followed the fact that we’ve often come across many cases in which the Buddhist symbol, be it Buddha’s name and image or statue, has been treated in a degrading manner by some insensitive people, especially in Western countries where Buddhism is a small minority religion.
To add insult to injury, we’ve found out that Buddha images have also been improperly used as an element in many unlikely products such as decorative items, clothing and even accessories.
I myself couldn’t help feeling hurt and upset when I saw on one website a picture of a stool carved into the shape of my revered master’s head with a kid sitting on it. What shocked me more was when, in the next webpages, I spotted a pair of sandals with Buddha images on the straps and then a pair of jeans with a similar picture on the two back pockets.
I’ve yet to see with my own eyes if there really is underwear with the Buddha image on it as claimed by many (and I don’t wish to see it, after all) but the aforementioned examples are enough to make me want to shout at whoever is behind those crazy creations: “Hey! He is Lord Buddha not Garfield! Knock it off!”
I’m sure all Buddhists feel similarly to me. We’ve long tried to come to terms with such unacceptable practices, comforting ourselves that those people just don’t understand our religion and its norms, that they might not intend to hurt our feelings at all, and that they are just unaware they are making big mistakes.
Not long after the controversial Buddha Bar opened its first Asian branch in Jakarta in late 2008 – amid strong protests by Indonesia’s Buddhist minority – one of its French owners reportedly said that Buddhists needed to “chill out”, that they would never change the name or remove the (large sitting) Buddha statue (from the dining area), and that it was common to find Buddhas in restaurants, citing that they brought good luck.
Even though the Indonesian court ordered that Jakarta outlet be closed down for blasphemy two years ago, it seems the French owners have never given up their efforts to expand their insensitive hangout in other Asian countries at all. It’s sad to see people lacking religious sensitivity. But it’s the saddest thing when those people care only about making money from businesses they know fully well invoke hurt in the hearts of Buddhists all over the world.
Every religion is sacred for its followers. Just because they can’t see what we see behind whatever materials that make up the image or statue, that doesn’t mean they can make fun of it or treat it any way they want.
All Buddhists respect Buddha as the religious father.
His statue is considered a sacred icon and is usually placed at levels high above, if not in a temple. His peaceful and soul-soothing appearance reminds us of his compassion, kindness and also his teachings for us to do only good deeds, refrain ourselves from committing bad deeds and purify our minds.
All leaders of religions should be regarded with respect _ this is common sense. Now that Thai Buddhists have made their voice heard the world over, I do hope to see no more indecent acts towards my most-loved prophet, but rather mutual respect from each other.
Religion is a very sensitive issue. Only a slight case of blasphemy may result in undesirable and unexpected outcomes. I think it’s better not to “touch” any religious symbols in the first place, and it’s best to just leave them where they belong.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for the Life section of Bangkok Post.