The idea of blasphemy is not often associated with Buddhism. However there are reasons to believe that acts considered blasphemous are far more prevalent in Buddhism than is usually assumed. For example the ‘five heinous acts’ (pañcānantarya) that are considered to have ‘immediate karmic consequences’ (anantarika-kamma) could be understood to be blasphemous actions. The five are killing one’s mother or father, killing an Arahant (a Buddhist ‘saint’), wounding a Buddha, or causing a schism in the Sangha (the order of Buddhist monks and nuns).
In a story in The Guardian in the UK titled ‘Sri Lanka to deport British tourist over Buddha tattoo’ it is reported that the tourist was deported for having a tattoo of the Buddha on her arm. The tattoo on her right arm was spotted by immigration officials at the international airport in Colombo. The tourist was arrested, according to a police official for ‘hurting others’ religious feelings’.
There have been other cases similar to this in the past few years. One might consider outrage over the Buddha Bar, particularly in Jakarta.
In popular culture the notion of the Buddha as a figure of ultimate soteriological significance has been lost and obscured when considered merely as an image of spirituality or a fashion accessory.
The above picture shows the tattoo of the British tourist. The story has subsequently been reported elsewhere, including in The Independent with the headline ‘British tourist deported from Sri Lanka for having a Buddha tattoo’.
Little context or commentary is offered in the reporting of this story – one suspects an underlying narrative, one in which the Asian country is being dismissed as too dogmatic in its understanding of Buddhism, which the so-called liberal West avoids.