The Buddha Stool and Blasphemy

The Thailand based Knowing Buddha organisation, which campaigns against the misuse of images of the Buddha and other Buddhist sacred objects, has started a campaign directed at a stool using the an image of the Buddha’s head. It is as they appear, a seat made from an image of the Buddha’s head.

They are widely available online and one of the product descriptions reads:

A quirky yet beautiful addition to our collection of stools comes this delightful Buddha stool. In the design of a Buddha head and finished in white, this Buddha is sure to add to brighten up your home, adding charm in abundance

 

More ‘blasphemy’ in Myanmar

5-buddhist-tattoo_facebook

As reported in the Myanmar Times:

A Spanish tourist visiting Bagan with his wife over the weekend found his trip interrupted when police discovered a Buddha tattoo on his leg.

The tourist and his wife were escorted to Yangon on July 10, according to Mandalay Region police.

Shin Sandavaya from the Tharmakay monastery reported the case to the police station in Bagan after he spotted a Buddha image on the leg of visitor outside Kantotpalin Pagoda.

Religious authorities from the Nyaung-U office and immigration officers interviewed the 46-year-old tourist and confirmed that he has a Buddha tattoo on his calf that was inked in Spain. The two tourists were sent to Yangon the same day, and the embassy contacted, according to Mandalay police.

“They arrived in Yangon [yesterday] morning at 5am leaving Bagan by bus. The tourist police took them to the Spanish embassy around 5:30am,” said an officer from the Mingaladon township station.

AFP quoted a police officer saying that the man will be deported to Bangkok. The Myanmar Times was unable to independently confirm deportation plans.

 

 

buddhatattoo_0

South Korean Buddhist blasphemy?

KoreaThaiMonkSatire

As reported by the Asian Correspondent a comedy sketch from a South Korean TV has been heavily criticised by Thai Buddhists who perceived the satire of the Thai’s love of Korean pop music as highly offensive. The parody evokes sensitivity to gender roles and the sanctity of what appears to be an image of the Buddha in Buddhist culture. As is often the case with issues of blasphemy free speech and the protection of religious sensibilities are central to the discussion.

The video….depicts two buffoonish Thai monks, before taking a dig at Thailand’s love of K-Pop. The Facebook video clocked up 14 million ‘likes’ before it was removed.

Later in the video one of the monks, a woman, is seen slapping a man made to appear like the Buddha image over the head. It is strictly forbidden for women to make any contact with Buddhist monks in Thailand.

Many Thais expressed their outrage in the comments on the Facebook post, calling the skit “bad-mannered”, “stupid”, and other things we won’t republish here. While angry Thais argued that their, or any, religion should not be made fun of, Korean commenters hit back saying Thai people should respect their freedom of expression.

New Zealand man found guilty of insulting religion in Myanmar

555x530xbuddha-sitting1.jpg.pagespeed.ic.GEmcXtLQVb

As reported by the BBC Phil Blackwood,Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin have been given two-and-a-half years hard labour for ‘insulting religion’ in Burma. The idea of blasphemy in Buddhism is highlighted by this case as the three were sentenced today:

A New Zealander and two Burmese men have been found guilty of insulting religion in Myanmar over a poster promoting a drinks event depicting Buddha with headphones.

Philip Blackwood, who managed the VGastro Bar in Yangon, was arrested in December along with bar owner Tun Thurein and colleague Htut Ko Ko Lwin.

They have each been sentenced to two and a half years in jail.

Burmese law makes it illegal to insult or damage any religion.

The poster, which was posted on Facebook and showed Buddha surrounded by psychedelic colours, sparked an angry response online.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has seen growing Buddhist nationalism in recent years.

All three men had denied insulting religion during their trial. Tun Thurein had also told the court that Blackwood alone was responsible for the posting. Blackwood had said sorry online and repeated his apology in court.

He told the BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Yangon before he entered court on Tuesday: “Hopefully a bit of justice is going to happen.”

But the judge, Ye Lwin, said that though Blackwood apologised, he had “intentionally plotted to insult religious belief” when he uploaded the poster on Facebook, reported AFP news agency.

Buddhist nationalism has been on the rise in recent years, with extremist monks such as Wirathu growing in popularity and increasing clashes with Muslim minorities, particularly in Rakhine state.

Some excellent reporting can also be found in the Deocratic Voice of Burma:’Buddha Bar trio sentenced to 2.5 years with hard labour‘.

Image of the Buddha on low currency banknote prompts protest in Cambodia

buddhabanknote

It is reported in The Phnom Penh Post that a new low currency Cambodian banknote has caused protest from some Buddhist groups. A group of monks have suggested that the new 100 riel banknote, the smallest currency note worth about 2 cents, containing an image of the Buddha, is offensive to the Buddha.

Bo Samnang, chairman of National Culture and Morality Center commented:

‘A 100 riel note is the lowest currency in Cambodia and Buddha is of the highest status, higher than the royal king; this is unacceptable to have his photo on the currency.’

Venerable Lorm Loeum of Tomnak in Siem Reap suggested that:

‘This is awful, as normally people keep money in pockets and even their bras for women. This is very offensive to the Buddha. I urge the government to consider this and withdraw that Buddha picture from currency.’

Myanmar Detains 3 for Allegedly Offending the Buddha

Burmesemonks

A short article by Voice of America’s Gabrielle Paluch which appeared on December 15th. Thanks to Garielle for the interview which forms part of her excellent article.

Last week, Yangon’s V Gastro Bar displayed a flier on its Facebook page depicting Buddha in vibrant, neon colors, wearing large DJ headphones, next to the words “Buddha.bar.” It promoted discounted drinks and electronic music.

Authorities in Myanmar, also known as Burma, took note. They arrested the bar’s general manager, New Zealand native Philip Blackwood, and his two Myanmar business partners, Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin. The men now face charges under a law that outlaws words or images that deliberately offend religion.

The three, who are being held without bail, face fines and a jail term of up to two years. Days after being detained, they have yet to find legal representation because of the case’s sensitivity. Blackwood is scheduled to appear in court Thursday.

Rights groups say the law in question, Section 295 of the penal code, is unjust. It was the second most frequently used law to charge political prisoners in the past, according to “Burma’s Forgotten Prisoners,” a 2009 report released by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Phil Robertson, the rights group’s Asia director, said the law is so broadly and vaguely written that it can be easily abused by authorities or religious extremists, and the government should consider changing it.

“Unfortunately, the practice and defense of religion has gone to a more extreme stage in Burma, and what we can see is the willingness of the government to misuse provisions of law that are broadly drafted to take advantage of that,” Robertson said. “What we’re also seeing is the effective criminalization of expression of views that go against some of the more extreme forms of Buddhism that are promulgated by the likes of the [anti-Muslim] 969 Movement and the mabatha.”

The mabatha is a newly formed organization of monks, who refer to themselves collectively as the Organization to Protect Race and Religion and are becoming increasingly influential.

Robertson points out that the organization has used Section 295 to justify discriminatory practices against Muslims, whom they regard as a threat to Buddhism.

Hours after V Gastro Bar’s Buddha flier appeared on Facebook, the image had been shared several thousand times on social media. It since has been removed from the original page, replaced with an apology.

Perspectives differ

While international observers have been perplexed by the outrage on social media, Buddhism scholar Dr. Paul Fuller of Britain’s Bath Spa University said Asian Buddhists take a different approach to Buddha images than Buddhists in the west.

Although outside Asia it is not uncommon for Buddha images to be used as fashion accessories or garden ornaments, such displays could be considered blasphemous in Myanmar.

“I think we’re seeing it more and more because these fundamentalist Buddhist movements are fostering a sense of Buddhist identity tied in with national identity,” Fuller said. “Buddhism has always had a very privileged place within the western romantic understanding. Maybe it’s time we see it for what it is – a religion with all its dark sides as well.”

Several other prosecutions under Myanmar’s restrictive 295 law have garnered attention this year.

Earlier this month, opposition party National League for Democracy member Htin Lin Oo faced prosecution under Section 295 for giving a speech in which he condemned prejudice and racial discrimination in the name of Buddhism.

In an excerpt of the speech shared widely on social media, he is shown saying, “If you want to be an extreme nationalist, if you love to maintain your race so much, don’t be Buddhist.”

Earlier this year, Canadian tourist Jason Polley was deported from Myanmar when a monk in Upper Burma photographed tattoos of Buddha on his leg and shared the images on Facebook, sparking outrage. Polley was not formally charged with criminal offenses.

Off the Cushion: EPISODE #7: “When Does Ethnocentric Buddhism Become Buddhist Terror?”

agnanasara-and-wirathu1

I had the pleasure in taking part in an episode of the excellent Rev. Danny Fisher’s ‘Off the Cushion’ series. Episode 7 is on the topic of “When Does Ethnocentric Buddhism Become Buddhist Terror?”

This week, as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for his second visit to Burma, we look at the escalating violence against Rohingya Muslims by Burmese Buddhists in the country. Dr. Paul Fuller talks to us about his proposed term for understanding this phenomenon: “Ethnocentric Buddhism.” In addition, Myra Dahgaypaw, Campaigns Coordinator for the U.S. Campaign for Burma, pulls back the curtain on the much-discussed 969 Movement and its leader U Wirathu. Plus: United to End Genocide’s Director of Policy and Government Relations, Daniel P. Sullivan, tells us about the #JustSayTheirName campaign and how it might help stop this conflict.

A very big thank you for Danny for inviting me to contribute. I’m also very grateful for the opportunity to consider some of these ideas with Myra Dahgaypaw and Daniel P. Sullivan.