Insulting the Buddha

Wednesday January 24, 2007

Buddha in Specs

The picture that accompanies the present post – with its crudely scrawled moustache and spectacles – is one that soon, if I lived in Sri Lanka, could land me in prison. A draconian new bill, the Buddha Sasana Bill, is to be presented in Sri Lanka’s parliament. Under the proposed bill, any misuse of any image of the Buddha could lead to two years in jail. The full story can be found in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times Online, but here is an extract:

A two year jail term or a fine of Rs. 100,000 is to be imposed on those found guilty of misusing the image of the Lord Buddha… The use, display, printing, manufacture, sale or distribution of a picture of the Lord Buddha or figures similar to a picture of the Lord Buddha, statues or Buddhist sign or signs relating to Buddhism in a manner that disgraces the Buddha Sasana will be an offence.

When I read this, I wondered: can it be that the pious lawmakers of Sri Lanka have forgotten to read their Pali Canon? The Akkosa Sutta is absolutely clear about how one should deal with perceived insults. Here is Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation from the Access to Insight website:

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Sanctuary. Then the brahman Akkosaka Bharadvaja heard that a brahman of the Bharadvaja clan had gone forth from the home life into homelessness in the presence of the Blessed One. Angered & displeased, he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, insulted & cursed him with rude, harsh words. When this was said, the Blessed One said to him: “What do you think, brahman: Do friends & colleagues, relatives & kinsmen come to you as guests?”
“Yes, Master Gotama, sometimes friends & colleagues, relatives & kinsmen come to me as guests.”
“And what do you think: Do you serve them with staple & non-staple foods & delicacies?”
“Yes, sometimes I serve them with staple & non-staple foods & delicacies.”
“And if they don’t accept them, to whom do those foods belong?”
“If they don’t accept them, Master Gotama, those foods are all mine.”
“In the same way, brahman, that with which you have insulted me, who is not insulting; that with which you have taunted me, who is not taunting; that with which you have berated me, who is not berating: that I don’t accept from you. It’s all yours, brahman. It’s all yours. Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns a berating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company, with that person. But I am neither eating together nor sharing your company, brahman. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.”

Or, to put it more succinctly, the Dhammapada says:

“He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me” — for those who brood on this, hostility isn’t stilled.
“He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me” — for those who don’t brood on this, hostility is stilled.

Inter-communal hostility has troubled Sri Lanka for far too long and currently seems to be intensifying once again (see the BBC); but it is hard to see how this on-going hostility might be stilled, even for a moment, by such heavy-handed legislation.

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