The Surge Of Sinhala-Buddhist Fundamentalism?
By Kalana Senaratne
Could it be that the sight of the Buddha statue was a complete turn-off to those who were utterly aroused by the dancing girls, the ‘sexy chicks’, seen in the music video Sexy Bitch, by David Gruetta, which featured Akon? If not, can such a scene, which in this particular video lasted for not more than two seconds, truly give rise to the kind of intolerance in a Buddhist; which was shown when stones were hurled at the MBC office?
A further question that arises is the following: how many more seconds would it have taken, of that or a similar kind of scene, for these people to strap a bomb round their bellies and blow themselves up in front of the MBC Office? Surely, if one or two seconds caused such anger and hatred, things would have been much more serious if the entire music video featured a Buddha statue or a temple in it. More fundamentally, then, are these protestors who shout and scream and throw stones, including some monks, really ‘Buddhists’?
Perhaps as a nation, we have reached the stage where the kind of absurd protests that take place in the name of Buddhism need to be critically analysed. There is a great danger in not doing so, because obviously, the impression that is sent out by the silence of those who are disturbed by such protests is that of ‘acceptance’; acceptance of every barbaric thing done in the name of Buddhism, mostly by politicians who hide behind religions. This is a classic case of silence amounting to acceptance, as this is how silence is interpreted with regard to issues of such nature; issues which involve religion and politics. And these are the same people who cry out thereafter that the whole world is against it, about conspiracy, about Western threats directed at Buddhism and the predominantly Sinhala-Buddhist State, Sri Lanka.
There seems to be a complete misunderstanding of Lord Buddha’s teaching here, when ‘Buddhists’ and in particular ‘Buddhist monks’ appeal to a government in such an aggressive fashion, calling for the rejection of Akon’s visa. Surely, this is not the way in which Prince Siddharta, and later Lord Buddha, dealt with matters which involved controversial questions involving women. Surely, the kind of anger shown by those protestors certainly go against the fundamental teachings of Buddhism; compassion, equanimity, the noble-eightfold path, the importance of forgiving, and so on.
This goes against the most fundamental and invaluable lesson of the Buddhist philosophy; the need to realise the nature of impermanence, which would have meant, at least to a Buddhist monk, that one had to contemplate more seriously on what one was truly seeing in that music video, i.e. the shaking of a mass of flesh, a body consisting of bones, blood, marrow, pus, sinews subject to birth, disease, decay and death; that the feelings which may have been aroused, of anger, even lust, would pass away with a more focused mind directed towards insight meditation; that what was seen in the form of Akon is that of a truly misguided and ignorant fellow who would have not known what on earth this philosophy of Buddhism taught, and therefore a human being, who certainly deserves to be forgiven for the mistake made wittingly or unwittingly; that a Buddha statue is simply a symbol, and that the Buddha resides not in a statue made of clay, cement or stone, but in the very teaching he expounded; that you ought to see the Buddha not in a statue, but in his sublime teaching; and that even if the video scenes were reasons to cause discomfort, the methods adopted to show one’s protest simply go against the serenity and gentleness exemplified and advocated by the Buddha and his teaching.
Given the kind of extreme compassion that the philosophy of Buddhism teaches us, it is certainly not incorrect to call the scenes about which one read and saw recently, to be a reflection of a kind of fundamentalism that goes against the entire Buddhist philosophy; a kind of extremism and fundamentalism that could soon turn into the kind of violent Islamic extremism and fundamentalism seen in the modern world; which is again a sad case of a peaceful religion being misinterpreted to suit the needs of a group of misguided and ignorant people.
Generally, we see these signs and tend to shrug it off, believing that similar incidents would not happen again, that these are actions of a lunatic fringe, a small one, things that happen only during election time. But this is what we thought when Shahrukh Khan’s concert was attacked, did we not? We believed that it would never happen again. But there is, there seems to be, no end to this.
Why is this a case of Buddhist fundamentalism, or a case of Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism? It is not because the entire Sinhala Buddhist population threw stones and screamed and showed their anger. Certainly not. In any case, it does not need to happen that way.
But if one looks more critically, the danger is this: that even though it was a relatively small group that resorted to such action, that group is extremely influential today, so much so that such action has received government approval. So, when it is reported in the press that at the end of a meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Tourism Minister Achala Jagoda the decision had been taken to reject Akon’s visa application – what you saw there was not only the stamp of rejection on Akon’s visa, but more seriously, the stamp of approval on the kind of intolerance and extreme attitude shown by those who are supposedly very sensitive ‘Sinhala Buddhists’. In short, the fundamentalist attitude shown by some has received state approval.
So, in a sense, Buddhism, today, needs to be protected not only from those who misinterpret it, but also from the very government which is turning out to be (if it has not, already) a sorry outfit. Is it under such circumstances that the Constitution gives prominence to Buddhism? It would have been (or it is) far better to scrap that provision entirely from the Constitution, and revert to a more correct form of teaching, a re-teaching of Buddhism, in the country. But again the question is; who is to teach, and how can this be done, when the teachers (even the guardians) themselves are responsible for the present state of affairs?
And take note, for a moment, of the kind of hypocrisy and absurdity shown by a government that rushes to conclude that girls dancing in front of a Buddha statue offended Buddhists and their sensibilities. Think about the kind of persons in cabinet who would have met to discuss this matter and ‘ratify’ the decision to not grant a visa to Akon. Could you name a few? What of their respect for Buddhism and other moral and ethical considerations?
If not for one’s own political advantage, do these people really care about Buddhism in the first place? And are they not the people who embraced Myanmar’s General Than Swe? Or, the kind of people who benefit, today, from those who were responsible for the attack on the Dalada Maligawa? If the likes of Pillayan and Karuna who were instrumental in carrying out that attack can be forgiven, surely, Akon can be easily forgiven? Why is it that there is forgiveness only when Karuna and Pillayan apologise and capitulate, and not when Akon apologises? Is it then about Akon, or is it about his local sponsors? And so we return to that obvious question; is it all about politics, and nothing but politics? And the politics of which group, which party, which politician?
These are the questions that arise. And it is the approving nod given by the leadership of the state which marks that slide towards, or the rise in, fundamentalism, or the creation of an extremist mentality. And this comes especially at a time when the teachings of the Buddha – the Buddhist philosophy — should have been utilised for the greater good of the people, for ethnic reconciliation purposes, for spreading the message of tolerance, of harmony, of peace, or of forgiving even your most brutal enemy. Given all this, there is another simple question that we may need to brutally, and honestly, answer; a final question: what is, or what should be, more disgusting, more offensive – to witness ‘scantily clad’ girls dancing in front of a Buddha statue thousands of miles away, or to witness, right in front of your own eyes, a government dancing to the tune of a bunch of ignorant people who seem to have lost perspective and direction and seem to be denigrating Buddhism so openly, so obviously?
Humping Akon To Venerate Buddha In Creating A Kleptocracy
By Kusal Perera
What’s this “Akon” raucus ? Till the MTV/MBC Colombo office was mobbed and stoned on Monday 22nd, few out of the 19 million in this country knew who Akon was and still less knew he was coming to Colombo to perform at the SSC grounds on April 24. Only those from the Colombo “new rich” generation would have bought tickets for the show, “Super Fest 2010”.
Who was behind the attack is now in the open, with MTV channels airing footage of the attack and information that would not be contradicted, but ignored by all authorities. The buses carrying the mob had been from the Kelaniya depot and most in the mob had been from Kelaniya, including UPFA Pradeshiya Sabha members. Only 16 of them were taken into custody, produced before the Magistrate the next day and immediately given bail. While there is a rumour that some “important” individuals were swapped for odd ruffians before producing the arrested in court, even for those who were produced, it was a privilege to be out the next day.
But why was MTV/MBC chosen as the target for the “Akon show” as it is now called? Before that, was this a case of spontaneous outburst by Buddhists, extreme or not, who were hurt and felt insulted by the two second visual in Gruetta’s video clip Sexy Bitch which features Akon and has “sexy chicks” dancing in front of a white Buddha statue?
Perhaps it is now popular among the curious and the gossip-mongers who have access to the internet. But Akon was never known like Micheal Jackson, Bob Marley or even Bob Dylan, here in Sri Lanka, among ordinary Sinhala folk. They certainly did not know about his songs and video clips before.
For sure, none of those who came in buses to Braybrooke Place, would have ever heard of Akon and his song Sexy Bitch, leave alone seeing the clip, until they were mobilised for the attack. Until they were told, they have to say it as their reason for attacking the MTV/MBC Colombo office. They had also been told, its a conspiracy against Buddhism and Sri Lanka by imperialist agents, worked through Sirasa, from what their lawyer told the court.
This without doubt was not an issue of “hurting” feelings of the faithful or snapping religious “tolerance” in a society. Its pervasively different to protests against Martin Wickramasinghe’s Bhava Tharanaya, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, or even Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. They were all instances that provoked open public debate and public protests. Not this in any way. This had nothing to do with even Buddhists, until a cover up was hurriedly organised through a Bikkhu front that is available for any fanatical shouting.
Any genuine outburst, would have sought those responsible for this “Super Fest 2010” which is the Ministry of Tourism, with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), under it. It was SLTPB that had contracted “Platinum Entertainment Ltd” to organise this show, as part of their promotional work. That was the reason why Minister Jagoda had to defend it by telling AFP that Sri Lanka lost a “priceless” opportunity in promoting itself by banning Akon from performing here.
The choice of Akon in promoting Sri Lanka and the type of branding Sri Lanka would have with such “star perverts” not only proves how stupidly dumb the SLTPB is, but also indicates the type of lumpen culture this refined Buddhist society is heading to. The choice of Akon and the calibre of people who are being promoted for the supreme legislature by this regime are no accidents.
Akon was a vagrant who was sentenced for car theft, was castigated for using a “minor” on stage for simulated sex and is known for heavy “grass” use. All of it could qualify Akon for a candidacy, if one compares some heavy weights now running for elections in Sri Lanka. What emerges more crudely from this Akon fiasco therefore, is the nature of the regime that is now evolving after the war.
The war allowed for the state to be politically vulgarised and teethed with a Sinhala byte. It allowed the “apparatik” to be assimilated with the political regime in the name of eliminating terrorism and Tamil separatism, thus promoting this political regime as the saviour of this Sinhala nation, against those who opposed all violations of human rights, extra judicial killings and abductions, ruthless suppression of the media and all excesses including corruption, as “traitors” and supporters of Tamil Tigers.
Politicising of the war, thus created a perverted culture that accepted a regime which ruled outside the constitution and lived beyond the law of the land. This country thus headed into a period that records such high breach of trust in law enforcing agencies, where a whole village holds a police station under siege as in Angulana and police officers openly display cruelty as in the Bambalapitiya sea. A culture of impunity that allows a minister to go on the rampage continuously and still be included in the entourage of the President, on official visits.
It’s not just lawlessness and ruthlessness that this country has to live with now. Lawlessness and its unconstitutional authority is also about raking big money. It needs to continue and thus needs another “prop” as large and frightening as the LTTE, to justify its continuity among the Sinhala society. It needs a prop that would allow those social forces that rallied around it during the war, to be politically maintained.
Its suicidal for a people to believe in a monarch who promises to save them from an unknown evil, says an old Tibetan proverb. Sri Lanka may not be living in that Mongolian fifth century. But culturally, more rabid and rustic, for sure.