Sri Lankans (or more accurately, The Colombians) seem to be embroiled in yet another controversy in the midst of vigorous electioneering.
Central to this controversy is the supposition that the artiste Akon defamed Buddhism in one of his music videos (Sexy Bitch - 2009).
Akon was due to perform in Sri Lanka in April. However, over the past few days, many Sri Lankan Buddhist laity and clergy started becoming vocal about their intolerance towards Akon's aforementioned music video which features bikini-clad women cavorting in front of a serene, white and beautiful Buddha statue. Some of these Buddhists, inflamed with anger that the Buddha's image has been defiled, even resorted to attacking a media station promoting the Akon event. The National Sangha Council held a press conference to express their disgust that Akon's music video features sensual images of almost-naked females dancing with Buddha's statue in the backdrop. They even chose to highlight how offended they are by using the 'offensive' video images as the backdrop to their press conference. As a climax to this furore, the government of Sri Lanka decided to "reject a visa to R&B singer Akon on the basis that one of his videos brought disrespect to Buddhism". This government decision was later ratified by the cabinet.
In response to this bewitching brouhaha 'bout besmirching Buddhism, Akon has responded that he "would never set out to offend or desecrate anyone’s religion or religious beliefs". He goes on to state that, "I myself am a spiritual man, so I can understand why they are offended, but violence is never the answer and I am disheartened to hear about what happened yesterday in Sri Lanka."
As this drama unfolded, I wondered, who appears to be behaving like a Buddhist and who appears to be behaving contrary to Buddha's teachings....
My analysis of this episode is in the context of my humble claim that I am also a Buddhist. At least, I am a Buddhist in the sense that, as the Buddha exhorted, I strive to understand the Dhamma through meditation and I strive to live according to the principles of Dhamma. Hence, I am acutely aware that I experience this world entirely through the clouded lens of my perceptions - and therefore, I accept and understand that others may agree, disagree, vehemently denounce or dispassionately dismiss my views on this matter - which of course, does not matter!
When I viewed Akon's "Sexy Bitch" music video on YouTube, my first reaction was to marvel at the manner in which the cameramen managed to capture an amazing effect -- the Buddha statue seemed to exude absolute purity in the midst impurity, it seemed to emanate steadfast serenity in the midst of immodesty and most interestingly, it made me recall the Buddhism lessons in school where we learned how the Buddha spent the first seven weeks after attaining enlightenment.
Yes, ironically, my mind seemed to immediately draw parallels between the video images with the murals I have seen in temples - murals that depict the first week after enlightenment, when the daughters of Mara supposedly tried to tempt the Buddha. Images similar to this hyperlinked mural - from the Buddhist eLibrary site. That particular mural (from a Thai temple, I believe) depicts topless women sensually dancing in front of a serene Buddha!
I do not consider this mural to be offensive. In the same manner, I do not consider the video images to be offensive. Why? Because to me, they both emanate a strong message about the Buddha - completely unshaken, serenely dispassionate, beyond defilement, perfect equanimity, absolute virtuousness ......
This leads me to question whether the fraction of inflamed Buddhist laity and clergy handled this matter with appropriate aplomb.
Could we have instead, displayed balanced judgement and controlled reactions?
Could we have thereby provided the entire world with a better illustration of Buddhism in practice?
Could we have explained to Akon and his crew and invited them to experience the reverence towards the Buddha that is prevalent in Sri Lanka?
Could we have inspired Akon and his crew to learn and understand more about the Dhamma?
Did we miss an awesome opportunity?
This was actually a unique moment in time. A time when a celebrity enamored section of the Western world had begun to wonder and inquire about Buddhism (thanks to Tiger Woods' plea for forgiveness and his declaration of returning back to the practice of Buddhism).
Thus, it was a fortuitous occasion to charm the world with a beautiful demonstration of Metta, Karuna and Muditha. It was an exquisite chance to display to the world, the wonderful Sri Lankan Buddhist values of equanimity, kindness and forgiveness. It was a perfect opportunity to showcase our serendipity when the world seems to be preoccupied with our supposed inhumanity.
Unfortunately, we appear to have permitted a section of incensed Sri Lankans who temporarily lost their good sense to steer us down a senseless path. In the future, I hope better sense will prevail keeping in mind the following:
Manasace pasannena - bhasathi va karoti va
Tato nam sukhamanveti - chaya va anapayini.
Good Begets Good -
Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, because of that, happiness follows one, even as one's shadow that never leaves.
(Quoted from "The Dhammapada" by Narada Thero)