Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Missed Opportunity


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?

Consider carefully!

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:

Manopubbangama dhamma - manosettha manomaya
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)

15 comments:

Eran Chinthaka said...

Shehani,

I totally agree with you. There were things like this before too (like some bankrupt film producer trying to sell his film by sitting on the head of a buddha statue).
According to buddhism, we should have the "nosalena gunaya" even in distress, sad, happiness, etc., As we know for most people the religion is not something they practice, rather something they pretend like a fashion.

By intervening to this Sangha council might have made things to go out of control. But I attribute all these violence and other acts to political elections coming up in the next month. The same politicians who slept with the people who attacked "Dalada Maligawa" now trying to arouse the mob against Akon, who *may* not have any idea about the video production. As one of my friends mentioned, why can't we be more liberal and come out of the box to think about these cases using the principle's in our religion itself. What did Lord Buddha did when he was disgraced by various people.

Its all politically motivated. For Sri Lankans to get real freedom, all those dirty politicians, including those monks who lick the a--es of politicians and the ones in parliament, should be eliminated.
But one another perspective in this issue I'd like to highlight is the stand of the private media network involved in this case. If you watch the youtube video (well, you must have watched the live TV broadcast) that this private company broadcasted, it completely hides the real truth behind the mob attack. They talk as if random set of people are attacking them. I initially thought Mervin Silva is doing this. So as a media company, which I believe by definition should be dedicated to their vision of "we report you decide" must have given facts about this attack.

~බිன்ku~ said...

Shehani,

Agree with you and Eran with no debt.

I recommend you guys to read this post and watch the video :

http://is.gd/aWHD1 (written in Sinhala BTW)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tha2BpRaaA

DoA was showed in MC, Sri Lanka. Nobody talked about it. I have watched jean claude van damme on a local channel in Sri Lanka when I were SL.

I also had the video music that recorded and acted in Sri Lanka near a temple in Southern city (even those girls were sri lankans). But This song have been popluar and hitted download record in those times (2006-2007). Why None of Sri Lankan stone or blame anyone?

About Sexy Bitch video, The Music Videos directed by two directors named ean-Charles Carré and Damien Saintobert. The video is owned by David Guetta. Why not them? Because Akon agreed to come sri lanka?

Why Sri Lankan Tourism chose Akon instead of other singer around thr world?

Thinks Why Not said...

/*.. 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
..*/

I accept your view point.. its seems these rallies politically motivated.

Prasad said...

Nice analysis Shahani. I can agree to your views, wearing the Buddhist hat which I took off sometime ago. I do not wear such hats now and I don’t have the burden of having to defend a religion. IMO Letting go of attachments, especially the religion is an important step in starting to follow Siddharta Gotama’s vision.

I only choose to defend one thing and that is the freedom of choice. When differences in opinions and differences in tastes are addressed by means of violent mobs throwing stones at private property, and when the mainstream opinion is to endorse or sympathize with such mobs, the freedom of choice goes for a six.

The politically correct response from Akon to this drama is not a surprise, and I am sure there were people who helped him to put his thoughts in to words, even if they are his own. This is pretty much a canned response that I have heard before from similar quarters in response to similar situations that involves other religions. As Mahasen points out, it is sad that Buddhists in SL are receiving a lecture from Akon about non-violence. Akon gained some extra popularity mileage from the drama, which actually is not really deserved according to my taste, as I do not see him as a good artist or a role model from the little that I have seen. What gain the Sri Lankan Buddhist community had from the drama? Probably some egoistic satisfaction that “we got Akon to apologize, wowee” and feel good about receiving a canned response from a set-menu of politically correct responses. Apart from that, they proved Buddhism is not very different from other world religions, (followers are “offended” at slightest irreverence toward their religious symbols) and there is a established Buddhist “Church” in Sri Lanka, that has a lot of say in who can come in to this country and what can they do etc etc, which can be good thing or bad thing based on how you view it.

In a “Voice in Colombo” blog, the blog owner is asking an open question. "Is it ok for producers of the music video, to use a Buddha statue in the backdrop of that video?" Due to the very long answer I have to give, I would actually avoid properly answering. The question itself is based on the assumption that good/bad and true/false are absolute measures. However the short incomplete answer would be that it is obviously NOT OK, given the consequences, and any wise person would avoid it. But hey, in my second thoughts, if a religious community can be provoked so easily and big uproar can be created, and then pacified as quickly by sending a canned apology few weeks later, that would be an instrument of advertising. Obviously I am answering the question from music producers point of view, and that perhaps was not the intent of voice in Colombo. Due to the long list of perspectives, I would stop at that.

Sujeewa Kokawala said...

Shahani,

I'd like to state few facts taht I have found.

- Firstly, it is clear that Akon did not intentionally use the statue. It is not right, but a possible thing as long as world uses buddha statues as decorative items.

- Secondly those who attacked MBC had nothing directly to do with Akon issue, but some political thugs misused the event to fulfill some old grudge. We all know where the finger points to right now. I do not agree that "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." Attack has hallmarks of a political thuggery.

- Those who oppose Akon show peacefully oppose it not purely based on the video, but since they feel disgusted with his type of music. I am also one of them. But I can bear him having a show here.

- A vast majority have no sympathy for Sirasa, for being such a nuisance for years, and selling stupidity at highest price. Again I am one. Right or wrong the attack, we say, "serves them right".

- Finally, the reason for Akon show ban was not purely because he sang that song, which has been around for quite sometime, but because his presence would outrage some ppl [maybe for right reasons maybe for wrong reasons] and come major unfortunate event may happen. Govt has a right to consider public safety. Especially it was blamed for not intermediating Sharuk Khan show thingy.

I do not disagree with you, but found above facts are missing in it.

Sam said...

I’m most delighted to read the post and same to say how wonderful post it is.

Malinda Kaushalye Kapuruge said...

Good analysis. This story might be related to the context.
--------------------------------
Is that so?
--------------------------------
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents very angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parents went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"

Source: http://www.101zenstories.com/index.php?story=3

ps: BTW, I do not buy Akon's claim that he was not aware of the statue until now. it's kinda lame. :)

creed - Uchitha said...

@ ~බිன்ku~

Why then and Why now?
Because we are at different times brother. We are on our way to the Holy land. The land of our primitive ancestors.

chanux said...

Nicely said.

It's funny to see people suddenly start to care about religion. And doing it such a nice we. It was just one big fail.

Even if featuring in that piece of video is the worst sin of all, so called buddhist only created space for akon to get away with it.

someone said...

First of all let me put my stand on this matter. As many other comments suggests, I also believe that the “violent” actions are politically motivated, at least nothing to do with sangha consil or sangha samajaya, except of those who are only politically motivated. Do the actions of our people disgrace our “Buddhist culture”? Yes, it does, but not only in this case, but in many incidents happens every day, and this is just one of those burdens. Why this one? Is it because now our subject is worldwide popular and it attracts international attention? I think everyone is more worried about this incident because of that. But to seek “goods and bads” obviously we have to forget about the “reputation” of our subject. Then this is just another incident showing what is coming and happening to us and our culture, and to where we are headed due to many forces and their puppet politicians (yes they are just brainless puppets of…) and not to mention us, ourselves. Why ourselves? Should we feel ashamed? Despite the number of people who were involved is only a tiny portion of “Buddhist” community, if they were Buddhists at first place, and of course governed by a party poorly motivated, should everybody be blamed? Why all of us? I think yes, yes, yes and yes, but not for the behavior of those people involved in this incident, but for our own negligence, lack of understanding of what is coming, passiveness, contradictions. So, for me, this is just one of many things happening in grieving (going to grieve) society and of course for our own carelessness over many decades. It is the big picture that should be addressed, I believe.

I wondered, when I first read your essay, what is it this about? Is it about the visual or the song or the entire content? So, I tried to read the lyrics and see what it says, watched the visual too. Unfortunately what I felt is that it is just a junk of useless words. Well, it sort of tried to address something not nice, but? And does it have to do anything with Buddha? The visual speaks its own story, and lyric doesn’t seem to speak against the visual too. Does this song or the visual worth anything? Does it talk about static Buddha unshaken by the crazy world? It would with the visual, as you says, if the lyrics also talked about it too (even if it did, I don’t think it is appropriate. To teach animal sexuality, a teacher doesn’t need to undress himself, should he?). So for me the point you took wrong, of course because you are better than the average in this case, is to interpret the visual in your religiously inclined (Buddhist) mind. But how about others, the main audience who don’t see it that way, that beat their legs in dark rooms with flashing lights and deafening noise? I THINK for them this song does not mean anything more than some dirty words to bang their legs once more on to the mother earth. And they see the Buddha in the backgorud! What is the message to people? What is the message to our people? Conclusively, this song worth nothing, bus should we let it go? Not quite, I think. It is exactly the reason this song worth nothing, make this visual wrong, and in fact disrespectful to load Buddha. What is ok in one’s context is not ok in everybody’s context!

(continued in the next)

someone said...

(continuation from the previous)

So should we bark at these people, should we throw stones at anyone who tries to bring him to our country? Of course not, as you put it in a partially correct way as I see. I think what National Shangha Counsel did is the exact thing to do. They are using an image of a sacred person in an irrelevant place.
Should we reject the visa? One good point someone stated was that as a measure of public safety, with all these incidents, he better stay off. Nevertheless, even everything is perfect, should he come and perform? Will it then become a demonstration of perfect Buddhist practice? I think here you got the whole thing wrong. First, even though the singer apologizes for this later, as you pointed out, it is not an excuse to be negligent, and I don’t see any affirmative actions taken by the singer to correct himself (May be I’m not aware of any. Then forget about it, though the visual is still available in YouTube!). So for us as Buddhists, the right and correct reaction to take is this. To say “we can’t accept what you are doing. Of course you can do it, but please don’t bring these to us, to feed our meat to our selves”. At this point I better also point out that this is not contradicted by Buddhism, but justified. Think how, even load Buddha, reacted to this kind of situations? Not to mention load Buddha himself faced many difficulties during his time, bearing everything in mind with his understanding, but not passively. Think how he imposed punishments to wrong people when necessary. In one of the suthrass, which neither I can recall the name or the volume it contains nor the people involved, a particular horse rider or a trainer, who’s supposed to very cleave, ask load Buddha, “How do you manage to make such a large group of monks, with all sorts of interests and backgrounds, behave in such a nice way?”. The answer goes along the lines “It is exactly the same way you do it with your horses. By practice, rules and when necesasarry suitable punishments”.
My point is, being a Buddhist does not avoid us refuting anything we don’t need, but it is the mindfulness that make us refute empty things: “Asare sara mathino , Sare wasara dassino, Thesaranag nadhi gajjanthi, Michasankappa gochara”.

So, why don’t we want this? And this brings me back to the beginning of my reply. It is not in the Buddhist way, is it? If we want to praise the mightiness of load Buddha, aren’t there much nicer ways to do so. Can we compare the visual or the words in this song to murals or any other thing in temples or any good thing? Do you see the murals in temples the same way you see women in this visual? In fact, it is the lack of mindfulness to these things which brought our society to this place at first. Now our society is trying to be Buddhist in midst of all contradictory and empty day today events, words, thoughts, etc. Don’t we? Will the singer help us for that? Can we do that? Aren’t these media responsible for putting our live away from the Buddhist way of mindfulness? Wasn’t even King Kosala much simple and modest than we today? Ant we, the modern Buddhists, mourn ourselves in between celebrities and load Buddha. And also, we shouldn’t forget the driving forces behind these things, who marvelously carve these types of events out of nothing.

(continued in the next)

someone said...

(continuation from the previous)

Having said that, let me also emphasis that I don’t mean to stay away from the world, but we should reject bad and accept good. Can’t we have good concerts; there are plenty of really sensible singers. Cant we have good dramas, which address our minds. After all, remember these are also not the perfect, but Buddhism is a path to walk gradually and this is how we can improve ourselves and our society. All these ill manners and contradictions can only be uprooted out from our society only by doing our job, by being not passive, but active mindful Buddhists. By thinking that it is each and every individual act that count. Being teachers, teach our students what could be better for us. For our monks, practicing and teaching the right things. What an intellectual like you can do is immense, and I see the light of that in your essay too. However, don’t you think we actually need to put a second thought to what we need? To understand what Buddhist practice is?
After all, won’t he only be planting the seeds of emptiness in our people?


your comments are warmly welcomed,for the struggle of a better sri lanka!
(sorry for all the grammar mistakes)

Shahani Markus Weerawarana said...

The following is my response to most of the comments here and the comments in response to this blog on facebook (http://tinyurl.com/ykolfmx)

@Prasad: I understand your point.

The perspective I chose to present is that we need to be calm and balanced in our reactions and thereby, open up the possibility of generating positive opportunities. To me, the reactive drama that publicly unfolded appeared to be very negative.

I believe, if we can all be calm, controlled and balanced in how we react towards *anything*, then everyone's freedoms are automatically protected! I believe it is the manner of other's reactions that infringe upon individual's rights to freedom of expression.

Thus, although I wholeheartedly agree that everyone should have freedom of expression, I just chose to write about how I perceived the situation and even saw a positive opportunity in the whole saga by simply adhering to Dhamma principles.

In my personal opinion, I am absolutely not bothered that many people all over the world use religious (including Buddhist) symbols, statues, ideas etc., in various creative and unexpected manners. We are wasting our time if we go about reacting like yo-yo's to all those instances. I believe that most of the time, they do not do so with the intention to disrespect, but rather, out of a true lack of understanding. We need to understand this fact and view these incidents with calm dispassion.

Thus, they have a right to to their freedom of expression just as much as some others have the right to react vociferously and negatively towards them and just as much as I have the right to ignore or react in a calm and positive manner to their "expressions".

Tarun said...

Well said Shahani... I agree with your thoughts. Hope all is well with you. :)

lahiru said...

Nice Post madem !

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