The recent news about a British tourist being deported by the Sri Lankan authorities due to her Buddhist tattoo in the arm certain cause some of use to thing deeply what Buddhist teaching really represents.
A few statements coming out from the news feed that makes me question if Sri Lankan themselves really understand what it means to be Buddhist or what reputation they are giving to others about Buddhists or its teachings. Certainly I am no saintly Buddhist myself, but I am very confident of at least a few of its basis teachings.
The news reports that the reason for the deportation are:
- It should disrespect to the Buddhist religions
- Some Sri Lankan Buddhist might be offended by it
On the point of being so easily offended, the problem it seems to me is with how Sri Lankan seems to understand Buddhist. If anything, this sounds just like other “strict and conservative” religions where if you offend their religion, people will get offended, beat you up or kill or bomb your family or country alike. If any Buddhists are offended, I would suggest that the problem is with the Buddhists themselves and their incorrect view of Buddhist teachings. The 4 noble truths lay this out clearly that our unhappiness in life comes from our ignorant perception of the world and our seeking to control our happiness from influences external to ourselves. In this case, the offended Sri Lankans seek to control their happiness by punishing other people for their own happiness instead of reflecting why they are upset in the first place and seek a peaceful solution to it. To me, this is totally contrary to the most basic teachings. What is the state of Buddhism in Sri Lanka that the people easily get offended and seeks to punish people for an anger that they hold?
A more peaceful solution could be just to advise that person to cover up that arm during her trip in Sri Lanka. Here we are raving about the goodness, kindness, lovingness and compassion of Buddhism and one fell swoop action destroys all these, faster than Devadetta or Mara could do. What a shame for the people, the country and the religion.
On the second point regarding disrespect, again, the problem is with the people who feels disrespected, never the person who did the action. First of all, Buddhist teachings is about the laws of nature, so in many ways, one cannot disrespect the laws of nature. I mean it doesn’t make sense for anyone to be upset due to disrespect to the laws of gravity, thermodynamics or mechanics right? In a similar way, how can one disrespect emptiness, laws of karma, Buddha nature, all the positive qualities like kindness, love and compassion? By virtue of having those qualities in Buddhist teachings itself means there is no way anyone should feel offended or disrespected nor does the “religion” itself feels disrespected.
In Buddhist texts, there are a lot of cases where other religious figures or even those within the Sangha try to question or malign the teachings or spread falsehood about it. What did the text say about how Buddha reacted? Did he punish them? Did he get offended? Did he say that they had disrespected him? No, the most he would do is to chide them for being foolish and I believe he mostly do it towards the monastics not a lay person or someone outside the monastic order. At the same time, he would explain to them rationally and logically why their thoughts or speech or action was incorrect and advise them on the appropriate way to look at things.
To me, punishment is never in the books of Buddhist teachings. The strongest “punishment” one gets is being disrobe for major offenses and this is only if one is in the monastic order. As such the idea of punishment and “Buddhist” country are never a matching pair, one can never call a country Buddhist and have various punishments to bring people inline with your idea of Buddhism, if anything this is the utmost form of disrespect for the teachings. In trying to “defend” the sanctity of Buddhism, Sri Lanka and its people have perhaps brought Buddhism more disrespect and disrepute.