May 6, 2014
Many have expressed their views on your Opinion page on tattooing Buddha images and other religious figures. The case in point was about a British tourist, Ms Naomi Coleman, who was arrested, detained and deported for having a tattoo of the Buddha and a Hindu deity on her right upper arm. What should our attitude be to the tattooing of the Buddha on one’s person? Is the tattooing of a Buddha image on one’s person disrespectful to the Buddha?
I would put it this way; it is surely improper to have a Buddha image tattooed on your person, whether you are a Sri Lankan or a foreigner. The Buddha is revered universally because he conquered worldly attachment and taught mankind to end all suffering by this means. To tattoo his image on one’s body is surely an act of disrespect. However, we must not resort to detention, deportation and punishment of any sort, for foreign visitors who sport tattoos because foreigners do not know our traditions and our practices. It is the part of the Tourism authorities to keep tourists advised on any sensitive issues concerning religious matters.
As I see it, the problem will be with our younger generations. With officialdom giving its nod to tattooing the Buddha, it surely will not be very long before, not only foreigners, but our younger generations too, will start sporting Buddha tattoos on their arms and body, more out of bravado and fun than reverence.
In this country, we have, through centuries, built up a strong tradition of solemn reverence of the Buddha, which the younger generations follow in earnest. Frivolous new fangled practices can weaken such values and practices. It was interesting to note that a very high flying politician sympathized with Ms Coleman for the way she had been treated and further assured the public that it is quite in order to tattoo the Buddha on one’s person, as Ms Coleman had done. He did not seem worried about future generations. But, what can we expect from such leaders who have already sold the country’s soul to Packer?
We are sure Ms Coleman meant no harm to the Buddhists in Sri Lanka in branding her arm with images of the Buddha and a Hindu deity, and in fact she says she is an ardent Buddhist herself. Yet, if she had a better understanding of the traditions and practices of revering the Buddha here, she might have realized how inappropriate it is to tattoo the Buddha on one’s person.
There are those who welcome the permissiveness of the West to invade Sri Lanka, bringing in situations where nothing is sacred and even sex is allowed to pervade religion and religious figures. We had earlier instances in Sri Lanka, where women from the West have sat on the lap of seated statues of the Buddha, couples who kissed and embraced standing before Buddha statues. People are vigilant and quick to intervene and stop such acts showing not only that the authorities, but the people too, disapprove of such acts, in the premises of sacred places; that is the difference in the cultures of the West and East. It is interesting to note in this context that India’s Bollywood, the largest film producer in the world, still does not show scenes of intense love making because Indian film producers know that the people are conservative and expect them to observe restrictions.
When some may have difficulty in thinking what is right and wrong, remembering the famous words of Mark Twain – “For East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet” – would help us to realize that the people of the East and West, for all the globalization of today, still continue to live worlds apart in matters of culture.