Defilement of Buddha statues -- a sacrilege
Priyanga Kumari Jayakody interviews Ven.Medagama Dhammananda Thera of Asgiri Maha Viharaya. .
Q. A few days ago there was a furore about modelling a candle in the shape of a Buddha statue. This is not the first occasion in which the Buddha statue or Buddhism has become the subject of sacrilege.
A. Yes, from ancient days there were various threats to Buddhist culture. Many of our artefacts of archaeological value in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa have been destroyed. Among them were Buddha statues which were without the heads. There is a motive behind this destruction. Our sculptors modeled Buddha statues emphasizing the features of devotion and reverence. When such features are destroyed, devotion and reverence disappears. There are a number of motives behind destruction of this nature. Certain ethnic and cultural groups cannot endure the culture of another country. There is also another kind of ‘empty’ individuals hunting for treasures in Buddha statues. They are not bothered about religious values or about Buddhist philosophy, but only look for wealth.
Q. From that point of view, the cultural targets carried out by certain countries are a powerful challenge before us?
A. Quite so. The effects on Buddhists and Hindus are tremendous. It is so because these two religions are exceedingly non-violent. They practise universal compassion. They are reckoned for their patience practised throughout the history. Nevertheless there are instances where Hindus have reacted in an adverse manner. The gravity of violence in those countries is more severe than in Sri Lanka. Whatever said and done, there is an apparent global plan on the part of the U.S.A. to bring the entire world under one religious and cultural umbrella. This ambition of domination is manifest in the missions of aggression on Islamic countries.
Q. Under a social surge of that nature, what should be our responsibility as Buddhists?
A. People in general try to find solutions to emerging problems depending on their level of knowledge and psyche. There are also people who do not act emotionally but intelligently to solve their problems. Yet, the problem as to whether this issue should be endured silently or not is under serious consideration. There are two cultures existing in our society. One is the culture of statue destruction. As far as religious influences are concerned there are certain incitements.
Destruction of statues is a part of such incitements. This is the culture of vandalism.
The other culture, we are confronted with today, is the misuse of title names and reputations of popular people as trade marks. That is a strategy of market promotion. Under these conditions we must enlighten the targeted victims and take legal measures wherever possible. Awareness measures should be taken by state and religious leaders.
Q. What is your opinion about the impact of our current social surrounding on Buddhist culture.
A. This is a very serious situation. This is damage brought about systematically. We are sensitive to anything that takes place internationally. In the same way, we are quick to forget. But, we are not sensitive to the systematic approach of our destruction owing to the changes in our social surroundings. For instance, there are numerous terrorist groups activated to harm Sinhala Buddhist culture. In collaboration with Western culture, there are projects carried out through cinema and teledrama to criticize Buddhist philosophy.
Various concepts are introduced through novels, short stories and the print media to promote this trend. When agitations are resorted to against such trends, there is an uproar about media freedom or freedom of expression. Recently the entire Muslim world was angered because a picture of Prophet Mohammed was portrayed in a cartoon. Buddhists in Sri Lanka have never gone to such serious levels.
Q. How should we prevent this harmful trend?
A. The Buddha during his lifetime was confronted with scorn and insults of this nature by believers of wrong visions. The Buddha faced such situations with patience and equanimity. His conduct proved that truth is sublime and will always triumph. If we are personally confronted with such situations our ability to endure them is another story altogether.
But what is discernible in the current situation is that it is an insult to a religion and a religious founder. It is true that we should not be agitated or emotional. But we have to take steps against this tendency. That must come from state and religious leaders. Otherwise this state of affairs will aggravate and cause grave social and cultural damage.