The Buddha was a source of boundless compassion, but there were evil humans bent on destroying him. Angulimala did his utmost to harm him and cut a finger but in vain. Devadatta, consumed with hatred and jealousy, went all out to destroy the Enlightened One, only to give up in the end. Chinchimanavika heaped abuse on the Compassionate One and left no stone unturned in her efforts to vilify him but only to have her evil intentions exposed. Some of the Brahmins, who perceived the Buddha as a threat to their teachings, though he never looked down upon them, kept on questioning whether he had really attained Enlightenment. One of them even had doubts about his potency. The Buddha cleared those doubts in his inimitable way and convinced the inquisitive Brahmin that he had left the worldly life not due to any such problem but in search of the truth. The Buddha`s life was full of challenges, which he overcame. And after his parinibbana, his successor, the dhamma is beset with far more serious challenges.
Sri Lankan Buddhists in the UK are up in arms against the sale of `Buddha Head candles` at some supermarkets in that country, as we reported yesterday with a picture of a candle at issue. Buddhist activists the world over have joined what is turning out to be an international campaign against the company that produces those candles. The Sri Lanka mission in London has evinced a keen interest in the matter and initiated a dialogue with the company concerned to stop the desecration of the Buddha`s image.
The deplorable practice of desecration of religious images and places of worship is as old as the hills. One may wonder if that kind of crass behaviour is caused by a human gene immune to the evolutionary process, which has refined man in many other respects over the millennia. The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues, demolition of Babri Masjid and attacks on Churches and Hindu temples are proof of how barbaric man can become, when he is blinded by bigotry.
This is not the first time the Buddha`s image has been desecrated. In most cases, advertisers and designers get carried away by their `creative ignorance` and come out with the brilliant idea of using symbols sacred to others to boost the demand for some products. In so doing, those worshippers of Mammon have no qualms about abusing anything from motherhood to Buddhahood for a few dollars or pounds more. (Some multinationals claim that cow`s milk is better than mother`s milk!) Besides, there are religious fanatics who cherish the delusion that they could destroy a religion with the desecration of its physical interface consisting of symbols and places of worship. That is a milder version of the methods of the conquering armies of yore that put to the sword the believers of religions other than theirs, to foist their faith on the vanquished.
A discussion on the dispute over the so-called Buddha Head candles won`t be complete without reference to what the Buddha is said have thought of religious images. There were no images of the Buddha during his lifetime, to begin with. But, one of his disciples happened to seek his views on images. The Buddha, who rejected the worship of physical objects as the means of achieving liberation, said if his disciple was feeling unbearable cold in the winter and had a wooden Buddha image with him, he shouldn`t hesitate to burn it to keep himself warm! (Let it be added immediately that this doesn`t mean there is nothing wrong with destroying the images of the Buddha and using them for wax candles.)
In the modern world, religious images serve some useful purpose in that fickle minds find in them some kind of spiritual moorings to gain some stability in life. Those images have gathered cultural accretions as well over the centuries and become part and parcel of people`s identities. The ethos of a particular community may also find expression in such symbols. Hence, people`s emotional attachment to them, however contrary it may be to the core tenets of their religions, as in the case of Buddhism. That is why in the civilised world the desecration of such symbols, be they religious or cultural, should be avoided. How many wars have been fought in their name!
The real motive of those who used the Buddha`s image for candles is not known. It may be purely commercial or even religious?or both. We don`t venture a guess on this sensitive matter. Suffice it to say that if their intent is to lend themselves to a sinister campaign against Buddhism as claimed by some protesters, then they have set about something Sisyphean that could be likened to an effort to disprove the law of gravity by making a wax candle of Newton`s head!
It is time the civilised world gave serious thought to adopting a restrictive covenant against the desecration of religious symbols in whatever form, if it is to prevent the bad situation it is already in from becoming worse.
May saner counsel prevail!