It’s been a while since the ‘lazy dakini’ wrote something…….but something recently awoke me from my stupor which was enough to generate some wrathful dakini activity ha ha ha
So, recently, on social media, there have been a lot of appeals from ‘devout’ Tibetan Buddhists (mostly Tibetan Buddhists by culture, but even some intensively ‘trained’ in Buddhist Philosophy) to protest about the ‘offensive’ selling of clothes that bear the images of Vajrayana Buddhism on them.
While it is absolutely clear, that for a PRACTISING BUDDHIST, not disrespecting Buddhist images and holding them in high regard (thangkas for example should always be placed so they are above one’s head) is an essential part of accumulating merit, mind training and deity meditation, it does not encourage or condone placing such images or material objects ABOVE the inner values and qualities espoused by the Buddha Dharma, such as patience, compassion, love, friendship and so on. And it certainly does not condone or encourage people to try and FORCE or INTIMIDATE others who are not practising Buddhists to show respect for such images either.
Such ‘religious outrage’ over a bikini has happened before, when Victoria’s Secret sold a swimsuit with the image of Buddha on it. At that time, Gen. Amnuay Phetsiri, the deputy chief of the national police of Thailand said it “is a major insult to Buddhism,” and others called for a boycott of the company.
The definition of ‘idolatory’ literally means the worship of an ‘idol’, also known as a cult image, in the form of a physical image, such as a statue or icon. In Abrahamic religions, namely Christianity, Islam and Judaism, idolatry connotes the worship of something or someone other than God as if it were God. In these and several other monotheistic religions, idolatry has been considered as the “worship of false gods” and is forbidden.
In many Indian religions, such as theistic and non-theistic forms of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, idols are considered as symbolism for the absolute but not the absolute, or icons of spiritual ideas, or the embodiment of the divine. They are a means to focus one’s religious pursuits and worship (bhakti). In the traditional religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Africa, Asia, the Americas and elsewhere, the reverence of an image or statue has been a common practice, and cult images have carried different meanings and significance.
The opposition to the use of any icon or image to represent ideas of reverence or worship is called aniconism. The destruction of idols and images as icons of veneration is called iconoclasm, and this has long been accompanied with violence between religious groups that forbid idol worship and those who have accepted icons, images and idols for worship.
Buddhist philosophy is neither iconoclastic nor aniconistic. It neither forbids nor encourages idolatry. They are used simply as a symbolic means to focus one’s spiritual practise and worship. It is ironic therefore that such ‘angry’ appeals about these bikinis and so on, actually cause a greater disservice to Buddhism and it’s public ‘image’ than these clothes. It makes Buddhism seem like a fundamentalist religion that takes the misuse of religious images as blasphemous, and even worthy of fighting and so on.
It is also ironic, that many Tibetan Buddhists (including some lamas with a strong habit for it) support a far more ‘offensive’ industry, which is one that kills millions of sentient beings annually out of nothing more than personal desire and taste and destroys the planet in the process. The meat industry. Yet, how many appeals by Tibetan Buddhists do you see to outlaw mass factory farming and so on?
I cannot help but feel that a lot of the ‘anger’ here also has to do with a kind of puritanical misogyny that thinks nothing of displaying statues and images of naked women in temples, and revering sixteen year olds as the ideal consorts, while at the same time hypocritically denigrating women who appear naked in other formats and contexts. In terms of Vajrayana (tantric practise) ,which is followed particularly by Tibetan Buddhists, one of the fundamental root tantric vows is not to disrespect any woman, old, young, attractive, ugly, sexual, celibate etc. Why? Because women are considered to be the essence of wisdom, and even if they are not fully enlightened, they are still considered to be sacred because of that. In addition, ordinary beings cannot tell if a woman is a wisdom dakini or not, so they should proceed with caution before generalising about them in a negative way .
HH the Gyalwang Karmapa, who is an advocate of gender equality and vegetarianism, recently had this to say about the destruction (or disrespect) of Buddhist images and objects, in relation to the wanton destruction of the ancient Buddha Bamiyan statues by fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan:
In 2001, the huge Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan were intentionally demolished. From a certain perspective within Islam, these statues were offensive instruments of idol worship, while to Buddhists they were reminders of sacred principles and the very best of our innate human potential. Basically, we Buddhists use physical images in our spiritual practice, while Muslims worship without images. Clinging to either position was creating a wall between people. But they are just statues. Allowing ourselves to be pitted against each other over a statue – now that is really clinging to biases.
Personally, I do not see a basis for treating religious differences this way. A while after the Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed, I had the opportunity to meet with an Afghan youth group working for peace. I suggested to them that we might view the coming down of the Bamiyan Buddhas as bringing down the walls between all peoples. If the presence of those statues was setting us at odds, perhaps we could see it as useful that they were brought down. This is how I felt about it.
Walls come up between people when we attach more importance to the form of our religious identities than to the substance of what they teach us. When spiritual beliefs are used to build up walls between people, this is a total misunderstanding of the purpose of spirituality. Spirituality should mean coming closer to yourself. When this happens, you become closer to others, too. Spirituality and religion should dismantle discrimination and labels, not shore them up. It should break, not create, barriers between people.
Indeed. After all, one of the most famous texts in the Buddhist tradition, the Heart Sutra, says:’ Form is emptiness and emptiness is form……’ All appearances arise and disappear into one’s mind. Taking external appearances to be more important than inner qualities is what Buddha said is a ‘significant error’ indeed.
As Shakyamuni Buddha himself said, Itivutaka 92:
This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Even if a monk, taking hold of my outer cloak, were to follow right behind me, placing his feet in my footsteps, yet if he were to be greedy for sensual pleasures, strong in his passions, malevolent in mind, corrupt in his resolves, his mindfulness muddled, unalert, uncentered, his mind scattered, & his faculties uncontrolled, then he would be far from me, and I from him. Why is that? Because he does not see the Dhamma. Not seeing the Dhamma, he does not see me.
“But even if a monk were to live one hundred leagues away, yet if he were to have no greed for sensual objects, were not strong in his passions, not malevolent in mind, uncorrupt in his resolves, his mindfulness established, alert, centered, his mind at singleness, & his faculties well-restrained, then he would be near to me, and I to him. Why is that? Because he sees the Dhamma. Seeing the Dhamma, he sees me.