Buddhism, Idolatry and the Vajrayana Bikini

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.

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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.



Tharlo – a Mountainous Allegory of Tibet

One reviewer simplistically called it ‘ a rich allegory for a nation torn between past and future.’ Others glossed over its clear political undercurrent. Yet, in more ways than one, Tharlo is an allegory for courageous Tibetans, like Tseden himself. Many reviewers have labelled Tseden a pessimist, and he has also stated that he is pessimistic about the future of Tibetans under Chinese rule. Yet, ironically, his creative work and vision reveals an optimist, one who steadfastly refuses to let one’s ‘voice’ be silenced or crushed in the face of brute oppression and censorship. And for that reason alone the film is a symbol of hope, grace and majesty; like a Tibetan mountain.

My latest review of the new Tibetan film, Tharlo in the HuffPost

Is the Burkini Really Just ‘A Choice of Clothes’?

Imagine the scenario, you’re shopping in your local supermarket and in walks a person dressed head to toe in a Klu Klux Klan or Nazi uniform. You ask them if they’re going to a fancy dress party and they say no. They are clearly a person who holds beliefs that are racist and hateful. You are shocked, and probably offended. Do you say something or pretend not to notice? Judging by the western liberal voices in the media on the burkini in France this week, we should probably do the latter.  And yet, people would feel offended by such attire as a symbol of racial hatred and intolerance. In fact, the Nazi swastika has been banned in Germany. The point being that clothes are not only  symbols of aesthetic or practical ‘choice’ but of ‘belief’ and ideology too.

On the other hand, let’s suppose a white, non-Muslim woman goes into a predominantly Muslim area in a European city, one of the ‘no-go’ areas, wearing a mini-skirt or openly drinking alcohol. Do you think it would be tolerated and acceptable? Of course it wouldn’t and isn’t. As explained in France is Right to Ban the Burkini, this everyday fear and reality is not some Right-wing myth but has actually resulted in women being attacked:

This important point is blithely ignored by naive liberal writers, particularly those in Britain, who have little understanding of the extent of extremism in France, where 100 of the country’s 2,500 mosques are controlled by Salafists, the most puritanical Islamic ideology. The Salafists want all women covered, at all times, and the burkini is part of their strategy. It is a symbol of Islamic purity with a clear message: good Muslims wear the burkini, bad ones wear the bikini. Toleration of the burkini will only embolden France’s ‘police of mores’ in their campaign of coercion, a point emphasised by Nicolas Sarkozy in an interview to be published in Friday’s Le Figaro magazine. ‘Wearing a burkini is a political act, it’s militant, a provocation,’ said Sarkozy, styling himself as the uncompromising centre-right candidate ahead of next year’s Presidential elections. ‘If we do not put an end to this, there is a risk that in 10 years, young Muslim girls who do not want to wear the veil or burkini will be stigmatised and peer-pressured.

Conservative Muslims believe that ‘good women’ should be covered head to toe, that women are inferior to men and that their rights depend on their male guardians. Women who ‘choose’ or who are ‘pressured’ to wear burkas or even hijabs, are often subjected to such misogynist and sexist social conditioning from the day they are born.  Yet even so-called ‘moderate’ Islam (as well as other patriarchal religions) appears to condone and encourage some worrying beliefs. For example, according to one recent poll, half of all Muslims in the UK think that homosexuality should be outlawed (with 23% wanting Sharia Law). The death penalty for homosexuality applies in most Muslim-majority countries, so anyone arguing that this thinking bears no connection to Islam must be either a) incredibly naive or b) deluded.

These same naive (or regressive) liberals together with religious patriarchs were also celebrating the forced covering up of world-class female athletes at the Rio Olympics:

Veiled athletes were hailed as examples of multiculturalism, inclusiveness and female empowerment by dullards who looked past the reality of how women are treated in Muslim majority countries.

Tennis great Martina Navratilova was among those operating under the delusion that women competing in burkinis were free to choose, just like their Western sisters.

“Olympians in Hijab and Bikini, — as long as we have a choice, it is up to us to decide what is right for each of us,” Navratilova tweeted.

The only problem is that women in Islamic countries don’t have a choice and to pretend otherwise is a betrayal of the most disempowered women in the world; the very women that Western feminists should be fighting for instead of obsessing about trivial twaddle or, worse still, rationalising the treatment of women under Islam by indulging in cowardly moral relativism.

To be clear, I don’t support an outright ban (which would be difficult to police and further restrict the freedom of disempowered women). In any case, France’s highest court overturned the ban yesterday. However, one doesn’t have to support the French ban in order to support criticism of this form of clothing. As Muslim man, Maajid Nawaz wrote in Both Sides are Wrong in the Burkini Wars

It is possible to oppose the French ban on burkinis while also challenging the mindset of those who support burkas and burkinis…..

But the assumption that “modesty” equates to covering up is a subtle form of bigotry against the female form. It goes without saying that harassment on Western beaches, where the female form is more normalized, occurs less than in conservative societies, even though it is still present. But in too many instances across Muslim-majority contexts this “modesty theology” has led to slut-shaming of women who do not cover.

In the worst of cases, misogyny disguised as modesty has led to mass sexual harassment on the streets, most recently by gangs of Muslim migrants in Cologne. In Egypt, it has even given rise to a mass public rape phenomenon. As Muslim feminists note, violating Muslim cultural “honor codes” (irdh) and modesty theology (hayaa’) can lead to heinous legal and societal reprimand and the gross fetishization of a woman’s body.

John Stuart Mill, famously argued in ‘On Liberty’, that offence is not necessarily sufficient alone to ban something unless one can show it causes real harm or provokes hatred towards people. One could potentially argue that the ‘modesty doctrine’ ideology behind the burqa promotes misogyny and gender apartheid. As an ex-Muslim woman eloquently wrote in The Burkini-Bikini False Equivalence and Your Disproportionate Outrage :

I don’t know what people mean or understand by “coercion,” but positive adherence to modesty doctrine does not negate the presence of constraint.

Further to that, positive adherence to modesty doctrine in the presence of social sanction and encouragement is only to be expected.  Conforming to an extant social norm and feeling free and empowered to do so is not only entirely possible in the presence of systemic constraint, but encouraged and enabled by it. Especially if it is adherence within a fold that has no truck with outsiders (eg particularly insular communities).

Because while those who choose to conform are visible, those who are not free to dissent are not.

Looking at the woman who insists she wasn’t made to conform tells you nothing about the woman who didn’t want to conform, and hasn’t anything resembling the visibility to say so.

As a liberal, anti-racist feminist it is frustrating to hear the general debate on this issue yet again categorise those who criticise the burkini as Right-wing fascists or racists. Even French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the ban on burkinis in more than a dozen coastal towns on Thursday, saying France was locked in a “battle of cultures” and that the full-body swimsuit symbolised the enslavement of women.

Naive (or deluded) liberals really need to understand the ideology and reasoning behind such clothing to understand why many people in liberal,secular countries find them a provocation and offensive. It is the height of racist and patriarchal ignorance (and ignores the plight of millions of Muslim women currently being forced to wear such dress) to write such things off as simply a matter of ‘free choice’. Let’s not forget there are non-European (and Muslim-majority) countries that have banned the burqa and Germany is now considering following the same route as a ‘barrier to integration’.

If you really believe that it is acceptable for women and children to wear burqas out of social, religious or state-sanctioned pressure backed by sexist ideology then you really should also have no problem with people publicly wearing the swastika, the Klu Klux Klan outfit and so on in places where such views are uncommon.

The key distinction to be made here is one between a clothing choice made out of aesthetic or practical considerations and one made based on an ideology that is ‘offensive’ to liberal, secular, gender equality values. This is not about ‘covering-up’ vs ‘showing flesh’ this is about patriarchal religious ideology.



Beyond Leave and Remain…..

Disappointing to see the level of debate in Brexit reduced to one of Leave (racist old fogies) and Remain (pro-immigration, love and peace). Some sanity in the cacaphony of ‘rule and divide’ mainstream narratives.

John Pilger on why the British said No to Europe

The most effective propagandists of the “European ideal” have not been the far right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the 21st century zeitgeist, even “cool”.

What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority. In their house paper, the Guardian, they have gloated, day after day, at those who would even consider the EU profoundly undemocratic, a source of social injustice and a virulent extremism known as “neoliberalism”.

The aim of this extremism is to install a permanent, capitalist theocracy that ensures a two-thirds society, with the majority divided and indebted, managed by a corporate class, and a permanent working poor.John Pilger on why the British said No to Europe:

Ron Paul on  The People Will Not Suffer From Brexit, Only the Global Banking Elite Will

On Friday, the people of Great Britain made their voice heard. They no longer want to be a part of the European Union and for good reason. For decades they have sat back and watched the global elite enrich themselves through special trade agreements ostensibly designed to bolster the economy, but in reality grant special treatment to those close to the top.

Julian Assange on Brexit:

Zizek on Culture, Migrants and the Left

“Cultural struggles should not simply be: ‘I have my culture, you have yours, and we should understand each other.’ There are horrors at the heart of every culture. Like Walter Benjamin said: ‘There is no document of civilisation which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’ The problem is how to confront the very core of how we feel, how we desire. Our own cultural fundamentalists claim that culture is an authentic experience at the innermost core of our being. Such a claim is false. Fake it, pretend it, overcome it, but I don’t think that this appeal to some inner core (even if it is of our own culture) has any value. It certainly doesn’t have any emancipatory value. Our innermost attitudes are something we learn, but they can also be changed. We must never forget that.” Slavoj Zizek


The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture

Dating Tips for the Feminist Man

The opposite of masculine rape culture is masculine nurturance culture: men* increasing their capacity to nurture, and becoming whole.

The Ghomeshi trial is back in the news, and it brings violent sexual assault back into people’s minds and daily conversations. Of course violence is wrong, even when the court system for handling it is a disaster. That part seems evident. Triggering, but evident.

But there is a bigger picture here. I am struggling to see the full shape emerging in the pencil rubbing, when only parts are visible at a time.

A meme going around says ‘Rape is about violence, not sex. If someone were to hit you with a spade, you wouldn’t call it gardening.’ And this is true. But it is just the surface of the truth. The depths say something more, something about violence.

Violence is nurturance turned backwards.

These things are connected, they must be connected. Violence and nurturance are two sides of the same coin. I…

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Selective Outrage: The Silence and Denial about Islamic Homophobia

Fifty people were gunned down in a mass terrorist shooting in Orlando; USA. They were deliberately targeted by Muslim man, Omar Mateen, 29, because they were gay. Outrage and shock followed the shooting which has been described as one of the worst mass shootings in US history. I will leave the issue of the gun ownership laws in the USA to one side, which are definitely a big part of the problem.

However, since the news broke I have noticed yet again those on the Regressive Left, Muslims and Religious Right, stating that ‘we should not ‘exploit’ the crime and talk about Islamic homophobia. As Hassan Raza put it:

If one thing that stays consistent every time there is a terrorist attack somewhere in the Western world where Muslims turn out to be the perpetrators is the response of majority of Muslims around the globe. Be it Paris, Brussels or the recent tragedy that hit Florida today, one of the responses that we often get to see is “Terrorism has no religion.” I personally believe nothing could be farther from truth. In my opinion, Terrorism definitely has a religion, whether it is the religion of Babbar Khalsa, Bajrang Dal, the Lord’s Resistance Army or the ISIS. As long as you’re carrying out attacks on innocent civilians in the name of your religion or after getting motivated by your religious sacred text, your terrorism, and extremism has a religion.

And yet homophobia and hatred is still being openly preached in US mosques. The Husseini Islamic Center in Florida, USA, invited Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar to speak at their Mosque. Dr. Sekaleshfar says the killing of homosexuals is the compassionate thing to do. In a 2013 speech Sheikh Sekaleshfar said this regarding gays:

Death is the sentence. We know there’s nothing to be embarrassed about this, death is the sentence…We have to have that compassion for people, with homosexuals, it’s the same, out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.”

When Sheikh Sekaleshfar calls for the death of all homosexuals based on the tenets of Islam it cannot be ignored, he is an expert on Shariah Islamiyya or Islamic Law.

A recent survey of British (yes British) Muslims found that 50% (way more than the national average) thought that homosexuality should be illegal. Sadly, this does not surprise me at all as that has been my own personal experience when talking to ‘ordinary’ Muslims.

I taught English to a group of Algerian Muslim men  a couple of months ago. Without any provocation from my side, they asked me what I thought about gay people. I had been warned by my boss (eager not to lose paying students) not to be pro-gay or say anything that might offend them (what like expressing views of a decent, tolerant human being?). He told me that a male teacher had said something to the class that showed he supported LGBT rights. They were deeply offended and told my boss they didn’t want him to teach them.So I turned the question on the men and asked them what they thought. They all stated without hesitation that it was wrong and forbidden by the Koran. I am sure many Catholics and members of other major religions would say the same thing too.

These were not extremists or radicals, they were educated, middle-class Muslim men. I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let´s face it, patriarchal religion was, and is, like a cancer on this planet. It oppresses women, children and men. We cannot let multi-cultural tolerance become tolerance of the totally unacceptable (and yes that includes women wearing hijab).


Can you imagine a white man gunning down fifty plus black people and people saying ‘don’t mention the fact that he’s white because that’s exploitative and we need to let people grieve’? No. In fact, whenever a white guy guns down people in the USA it is immediately made into an issue of race. So why are people saying that when a Muslim man guns down gay people? That is the problem with Regressive Left PC advocates (and I consider myself to be a socialist-anarchist). It’s imbalanced and selective in its outrage. It also gives people the impression (in its misplaced need not to offend Muslims or people of colour) that religious homophobia and intolerance by Muslims should not be openly discussed. As Dave Rubin eloquently put it in Orlando Terror Attack is a Wake Up Call to Gays, Women, and You:

Imagine if there was a political party that believed in forcing women to dress head to toe, endorsed throwing gays off roofs, and killing apostates who left the party. Every sane person, both left and right in America, would be rightfully against this backwards ideology. Yet for some reason, as a religion, this set of ideas gets a pass. And not only does it get a pass, it gets handled with kid gloves, tacitly endorsed or intentionally obfuscated by Western intellectuals. Of course, irony being what it is, Radical Islam will come for these apologists right after they’re done with the gays, the women, and the other assorted infidels.

Some people were also angry at the hypocrisy of the sudden outpouring and grief for the LGBT community while the daily crimes against LGBT people in Muslim-majority countries (sanctioned by the state and police) go ignored and unreported. Habiba Effat had this to say about hypocrisy on this issue from the Egyptian State Department:


Where the fuck are your “heartfelt” fucking “condolences” for the thousands of LGBTQ Egyptians who are arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared and subject to the most inhumane forms of torture and killed in cold blood in your police stations and prisons, whose stories will never be heard and whose causes cannot even be publicly advocated for because both state and society viciously sanction brutality against anything remotely queer in the name of traditions and morality and religion? Do you experience the same kind of “grief” for every gay or trans Egyptian whose life you have ruined and whose family you have torn apart? Are you “united” with the many more who cannot dare express themselves freely in this country for fear of never seeing the light of day again? Fuck you, Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you fucking joke of a diplomatic institution, and fuck you especially, Ahmed Abu Zeid, you hypocritical fucking cunt.

So if as many try to claim, those who hate and murder gay people are not real practitioners of Islam, how come the 10 countries that have the death penalty for gay people are ALL Muslim majority countries? Did all those people in those countries get Islam wrong then?

And also what about British, gay Muslim,  Sohail Ahmed, who spoke to the BBC about why he considered terrorism as a direct result of his religious upbringing and beliefs who states: “I actually became more radical because I was gay……It`s like you really start believing you`re evil.””

With the EU recently deciding to ban ‘hate speech’ on social media and German comedian, Jan Böhmermann, being prosecuted in a German court for ‘insulting’ the Turkish President, the importance of preserving liberal, secular values on gender equality and LGBT rights together with freedom of expression has never been more acute.

As Aayan Hirsan Ali said on Twitter in response to the cowardly murders:

No doctrine is more violent to the gay community than Islamic doctrine. It is time to take on Muslim homophobia.