Colombo, Religion and faith

Akon and Buddhism in Sri Lanka

The Government on Tuesday (March 23rd) announced its decision to deny an entry visa to singer Akon who was scheduled to perform next month in Colombo with co-singers, J-Sean and Kelly. The basis for the denial of Akon’s visa was a music video of the singer, containing a clip of scantily clad models dancing against the back drop of a Buddhist statue. The Government’s decision has been ratified by the Cabinet. The announcement came soon after the MTV/MBC head office was attacked by a group of armed thugs attached to a notorious politician for organizing the event.

Prior to the attack, a group of Buddhist Monks expressed their dismay over bringing down someone like “Akon” who had insulted Lord Buddha and Buddhism in his music videos, an allegation the singer vehemently denies.

It is against this dramatic backdrop that I wish to express my views on the whole Akon drama. As a follower of the Buddhist Philosophy, I don’t think anything can undermine or undervalue the greatness of the Buddhist philosophy or the respect for Lord Buddha.

Among the primary concepts of Buddhist philosophy is “The Middle Way,” the practice of avoiding extreme views and lifestyle choices.  Lord Buddha had also taught the importance of Tolerance and Equanimity (Upeksha), and had demonstrated them in his personality.

Buddhist literature describes the manner in which the Lord Buddha treated women like Sundhari Paribrajika and Chinchimanavika, even those who vilified him in public. Lord Buddha did not chase them out of the Monastery nor did the Buddha ask them to be arrested or charged in court. The Buddha simply maintained silence and demonstrated compassion to those who insulted him. That was the example the Lord Buddha set to his followers: tolerance and compassion to those who defame you.

Lord Buddha opened the door of his Sasana to everyone including murderers, thieves, prostitutes and the lower castes. According to Buddhist texts “Lady Patachara” who was in a weak mental state following the death of her family, did not have a cloth on her body when she came running towards the Monastery where the Lord Buddha resided. Although Patachara was in a state of shock, the Lord Buddha expressed his compassion to her.

This was not the only instance where an artist has been accused of releasing material prejudicial to ethnic groups and religious harmony. Late King of Pop, Michael Jackson was also criticised for his lyrics in the song, “They Don’t Really Care About Us” which contained a phrase, “Jew me, sue me everybody do me, kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me” which was dubbed “anti-semitic.” Jackson later apologized for the lyrics and later changed them for his single.

Singer Akon now says that he was not aware about the statue being on his set, when he shot the video. Following the decision by the Government to deny entry visa to Akon, the disheartened singer has released a statement saying, “I would never set out to offend or desecrate anyone’s religion or religious beliefs.  I myself am a spiritual man, so I can understand why they are offended, but violence is never the answer and I am disheartened to hear about what happened in Sri Lanka”.

I feel that the Government’s decision to deny a visa to Akon on the grounds of blasphemy is unwise and not according to the principles of the Buddhist Philosophy. The Government was gracious enough to invite the Leader of the Myanmar Junta who’s alleged to have committed atrocities against civilians and Buddhist Monks in Myanmar. It’s also amusing to see the very person who staged a demonstration outside the Kelaniya Temple vilifying General Sarath Fonseka when he paid a visit to the temple, contesting the upcoming Parliamentary Election.

In my view it’s not Akon who has insulted the Lord Buddha and his teachings. It is the Noble Buddha Shrawakas (followers) living in this “Paradise Island” that have insulted the Lord Buddha and his teachings by our double standards!