Colombo, Identity, Religion and faith

Akon and Buddhism in Sri Lanka: A Response to Bhikkhu K. Tanchangya

[Editor’s note: This article is a rejoinder to “Akon and Buddhism in Sri Lanka – A Monk’s Response” by Bhikkhu K. Tanchangya published on the Buddhist Channel website on the 28th of March 2010. Bhikkhu K. Tanchangya’s article was a response to the author’s original article ‘Akon and Buddhism in Sri Lanka‘.]

I wrote “Akon and Buddhism in Sri Lanka” exclusively for Groundviews, a prominent citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka. I expressed my opinion on the “Akon issue” as a citizen of Sri Lanka. Groundviews published my article on the 27th of March 2010 and later ‘The Buddhist Channel’ website published it attributing the original article to Groundviews. The Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees its citizens the freedom of speech, expression and publication [Article 14(1) (a)]. Therefore, as a citizen of Sri Lanka I have every right to publish what I think and write be it under my name or under a nom de plume.

I feel that Bhikkhu K Tanchangya has misunderstood the essence and the main argument of my article. The essence of my article was my perception of Buddhist philosophy. In order to communicate my perception, I referred to the primary principles of Buddhist philosophy and also quoted examples from the life of Lord Buddha that is detailed in Buddhist literature.

My argument was based on the politics surrounding the issue and the double standards depicted by the Government in denying Akon a visa for blasphemy and disrespect of Buddhism whilst issuing a visa to the Leader of Myanmar, Tan Shwe, whose administration has committed hundreds of atrocities against Buddhists and Buddhist monks in his country which I feel is far more damaging to Buddhists and Buddhism than Akon’s music video.

The writer mentions in his article that, “although Lord Buddha accepted thieves, murderers and prostitutes into the sasana, he never condoned such acts.” I am aware of this and I agree. Lord Buddha’s acceptance of these people into his Sasana as disciples demonstrates the non-violent approach in changing their lives by showing compassion and loving-kindness rather than by punishment. The best example in Buddhist literature is the case of the violent murderer, Angulimala. At a critical juncture, Lord Buddha himself took Angulimala into the Sasana even though the prevailing monarchy ordered him to be arrested and charged for his crimes.

Moving onto the Devadatta issue mentioned by the writer. The words, “ignorant bugs and trouble makers destined for hell” attributed to Lord Buddha seems uncouth. Lord Buddha did not approve of the misdeeds of Devadatta and his group of disciples and pointed out to his followers that engaging in these misdeeds will bring misery and could lead them to hell. At the same time, Lord Buddha asserted that demonstrating hatred and anger towards them will not benefit the followers or the monk Devadatta, and requested his followers to demonstrate loving kindness (Meththa), equanimity (Upekkha) and compassion (Karuna) towards them.

I feel that there is a huge contrast in the way most Buddhists in Sri Lanka have behaved towards Akon and the people associated with his concert, and the teachings of Lord Buddha as highlighted above.

The very fact that the MTV/MBC was attacked for promoting his concert portrays the intolerance in place of tolerance, hatred in place of loving kindness and ignorance in place of equanimity. My main argument is that if showing disrespect towards Lord Buddha and Buddhism was the reason for the denial of a visa to Akon, that same principle should have applied to General Tan Shwe- the Leader of Myanmar.

The oppression of the people of Myanmar by the rulers and atrocities committed against Buddhist monks is a well-known fact. Yet, General Tan Shwe was issued a visa while the true spiritual leader of Tibet- the Dalai Lama- was denied a visa last year by the Sri Lankan Government. This depicts the politics involved and the double standards practiced by the Government.

I neither have any personal regard nor animosity towards Akon. The artist’s morality, spirituality and ethics could be considered abhorrent or at the very least, controversial. Instead, my main concern is the misinterpretation of the basic principles of Buddhist philosophy in advancing the agenda of the Government.