Friday, July 26, 2013

MUNICH A METROPOLITAN CITY WITH A HEART FOR BUDDHISTS?

Munich, the city in the south of Germany keeps using the tag line "Weltstadt mit Herz" (metropolitan city with heart). Well, it might be a metropolitan city, but "with heart", I seriously doubt! Certainly not with a heart for it's Buddhist citizens and visitors. How else could they continue to display the "fallen" Buddha image at it's local Viktualienmarkt, a public market place. Tucked into a corner with beer halls, hotels, restaurants and market stalls, the Buddha continues to insult Buddhists, mainly from the Thai Theravada tradition but also from other schools of Buddhism.

The city has been flooded with protest notes and letters which have all been answered in the same fashion and with the same words, mainly trying to "sell" this piece of "art" to us and trying to "educate" us on what to believe and what not in terms of Buddhist icons.

The latest propaganda effort was a public debate with invited guests at the city's museum. Coincidentally or purposely, it was scheduled for the evening of Khao Pansa Day and the beginning of Buddhist lent. A day we usually spend in the temples with sermons, prayers and observing Buddhist traditions. The list of invitees made me decide not to waste my time and attend, but rather to continue observing Khao Pansa Day. The list of "experts" who were invited were the representative of the city's culture department, the director of a leading art gallery in Munich (Lenbachhaus), a representative of the Evangelical Church (various names where handled) and a representative of the German Buddhist Union as well as Bhikku Philipp Thitadhammo, Leader of the Bodhi Vihara temple in Freising (a town outside of Munich). While the first three are truly "experts" of Buddhism (...NOT!), Bhikku Philipp Thidadhammo had already made his points clear regarding the displayed "art" two weeks before the event. So, only the representative of the Buddhist Union, Gunnar Gantzhorn, spoke for the Buddhists who were offended here. No representative of the Thai temples, who were really the ones who protested and who were offended, were either invited to speak at the podium or had time to attend. There were some protesting supporters outside of the Museum though.

In the end, this debate was nothing short of yet another advertising event for the artist and his offensive piece of "art". The closing headline of one of the city's paper was then naturally "THE BUDDHA STAYS!" and the representative of the city was quoted with "the Buddha will be neither turned upwards nor will it be removed".



Bhikku Philipp Thidadhammo was already quoted in the city's Süddeutsche Zeitung two weeks earlier, saying that "a Buddha statue does not represent an icon of equal importance for Buddhism as does a cross does for Christianity" and that "Buddhists do not get hung up on outer appearances or icons". That might be true for the monastery and the Buddhist school Bhikku Philipp Thidadhammo represents, but as he points out in the article the "Thai side" is "acting sensitively" to this issue. I would actually disagree with the statement regarding equal importance. Buddhists would NEVER EVER even dream about placing an image of the Buddha or it's icons on the floor or even stepping on it, as you can see it all over Christian cathedrals, where graves and mosaics with the holy cross are displayed on its floors. I am also not sure what those Buddha statues in the Bodhi Vihara are? Just decoration or an icon of religious worship and respect?

The Buddhist Union itself had called for a meditation session in front of the Buddha statue for a week earlier, thus they either see the Buddha as a "real" Buddha image or why else would they meditate in front of a "phony-looking souvenir" as the city's Abendzeitung paper again quotes as a result of the public debate?

A "phony-looking souvenir" is also the exact wording which is used by the nearby Louis Hotel in an attempt to support the artist and the city of Munich. Surprisingly (or rather not) they all use the same wording in their propaganda. Well, if I was an Asian Buddhist traveler to Munich, I would certainly not stay at a hotel which offends my religious feelings and whether Munich on the other hand, the self-proclaimed "metropolitan city with heart" should be my chosen travel destination is also in question after seeing how they insult my religious beliefs. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

WHAT MAKES A BUDDHA IMAGE GENUINE?



Of course this is a rather hypothetical question for a Buddhist! It is actually a non-existing question for a Buddhist because every Buddha image is genuine! Even going back to the earliest scriptures we can read "whoever sees me (the Buddha) sees the Dhamma; whoever sees the Dhamma sees me (the Buddha)". The Buddha image and the Dhamma are cohesively conjoined. There is no such thing as a Buddha image which does not represent the Buddha or the teachings of the Buddha. 

However, in the case of the "overturned" Buddha image, displayed in the city of Munich as "art", the officials want to make us believe that the image shown here is not a "genuine" Buddha.  Their attempt to influence the public can be seen like a golden thread from the flyers placed next to the exhibition, through the statements from the city's cultural department and officials, all the way to the way the press reports about it. 

It says the artist "positioned a Buddha statue reminiscent of an over sized souvenir article" and that "the statue poses the question of authenticity. Far from being a ritual or cult object...". It also claims the artist Han Chong, a Malaysian now living in London, was a Buddhist himself. Well, shame on him if he even claims to be a Buddhist, because no practising Buddhist would ever even dream about representing the Buddha in this way. 

I dislike to be lectured about my beliefs by non-Buddhists! Who do they think they are? I am not going to tell a Muslim when when to start Ramadan or how to properly pray. I am not going to lecture a Christian how to observe their holy days. So, why are they (the city, the artist's agency and the press) trying to lecture me and other Buddhists on what we  can believe and what we can worship?

In one of the city's popular newspapers, The Abendzeitung (evening paper) Mr. Volker Isfort reports on 3. July 2013 about the turning public opinion about the "fallen" Buddha image. He writes "Der unecht anmutende goldene Farbton der Skulptur und ihr einfaches Design erinnern an typische Souvenirartikel", which translates to "the non-genuine apparently golden colour tone of the sculpture and its simple design remind us of a typical souvenir item". Who is this Volker Isfort, if those are really his words and not the provided text from the artist and the city of Munich's officials? How did he become an expert in Buddhism and Buddhist icons? 

The Buddha displayed as here as "art" is the same Buddha image I pray to at home. As far as I could see it even has all of the Buddha's typical features. To me, there is no difference between this Buddha image and those in a temple. The only difference might be that it was not consecrated but by the fact that we Buddhists see it as a Buddha and pay our respect to it, it is now a genuine item of worship. The claim that the "apparently golden colour tone" makes it look "cheap" does also not count. And how can it be "over sized"? The artist has obviously never even been inside a temple or observed large Buddha statues in his own homeland, which are by far bigger. And since when did the colour of a Buddha image matter? I have them in white, gray, golden, black, yellow-golden and I have recently even seen pink, green and blue images during a temple ceremony. However, if Mr. Isfort had done any kind of research he would have found that the Buddha images colour is usually golden because according to legend the Buddha was born with limbs that shone like the sun. It just all sounds like a real lame argument to make a wrong thing right and justify this shameful piece of art in the city of Munich. 

So, please don't lecture us Buddhists on size, form and colour of our Buddha images. A Buddha image is a Buddha image and they are all genuine. Whether made in Dresden or in China and elsewhere in Asia!

WAT THAI MUNICH AND THE FALLEN BUDDHA (cont.)


The overturned Buddha image in Munich, Germany continues to spark public debates about the rightful display of a religious image in Germany and abroad. After the initial protests which were called by Wat Thai Munich, there have been protests in Bangkok in front of the German embassy and elsewhere. Coverage in Thai newspapers, the Bangkok Post and various German newspapers made the shameful piece of "art" in Munich more public.

A meditation protest was called for last Saturday in front of the Buddha statue by Lotus Sangha – German Buddhism of the Yun Hwa Denomination of World Social Buddhism and Wat Thai staged another public protest last weekend, making bystanders and people who just passed by aware of what happened here.

I have written another protest note to the mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, without getting a reply yet. As he is running for the prime ministers office in September's election, it will for sure cost him my vote! How could I vote for a politician who violates my religious feelings!

The next phase of the public debate will now happen on Tuesday 23rd July in Munich's city museum. At 19:00 a public debate is scheduled to happen where people can voice their opinion on how their religious feelings are harmed by the display of an overturned Buddha image. ... to be continued...

Monday, July 1, 2013

WAT THAI MUNICH CALLING FOR PROTESTS

While this is a blog about temples in Thailand, it is also the perfect place to post this blog - A temple in Munich, Germany calling for a protest against a shameful placement of a Buddha image in the middle of the city. 

A special "art" project called "A SPACE CALLED PUBLIC", Chong, positioned a meditation Buddha image on it's back, as if it had fallen over. The head almost on the floor. Something unthinkable in Asia is deemed "art" in Germany's city of Munich. 
by the Malaysian artist Han


When I first saw the image in the paper, my jaw dropped and I said to myself "how ridiculous ...and how offensive!!!" We fired off emails to the responsible person in the city's responsible department. The answer came prompt and was merely an advertisement for the art show. 

The "fallen" Buddha image was placed in a busy market
place, next to a public drinking hall! Kids crawled onto it, playing while parents watched and obviously unable to read, ignoring the sign which said not to step on it. Tourists sat on the Buddha's arm and posed for photos. Sad! Very sad! Even more sad was that the city and the organizers claim that the artist is a Buddhist himself. Malaysian originally, he now lives in London. 


After the first protest letters from the Buddhist Union of Germany, private people and newspaper coverage, the city quickly added an addendum to the flyers next to the Buddha, stating again, that Han Chong is himself a Buddhist and that his image has "unfortunately been misinterpreted as disrespectful and insensitive towards a religious symbol". 

Bangkok Post reported on it, as did other magazines. Facebook pages like this one in German and Thai languages were founded and Wat Thai Munich called for protests.


The Royal Thai Embassy and the Royal Thai Consulate protested in letters to the Mayor of Munich, who in his answer again claimed that nobody wants to offend Buddhists. Well, guess what? You are offending us!! 

Whatever an artist has in mind is hard to grasp for the local
bystander, tourist or just workers at the market. A Buddha image laying on it's side basically screams out for people to be offensive in the way they behave. I am not paid to give credit or do advertisement to the artist here, so I am not even going to comment on what his intentions were. What is more important, is that the Buddha displayed in this way is highly offensive to us Buddhists. Photos here are all from the protest which was called by Wat Thai Munich on 30. June 2013. ... to be continued...