Akon and Buddhism in Sri Lanka: A Monk’s Response

by Bhikkhu K. Tanchangya, The Buddhist Channel, Mac 28, 2010

Kandy, Sri Lanka -- An article titled “Akon and Buddhism in Sri Lanka” under a pseudo name should not have been published in the Buddhistchannel, to say the least. Not only that the write-up is not coherent at all with the actual reasons why the Sri Lankan government was forced to deny a visa to someone called “Akon” but also the title itself is very outrageous.

The writer from Colombo who didn’t even have the guts to publish the write-up under his real name gave a pretty long discourse on “Buddhist Philosophy” in support of Akon and deplored the action of the SL government and the people of Sri Lanka as if Akon possesses all the virtues mentioned in his “Buddhist Philosophy” while the peoples who opposed don’t!

Yes, Lord Buddha did open the door of his sasana for everyone including “murderers, thieves (Akon is a convicted car thief!), prostitutes and the lower castes” but He also did not condone any such virtues as disrespect and indifference towards the sasana, a fact which the writer even does not know. Devadatta with his group of disciples and the group of seven monks who often showed disrespect and total disregard towards the sasana were deplored by the Buddha himself even to the extent that they were called “ignorant bugs and trouble makers destined for hell”.

Trying to justify someone’s disrespect and utter disregard for the sasana on the basis of twisted “Buddhist Philosophy” is nothing but lame. The importance of Buddhist Tolerance and Equanimity (upekkha) lies not in passive mode as such but in how one reacts to situations with Wisdom and Understanding (pañña). When some anti-Buddhist quarters manufacture biscuits in Lord Buddha’s figure and bikinis with Buddha’s images, when ignorant movie makers show the Lord Buddha’s statue under the most disrespectful and provocative places like bars, resorts and hotel rooms --- how someone like Tis-a-small-world, who might not be a Buddhist him/herself, would advise the Buddhists to react and protest such activities???!!!

As responsible and practicing Buddhists, we cannot keep quiet in the name of Tolerance and Equanimity. Let us not show our stupidity to the world by asking – what is there in an image or statue?! If you can understand why Muslims and Christians protest at the slightest depiction of their religious leaders and scriptures in an unbecoming way, why can’t you understand why Sri Lankan Buddhists did what they did?!

The denial of visa to Akon was not merely on the basis of “a music video of the singer, containing a clip of scantily clad models dancing against the back drop of a Buddhist statue” as the writer has sweepingly stated. The Sri Lankan media has widely reported two facebook groups, one of which attracted more than 15,000 members within few days, opposing the proposed concert by Akon.
The members of these groups have distributed and widely publicize some information together with graphic photos and videos about Akon which do not fit into the Sri Lankan cultural setup. First of all, Akon is a convicted car thief. He has also generated a heated controversy in America and elsewhere for simulating a sex scene with and violently humping a 14 year-old girl on an open stage (Akon later downplayed the public outcry by saying he didn’t know that the girl was underage!). The singer has also come under fire for violently throwing a teenage boy off the stage into the crowd injuring some fans.

And secondly, his songs contain vulgar and culturally unpleasant lyrics as typical to all such R&B music. The objections therefore seem more of a cultural and moral nature that religious. Thirdly, the music video of the singer which generated protest from the Buddhist quarter was coinciding with his subsequent tour to Sri Lanka underlying the subtle message that the singer is above religion.

Now Akon’s denial that he was not aware about the statue being on his set when he shot the video was an outright lie, for he must have been blind for not seeing such a huge Buddha statue under which he shot his video with his scantily clad female dancers. Photo shots of the singer with the Buddha statue behind him, perhaps discussing the details of the scene, surrounded by the producers and dancers of the music video have emerged over the internet.

By consciously lying his ignorance about the Buddha statue being on his set, Akon was not only showing his further utter disregard for Buddhist feelings without apologizing but he was also systematically misrepresenting the religion to which he belongs when he said that he himself was a spiritual man. Akon can be worshipped by the sexualized West as a star but not in the East, at least not in Sri Lanka. Indeed, Akon further should feel himself lucky for being able to get away lightly from the rage of the Buddhists by his lie.

The organizers of the proposed concert at first tried to calm down the public protest by saying that they had prior support and permission from the Ministry of Tourism, a report which has later been rejected by the Ministry itself as a lie. In the midst of the crisis, some insensitive quarters even went onto air by saying that the music video in question was nothing at all because in the West Buddha statues are treated as mere decorations and ornaments!

Perhaps the peoples of the Buddhist world have been too tolerant and too compassionate for keeping silence over such display of the Lord Buddha as an object of mere decorations and beautifications of households and commercialized businesses!

The government of Sri Lanka certainly has other options to promote tourism in the country other than bringing down someone who has obviously insulted the country’s major religion and who obviously has no affinity to local culture and tradition. Those who have been debating for the concert as a major chance of promoting tourism in the country are utter nonsense. The task of promoting tourism in the country belongs to the ministry of tourism, not to some business minded people who are more worried about losing such a major opportunity of filling up their pockets than losing a tourism opportunity for the country.

The organizers of the concert have not given up their hope yet, so are the people who oppose it but the government should not take any step that would hurt the feelings of so many people who are deeply involved in the religion for which Akon has no feelings.