If you’ve ever spent any time in Thailand, then you already know that Buddhism is a very large part of the Thai culture. What you’d also know if you’ve ever spent any time in Thailand is that a lot of things clash with the very often ascetic Buddhist lifestyle. After all, Thailand is known for many wild aspects of its tourism and whether you’re in favour with these things or not, the fact remains that the Thai people are generally very easy going and tolerant of people doing what they want, when they want, as long as it doesn’t include disrespecting the king or the national religion.
I’ve known people who were tattooed in Thailand, but I myself have never taken that plunge in the land of smiles. It doesn’t surprise me however, that thousands of tourists get tattooed there every year and many of these tourists are getting tattooed with images of the Buddha. The practice of getting a Buddha tattoo in Thailand may be coming to an end, however, if Thai Culture Minister Niphit Intharasombat has his way.
‘Culture Minister Niphit Intharasombat said in a statement that his ministry has been receiving complaints from residents that tattoo parlours are etching sacred images of Buddha and other religious images onto the skin of non-Buddhist visitors across the country.
“Foreigners see these tattoos as a fashion,” Niphit said in the statement posted on his ministry’s website on Thursday. “They do not think of respecting religion, or they may not be aware” that it can be offensive.’
This of course, is total and complete rubbish. I’m uncertain of how exactly Mr Intharasombat knows that the foreign visitors who are being tattooed with sacred images of the Buddha aren’t Buddhists themselves. Is he going up to each and every one of them after their tattoo session and asking? Highly doubtful.
I’m also uncertain as to when and where it was exactly that the Buddha told his followers that his image was off limits. Anyone who knows anything about Buddhism knows that the Buddha was not a god, nor did he wish to be treated like one. He was simply a regular man who attained an enlightened state. He was not an overbearing, magic wielding, egomaniac who threatened his followers with eternal damnation should they not do exactly what he wanted. How the Thai Culture Minister has this fascinating insight into what is and isn’t disrespectful to Buddhists is entirely beyond me.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Buddhism is that it can be anything to anyone. It is not dogmatic – although it certainly can be, though there is definitely no “right” or “wrong” way to appreciate the Buddha or the Buddhist philosophy as a whole.
In addition to all this and beyond the whole “religious” argument here, this is at its very core a tattoo issue. People have been using images of the Buddha as Mr Intharasombat puts it “as a fashion”, for a long, long, LONG time and in many different ways than just tattoo . Should he really have a problem with the image of the Buddha being used for non-religious purposes, perhaps he should consider taking a walk down Bangkok’s Khao San Road one day and banning the hundreds of street vendors that can be found at all hours of the day and night who are selling everything from T-shirts to candles emblazoned with the image of the Buddha.
In other words Mr Intharasombat, you don’t know what you’re talking about.