Buddhist group fails to win full backing

by Pravit Rojanaphruk, The Nation, September 28, 2013

Bangkok, Thailand -- In an ideal world, people caught making products or participating in acts that can be deemed disrespectful to the Buddha and the Buddhist religion would be sentenced to jail - this is what activist group "Knowing Buddha" told senators, monks and participants at a seminar yesterday.

Their leader announced that she was ready to give up her life to honour the Buddha and would launch a battle against both local and foreign firms producing goods such as underwear, skateboards, stools and armchairs with Buddha images.

She has even declared war against a bar in Paris that uses Buddha statues as a prop.

"We won't allow things like this to go on," Acharawadee Wongsakol, chairwoman of Knowing Buddha, announced.

Devout Buddhists created the group about a year ago.

Senior member Chulanee Kaetsorn said Knowing Buddha also had a "Buddha Watch" brigade that constantly scouted the Internet for disrespectful products and images. According to the group, since 2012, there have been 50 such disrespectful cases in the United States, 42 in Europe and 21 in Asia. And this does not include the colourful Buddha statues or carvings sold commercially in Thailand.

First battle lost

The group lost its battle against an Italian furniture maker, which went ahead with producing stools and armchairs in the form of a Buddha head.

However, Acharawadee said, their voice has been strengthened now that some senators and veteran politicians such as Sudarat Keyuraphan have decided to endorse the group.

Still, representatives from the Foreign Ministry were rather quiet when asked to take tougher action, saying there was little they could do beyond promoting mutual respect.

"We do not wish to turn this into a bilateral issue," Suntareeya Kanchana, a representative of the Foreign Ministry, said in her speech.

She explained that foreigners accused by Knowing Buddha often said they did not intend to be disrespectful, insisting that they considered such products as a form of commercial art and cited their right to make such goods.

"We must consider people's different attitudes. We cannot force anyone," Suntareeya said, adding that Thai embassies were more than willing to distribute materials that promoted respect of religion.

While it appears that the Foreign Ministry is not likely to do much more, the group is determined not to leave anything to chance and continues sending letters to embassies in Bangkok, to ASEAN countries and even to the United Nations.

For those who are still not convinced, Knowing Buddha has also published a booklet titled "The Bad Karma Resulting from Being Disrespectful to the Buddha".