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. 

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