Back you go

It’s possible that Sri Lanka is doing Buddhism wrong. It’s also possible that I have a naïve view of Buddhism, and that non-attachment is entirely compatible with being petty and obsessive about things that don’t matter. You be the judge.

A British tourist is to be deported from Sri Lanka because of a Buddha tattoo on her arm.

Naomi Coleman was arrested as she arrived at the airport in the capital Colombo after authorities spotted the tattoo on her right arm.

A police spokesman said the 37-year-old from Coventry was arrested for “hurting others’ religious feelings”.

Ms Coleman is being held at an immigration detention camp after a magistrate ordered her deportation.

She was going to the Maldives next and said ok she would just go straight there but they told her no, she had to go back home. How does that work, I wonder – why does Sri Lanka get to decide her destination?

The UK travel advice on Sri Lanka warns of the sensitivity of the issue and tells visitors not to pose for photos in front of statues of Buddha.

Over the past year monks belonging to certain hardline Buddhist groups have led violent attacks against Muslims and Christians, a trend which has given rise to considerable concern among religious minorities in Sri Lanka.

I think the “hardline Buddhist groups” are also probably doing Buddhism wrong. But I’m not a Buddhist, so I don’t know.


  1. says

    Yeah. They are pretty much doing it wrong, but there is a long tradition of that. Other cultures seem to b able to do Buddhism in an almost entirely religious way as well, without violating the basic tenets (or other people).

  2. Menyambal says

    Buddhism has fractured as much as any other religion, and a lot of human nastiness has taken over. It’s almost as if there was never any reality at the center of it.

    I kinda like some aspects of some flavors of some branches of Buddhism. But this incident is just petty self-worship, which can be found in any religion.

  3. cottonnero says

    In the same way that Jesus (and the Old Testament) are always banging on about “help the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the poor” while the most money-grubbing assholes consider themselves his followers.

  4. Shatterface says

    Buddhists tend to get a free pass but the Dalai Lama is as homophobic as any other religious leaders and I’ve never understood why Westerners will rage against political lobbying and hanging chads undermining democracy but think picking trinkets out is a reasonable way of choosing a leader.

  5. RJW says

    Buddhism had a very promising start, then it became a religion, although as religions go, it’s not completely barking mad like the so-called Abrahamic religions.

    A Buddhist monk is reported to be the instigator of deadly anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar, so there are even harder ‘hard liners’.

  6. Omar Puhleez says

    I define a religion as a set of beliefs serving as a basis for living. Based on what I know of them, and in order of increasing obnoxiousness I would rank the religions as follows:

    1. Rationalism
    2. Taoism
    3. Zen
    4. Animism
    5. Sufist Islam
    6. Zoroastrianism
    7. Quakerism
    8. Buddhism (Lesser Vehicle)
    9. Buddhism (Greater Vehicle)
    10. Hinduism
    11. Catholicism
    12. Christianity
    13. Islam (Shia)
    14 Islam (Sunni)

    In other words, some are worse than others, and there are none without problems. I left Nazism, Marxism and other political belief systems aside in the too hard basket. But they would probably have to go in above #9.

  7. Shplane, Spess Alium says

    Buddhism has pretty much always been just as shitty and hypocritical as every other religion. It’s just that westerners like us tend to only see the bland hippy transplants that make it here instead of the, y’know, version people who have actually been following as an actual religion for centuries follow.

    Religion only manages to not be awful when it’s watered-down. If its followers are really taking it seriously, they’ll inevitably act like like assholes about something nonsensical, because their beliefs will inevitably break with reality.

  8. RJW says


    I noticed that you’ve categorised Zen as distinct from other forms of Buddhism and given it a high rating. Why?

    I’d usually give non-proselytising religions an automatic high score and only deduct points for particularly obnoxious practices. BTW, Nazism @ equal 14.

  9. Omar Puhleez says


    “I noticed that you’ve categorised Zen as distinct from other forms of Buddhism and given it a high rating. Why?”

    Most of my knowledge of East Asian religions I got from contacts in the martial arts communities, plus reading writers like Alan Watts.
    Zen in many ways has gone beyond mere worship and following of some holy guru; what is commonly regarded as ‘religion’. The best of it IMHO is to be found in the (paradoxical) sayings attributed to the various Zen masters, many of which are on the Net.

    eg .from one (after being told the story of the Good Samaritan): “If you see Buddha lying in the gutter, give him a kick.”.
    from another (having been given a copy of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount to read): “This is very good. I tell you truly, whoever said this is not far from enlightenment.”
    Not your standard religious sales pitch.

  10. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ left0ver1under : Are you really sure you know enough about what has been going on in Myanmar (aka Burma) to pin all the blame for the conflict between some Buddhists and Muslims there on the Buddhists?

    How reliable and fair is that link really and how about the buddhists sid eof tehstory. Knowing a little (just alittle) about just a few Buddhists it seems to me that they are very hard to provoke into anger and esepcially actual violence without having extremely good reasons.

    Watching the news each day (and having done so for many years) is enough to provide ample evidence that Muslims OTOH, resort to extreme violence and Jihadist terrorism at the drop of well, a cartoon or a book or a teddy bear or having a beauty pagent or having a culture that allows women some rights or stationing some troops in Saudi Arabia to protect it from another Muslim dictatorship ad nauseam.

    So, knowing this about the respective religions, knowing that Buddhism is famous for pacifism and Islam for, well, the opposite of that. I’m very tempted to draw the logical inferences and say its much more likely the fault here is with the Muslim side not the Buddhist one – but as I’ve said, I’m not that familiar with this issue. Are you? Really?

  11. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ D’oh! Typo fix for clarity :

    How reliable and fair is that link really and how about the buddhist’s side of the story?


    Muslims OTOH, resort to extreme violence and Jihadist terrorism at the drop of well, a danish cartoon or a Salman Rushdie book or a teddy bear named Mohammad ..

    Anybody else remember that last referenced example? :

    Where toremind y’all a group of Sudanese Muslims frothed at the mouth over a flippin’ teddy bear being named after a kid in a junior school class whose name happened to be the same as their ” prophets” eh?

    @7. Omar Puhleez : Interesting if subjective excercise. But no Judaism and with Catholics split off from other Christians why?

    Personally*, , I’d rank the religions in order of increasing obnoxiousness :

    0) Jainism – they wouldn’t hurt a fly – literally!

    1) Secularism / agnosticism / Pastafarianism

    2) Atheism / Wiccan & Paganism / deism

    3) Judaism (note may or may not technically be a religion , very closely allied in many cases with humanism or cultural tradition rather than actual religious belief.)

    4) Buddhism & Bahais

    5) Hinduism

    6) Orthodox ( Greek / Armenian / Russian etc ..) Christianity incl. Copts. / Sufi form of Islam

    7) Catholicism / Protestant Christianity (Both main branches, other divisions at a smaller level e.g. Quakers at one end, Westboro on the other not considered here – too many & too small to place perhaps.)

    8) Mormons & Jehovah’s witnesses (very evangelical and troublesome / annoying plus the JW’s kill kids by refusing blood transfusions whilst Mormons have the troublesome history with racism, cult- type behaviour etc ..)

    9) Sikhs – only so low in this list because of the Tamil Tigers terrorist group really which Sri Lanka has now dealt with so, okay, maybe they should now go higher here but still.

    10) Sunni and Shiiite Islam

    11) Communism incl. North Korean Kim worship & Castro-ism.

    12) Wahhabism – women can’t even drive or go outside and you chop heads and limbs off and stone people to death in big rich cities? Seriously!?

    100) Salafist Bin laden brand Islam plus Stalinism, fascism & Nazism.


    * Make that personal subjective from top of head with a little wiggle room and humour involved.

  12. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    PS. D’oh! Forgot all about Daoism / Taoism (same thing diff spelling?) & Confucianism there – also those are not religions / philosophies I really know enough about to judge. Note, the list above is focused mainly on the present global situation not past history.

    I guess the short serious version averaging out and incl. only the main large and powerful global religious belief systems would be :

    1) Unbelief / secular / agnostic / atheist

    2) Judaism & Buddhism *

    3) Hinduism

    4) Christianity (all denominations averaged)

    5) Islam (& Communism and fascism)

    Still don’t know quite where I’d list Confucianism / Taoism there.

    * Both Judaism & Buddhism tend to be more philosophical and are very intellectual and less keen on proselytizing which goes as a rule – the more politically aggressive, literal and evangelical a belief system is, then the more obnoxious it is almost by definition. perhaps some sort of more objective points allocating system of assessment could be worked out by somebody along those liens to make the list more rational and evidence based?

  13. Kevin Kehres says

    @15…with regard to Judaism, you must not be following the news from Brooklyn, where “patrols” of Hasidim beat the crap out of a guy who came in their neighborhood for having the temerity of being black.

    Some Jewish sects are just as much screaming assholes as anyone else. So, you have to split Judaism into “cultural Jew” (really, a form of agnosticism, only with lox and cream cheese), Reformed, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox. That last group is what my cultural Jewish friend calls “savage Jews”. And even within that designation there are sects that do not get along with one-another at all. The only thing they agree on is that they hate you.

  14. says

    I wrote: So he’s been homophobic for 14 and 4/5 of his lives.

    He’s also been an unabashed fan of theocracy for 14 and 4/5 of his lives, until China threw him out of his magic kingdom and now suddenly he’s a big fan of democracy. He cracks me up. The guy ought to crack anyone up.

  15. jesse says

    Remember that Zen Buddhism in particular isn’t always so nonviolent. Daisetz Suzuki wrote “Zen and the art of Swordsmanship” and his book “Zen and Japanese Culture” is a must read, though a bit dated.

    In Sri Lanka the Sinhalese are largely Buddhist and the Tamils are not. The Sinhalese were busy making life for Tamils terrible for decades. The Chinese are largely Buddhist or Daoist too, despite the efforts of the Communist Party. I don’t see too many Chinese folks get upset at rolling over Uighurs.

  16. says

    The Dalai Lama stills says gay sex is “misconduct” for Buddhists, as well as, according to him, any oral or anal sex by anyone, as well as masturbation. He’s only lightened up when it comes to non-Buddhists.

    Being Buddhist doesn’t prevent you from being a jerk, a money grubber, and/or a power mad authoritarian. ( It probably should, just as being a Christian should, but in practice it doesn’t.) In Thailand there are plenty of monks who are, along with plenty who aren’t.

  17. Omar Puhleez says

    They have all got their problems, but some creeds are worse than others.
    StevoR (etc): “Interesting if subjective excercise.”

    What ‘interesting exercise’ is not subjective? 😉
    Is there an ‘objective’ ranking of the various human creeds?
    But I like your lists @#16 &17. In general, the more a creed is into self-knowledge and self-awareness, the lower the obnoxiousnes ranking it should get. The more into hero-worship of some cult figure, dead or alive, the higher the ranking should be. The worst are the conquering, totalitarian empire-building cults, which makes Stalinist Marxism worse than the Maoist variety, and Sunni-Shia Islam probably worst of all, at least in this period., Though Catholicism/Christianity has a pretty bad history.

    Judaism is non-proselytising, a point very much in its favour Though I doubt the Palestinians would agree.

  18. Trebuchet says

    @16, StevoR:

    9) Sikhs – only so low in this list because of the Tamil Tigers terrorist group really which Sri Lanka has now dealt with so, okay, maybe they should now go higher here but still.

    The Tamil Tigers have nothing to do with Sikhism. The vast majority of Tamil’s are Hindu. As are the people they were killing.
    If you want to criticize the Sikhs, of course, there’s always the Air India bombing.

  19. RJW says


    Zionism is imperialistic and certainly has many religious characteristics, however I’m not sure I’d class it as Judaism.

  20. says

    Daoism / Taoism (same thing diff spelling?)

    The Tao that is spelled wrong is still the Tao.

    Seriously, though, they are different spellings of the same thing. If you try to pronounce it was a T-sounding D or a D-sounding T you’ve pretty much got it.

    Toaism and Confucianism are not exactly religions but there are the equivalent of “saints” who have various magic powers. Both Taoism and Confucianism are not religions and don’t depend on revealed truths from a higher being but are semi-authoritarian and depend on revealed truths from an enlightened being. In this sense they are similar to Buddhism – they rely on authority rather than constructed arguments. Unlike Kant, Confucius doesn’t try to argue why “do unto others” is a good idea – it’s just a good idea and Lao-Tze and Confucius and Buddha say so and that ought to be good enough for you peons.

  21. says

    reading writers like Alan Watts.

    Alan Watts profoundly re-interpreted buddhism of various stripes to the point where I’d call “american buddhism” a completely different creature from the many other buddhisms around the world. Watts infused his own hippy dippy sensibility all over the place. I think the result is a kinder, gentler buddhism that is very much America’s own and unique. The zen fad of the late 70s fused to it a sort of mystical mumbo-jumboism that went a ways toward jump-starting the “new age” It was an interesting time. I got interested in zen through two different channels: Miyamoto Musashi and Robert Pirsig, both of whom had their day amount the pseudointelligentsia. Paul Reps and DT Suzuki tried to treat the subject more honestly but ran up against the problem that it’s hard to explain (as Lao-Tze said, “the Tao that can be taught is not the Tao”) and people were buying self-help books not interested in monist philosophies. Then in the 80s and 90s we had the dalai lama, a theocratic charlatan and spouter of platitudes par excellence, and American buddhism shifted away from its zen roots toward a sanitized version of TIbetan buddhism, only sanitized to remove all references of the pogroms in which the blue hat and black hat buddists were eradicated by rival sects, leaving a lovingly consolidated power for China to boot out into the cold. Meanwhile, American buddhism is this weird mish-mosh of tropes (“I’t’s a philosophy not a religion”) and the removal of dharma and its replacement by sort of a watered-down deistic dharma – yeah, right, it’s just a metaphor. Meanwhile the “It’s a philosophy” trope has taken wings and produced an army of apologists who’ll argue that a ‘philosophy’ handed down by an enlightened being is a ‘philosophy’ no matter how authoritarian it is as long as it lacks the more obviously bullshitful elements of the bible. As you can possibly tell, I walked some of those paths and walked some of them a long way indeed, but my bullshit detector never stopped ringing.

  22. Omar Puhleez says

    jesse @#21:

    “Remember that Zen Buddhism in particular isn’t always so nonviolent. Daisetz Suzuki wrote “Zen and the art of Swordsmanship” and his book “Zen and Japanese Culture” is a must read, though a bit dated.”
    According to my understanding, in the history of medieval Japan some samurai (swordsmen) studied Zen. The way to do this was and is still, to become a student under the guidance of a Zen master. It was not long before it was also noticed that the samurai who had studied under Zen masters were winning all the duels. Subsequently, studying Zen became recognised as a necessary part of a samurai’s training.
    The samurai learned amongst other skills, ‘stilling the mind’ and internal awareness. Easier said than done, he had to confront an opponent in a duel in a state of both inner calm and with complete indifference to the outcome. He who is scared of losing will almost certainly do so. This is well illustrated in the Kurosawa film ‘Seven Samurai’: IMHO one of the greatest films ever made.
    However, I am not sure that this qualifies Zen as a violent creed.

  23. Omar Puhleez says

    Marcus @#26:

    “The Tao that is spelled wrong is still the Tao.” Very good.
    Likewise, the baby that gets tossed out with the bath water is still the baby.
    I maintain that one should never dismiss a whole way of looking at reality because of disagreement with some aspect of it. The world contains a multitude of curate’s eggs, good in parts. Likewise, I know of no doctrine that explains everything. I only know of rules for investigating, themselves always open to amendment.
    Sorting out the good bits from the bad is a never-ending project.

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