Freaking out over art

Freaking out over art

The Ultraman/Buddha controversy seems to be spreading as a group of people calling themselves Chao Buddha Palang Phaen Din, or the Force of Buddhism, filed charges against the student who painted Lord Buddha as the 1970s-era superhero.

The self-proclaimed Buddhist protection group alleged that by painting the Lord Buddha in such an unconventional way, the student -- who is studying at Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University's Faculty of Humanities -- has offended Buddhism.

The group also filed charges against National Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who is a devout Buddhist; the lawyer who came out to support the student; the student's teacher; and the management of Terminal 21 in Nakhon Ratchasima, where the work was displayed.

The extremist group accused the student, whose name is withheld, of "sabotaging Buddhism, destroying the national heritage as well as hurting Buddhists across the country".

The group also said the painting may taint the image of Buddhism, one of the things that draws millions of foreign visitors to Thailand.

They also condemned Prof Chalermchai and others for lending support to the student and her works, which they deemed "unforgivably inappropriate".

The controversial painting was eventually removed from the show as several parties condemned the student, who was compelled to offer apologies to Nakhon Ratchasima's chief monk. The university, however, blocked the painter's plan to auction her work for charity, reasoning it would pile more pressure on her.

The painting saga has created a divide on social media. One side applauds the student's courageous creativity, while the other condemns her.

Note that this is not the first time that Buddhism-related artwork has caused controversy in this country.

In 2007, Anupong Chantorn's award-winning painting Bhikku Sandan Ka (literally, "monks with the nature of crows") which depicted monks' misbehaviour and greed, was removed from an exhibition at Silpakorn University. The prominent artist faced the same condemnation as the student.

The Ultraman/Buddha painting saga should trigger deep reflection about what Buddhism really means, and what it means to become a real Buddhist. Lord Buddha encouraged his disciples to study his teachings to the core, and use reason to get rid of ignorance, attain enlightenment, while freeing themselves from sins -- at least those mentioned in the Five Precepts. The Lord also taught his disciples to avoid extremism in whatever form, and to embrace the middle path.

Any self-proclaimed defenders of the Buddhist faith should understand that no paintings, artwork, or any other material can destroy Buddhism as long as the followers truly understand Lord Buddha's teachings, instead of obsessing over ceremonial rituals. Ignorance, in fact, can precipitate the religion's decline.

The fact that some senior university administrators have shown maturity throughout the painting saga was a welcome sign. Samat Jabjon, the university's vice rector, lauded the student's "artistic courage" and at the same time encouraged the institute to step in so the student won't have to face public pressure alone.

The vice rector also encouraged students to follow the middle path, where they can enjoy the freedom to express themselves while taking social sensitivities into consideration.

The ability to forgive and let go is an important part of being a good Buddhist. Those who condemn the student and her painting should be aware of this.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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