I was greatly distressed when I heard about Naomi Coleman, a tourist from the UK being deported because of the Buddha image tattooed on her shoulder. As everyone knows by now, Naomi was shamefully detained in prison in Negombo for one night and then spent another two nights at a detention centre before being thrown out of Sri Lanka, a pattern that seems to be repeating itself. In an attempt to apologise and make amends the Sri Lankan Tourism Authority sent her off with a Business-Class ticket back home and gifted her with a future holiday on our beautiful island.
This is, however, no consolation for the horrible way she was treated. Meanwhile, our international image and reputation have been damaged yet again, and we are now branded as intolerant, lacking in compassion, and narrow-minded – characteristics that can be added to the long list of negatives the international media has already tacked onto our profile.
If wearing Buddha images on the body is offensive to our hyper-sensitive Sri Lankan Buddhist society, what should we do about the monks from Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries who have ritual Buddha tattoos on their torsos? Should we deport them, too? In many countries faithful Buddhists wear Buddha images on amulets around their necks; should we ban those people from entering our country as well? Every year I give hundreds of children – both in Sri Lanka and in America – small images of the Buddha that they can wear to remind them of their Precepts, and help them remember to be compassionate and understanding in their daily lives. Should these children be tossed out of Sunday Dhamma School? In the West we Sangha members wear the yellow robes, unfamiliar attire to many in this society. How are we perceived here? How would we feel if we were persecuted for the way we dress as monks? Should we be deported from America and other countries just because we look different? Is dressing as a monk disrespectful to society?
"In the West we Sangha members wear the yellow robes, unfamiliar attire to many in this society. How are we perceived here? How would we feel if we were persecuted for the way we dress as monks? Should we be deported from America and other countries just because we look different?"
Naomi Coleman was herself a faithful Buddhist, one who had already been on meditation retreats in Thailand, India, Cambodia, and Nepal. To her, the tattooed image of the Buddha on her shoulder was a mark of respect; she meant no offence to anyone. On the contrary, she only wished to honour her master teacher with an outward symbol of her beliefs. For our immigration officials and judicial system to perceive her mark of faith as offensive and defamatory, we do nothing but demonstrate our lack of skillfulness and compassion in recognising other cultures’ perceptions and outward representations.
Just because we in Sri Lanka don’t like tattoos of the Buddha on the human body, it doesn’t mean that we have the right to demonise individuals from other countries who wear them. In fact, our judgmental attitude totally goes against the fundamental teachings of the Buddha – especially in regards to defining kamma as “motivated action” and Naomi’s motivation was certainly not to be disrespectful. I read that the magistrate didn’t even allow Naomi Coleman to speak in her defence - she was simply sentenced and shipped out. She was quoted as saying that there was no forgiveness or compassion in Sri Lanka, and her friend said that she would definitely not come back – not even with her free trip.
"Just because we in Sri Lanka don’t like tattoos of the Buddha on the human body, it doesn’t mean that we have the right to demonise individuals from other countries who wear them. In fact, our judgmental attitude totally goes against the fundamental teachings of the Buddha"
I have been speaking to our Ministers and other Government officials for years about properly utilising the media to improve our national image. Unfortunately, my pleadings continue to fall on deaf ears. The only things published in other countries about Sri Lanka these days are articles that condemn us for our perceived wrong-doings. You can be quite certain that unskillful actions like the deportation of Naomi Coleman will do nothing but add fuel to the fires kept burning by the UN Human Rights Commission and others who have agendas to do us harm. I urge the Government to wise up and act skillfully so we can improve our image overseas, encourage tourism, and put the teachings of the Buddha into practice.
To Naomi Coleman, on behalf of all Buddhist Sangha members everywhere, may you have the Blessings of the Triple Gem. Thank you so much for wearing the image of the Buddha on your shoulder; by doing so you are promoting Buddhism to those who might see you, and present ing the opportunity to discover the Buddha’s teachings for themselves.
Excellent letter. I hope the stupid, idiotic magistrate who sat in judgement on her deportation case reads this letter.
willows Wednesday, 30 April 2014 07:14 AM
what a wonderful article
Dammika Wednesday, 30 April 2014 02:58 PM
Thank you for this letter Ven Piyananda. As a Buddhist, i was wondering why didn't any Buddhist Priest come forward to object this unacceptable treatment of Ms Coleman. Our people definitely need to braoden their minds and start learning and respecting the Dhamma instead of only caught up doing the rituals. If one cannot live by Dhamma what is the point of our so called Buddhist culture?
Good Citizen Wednesday, 30 April 2014 03:27 PM
Excellent eye opener to all. As Sri Lankans we think Sri Lanka is the most wonderful and most powerful country in the word and do whatever pleases to the country.
Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.