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Buddhists Irked by Buddha on Toilets and as Disney's Dog

Buddhists Irked by Buddha on Toilets and as Disney's Dog

by Richard S. Ehrlich | Bangkok, Thailand
April 11, 2013

A Buddhist group says it successfully convinced a French factory to stop printing Buddha's face on toilets, but failed in a lengthy campaign to censor a Walt Disney movie series featuring a dog named Buddha.

The Bangkok-based group, Knowing Buddha, also targets the "disrespectful" use of Buddha's face or iconic appearance on dildos and other sex toys, clothing, tattoos, furniture, statues and souvenirs.

"No progress on Disney, they have not responded at all," said Acharavadee Wongsakon, the Thai founder of Knowing Buddha, referring to the "Buddies" movies.

"Also, the U.S. Embassy has not been helpful," she said in an interview.

"It is pathetic. We have been trying to push the [Thai] government to arrange a seminar for government bureaus, including tourism and hotels, to show the serious problem that is happening, and to address a solution. Our effort is fruitless."

Mrs. Acharavadee launched the anti-Disney campaign in June when she led 200 supporters on a "Stop Disrespecting Buddha" protest march through Bangkok's tourist-packed Khao San Road and other markets which sell clothes, home decor and souvenirs portraying Buddha.

When she recently saw a hotel's website proudly display a photograph of a toilet -- opulently decorated with Buddha's face -- Mrs. Acharavadee unleashed her latest campaign.

"This case came to us, by one of our supporters, on January 22. At that time, we were running a campaign on portable public toilets in the Netherlands which had the Buddha image painted on the outside of those toilet booths," she said.

"The Buddha image in the toilet is a hard hit to Buddhists."

She wrote to the French Embassy in Bangkok and the Thai Embassy in Paris.

"On February 18, we received a reply back from the French ambassador showing their concern, and they indicated that they already contacted the hotel in France," she said.

"We wrote a letter to the hotel Moulin de Broaille which displayed the toilet seat in their hotel. We then searched who is the manufacturer of the product, and we wrote to them, asking them to stop and explained why this is not appropriate and is disrespectful to Buddha. That company is called OLFA from France."

On Thursday (April 11), however, the "Buddha" toilet seat, adorned with Buddha's face, was still on the manufacturer's website, which boasts: "On the toilet seat market, OLFA is the major specialist."

The hotel's website displayed the toilet while illustrating a "Little Buddha" theme of "pure Zen" which guests could enjoy.

"When we say 'success' we mean we received the apologetic letter from the manufacturer, and that they would not produce it anymore. This is a success," Mrs. Acharavadee said.

"We do realize that the hotel has not removed this product, forcing us to continue working on this case."

She also continues her campaign against Disney's dog named Buddha in the "Buddies" movies, but acknowledges that is a much bigger fight.

Disney's Buddha dog is aimed toward children and, according to the movie's website, exhibits Buddhist stereotypes.

For example, the dog practices yoga and meditation, but avoids meat and stress.

The friendly puppy also eats dog food from a dish emblazoned with the word "Buddha."

When Mrs. Acharavadee's daughters innocently downloaded the film from iTunes last year, she was shocked to see Buddha the dog as a main character.

"Disney's adorable talking puppies" are "everyone's favorite canine siblings," says Disney's website.

The dogs are five "Buddies" named Budderball, RoseBud, B-Dawg, MudBud and Buddha.

"We would like to ask the Buddhists around the world to boycott the 'Buddies' movies," Mrs. Acharavadee said last year.

She launched her campaign so Disney would "stop using that name Buddha for a dog. No need to cancel the series, just remove that character, or change the name."

Disney's online "Corporate Citizenship" statement promises to "act and create in an ethical manner, and consider the consequences of our decisions on people and the planet."

When asked about its Buddha dog and the anti-Disney protest last year, the company replied by email:

"Hi. Thank you for contacting us. You have reached Disney Corporate Citizenship. Unfortunately, we are unable to assist you with your inquiry. Regards, Eric, Corporate Citizenship, The Walt Disney Company."

Repeated e-mails to Disney's other media address resulted in no response.

Knowing Buddha is comprised of 35 team members plus 7,000 supporters, she said, and it protests receive a mixed response from the public.

Random posts online discussing the protests include critics who say Buddha would not have supported the censoring of people who use his face or image for disrespectful or commercial purposes.

Instead, Buddhism teaches followers to ignore "illusions" of the material world, and not get caught up in battling other people's actions.

Followers should control their own minds, and focus on abandoning the concept of being an individual self.

More than 2,500 years ago, when the most recent "incarnation" of Buddha lived, he was a former Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama, born in Lumpini, which today is in southern Nepal.

The Knowing Buddha group, meanwhile, pointed to dildos, clothing, and other commercial products using Buddha's image, and listed their websites which include:

• An 8-inch-long, "Buddha's Delight" silicone dildo on sale for $59 from Oakland, California.
Its website says: "After a thousand years of praying, fasting and endless incarnations, Buddha finally gets to be a dildo. To Buddha's unending delight, he's generously endowed with enough to pleasure even the most enlightened. Now that Nirvana is within reach, grasp it wisely, firmly, and with intent, rub his belly. Rub it again, meditatively."

• Popcorn Buddha in Pennsylvania.
"The enlightened snack. A moment of bliss in every kernel."

• Buddha underwear.
"Happy Buddha Underwear & Panties. Happiness Buddha Classic Thong."

• Fitness club in Santa Barbara, California.
"At Fit Buddha you will evolve your body temple...thus becoming your own Fit Buddha."

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are:
http://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets
http://www.amazon.com/Hello-My-Big-Honey-ebook/dp/B009ESEGY0

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