Saturday, May 26, 2007

Maybe it's time to rethink liberal use of Buddhist

In the east China province of Anhui, a monk pours water onto a statue of Buddha during a ceremony to commemorate Buddha's 2,551st birthday on Thursday. (Photo Credit: Reuters, Jianan Yu (China))

Thuc Cong The Edmonton Journal (Canada)
imagesSaturday, May 26, 2007

Nowadays branding is a significant means of earning profits. Marketers try to create consumer desire for products or services by tapping into trendy likes and dislikes.

With Buddhism's growing popularity in western countries, businesses and marketers are using the name and image of the Buddha to promote products.
The Buddha has caught the attention of publishers, film producers, entertainers and even gardeners. Lots of homeowners now tend to display the Buddha statues or Buddha heads in their gardens.

Real Buddhists never use the Buddha and his symbols for decoration purposes. But in supermarkets, lots of products now carry the Buddha brand such as rice, rice cakes, rice flour, rice noodle, even beer (Xinchang Brewery, China). This is a serious branding mistake as the Buddha encouraged his followers not to consume alcohol.

In fact, using Buddha images in marketing is a serious insult. The worst insult occurred in 2004 when Victoria's Secret launched their new bikini design featuring images of Buddha sitting on the front of a halter top or a bottom.

Although the company does no business in Thailand where 90 per cent of population practises Buddhism, the Thai government had criticized the products and the police tried to prevent the import of these products either by businesses or by individuals. The Vietnamese communities in the States also had a petition to boycott these products as the Buddha and Boddhi tree are the ultimate respect to the Buddhists. Printing the image of these sacred symbols on the bikinis (to cover up women's private parts) shows a complete disregard for deeply held beliefs.
Buddhist monks, the representatives of the Buddha, also play a role in marketing. In a travel story published in the Journal on Dec. 23, 2006, photos appeared of Buddhist monks at a place in Phnom Penh. While the stories told by the monks were full of painful experiences (close family members were killed by the Khmer Rouge), the picture of the monks smiling while greeting tourists seemed inappropriate. Indirectly, the image of these monks helped promote the Cambodian travel industry.

Tourists come to Angkor Wat, or Angkor Tom (where Angelina Jolie filmed The Tomb Raiders) just to satisfy their curiosity, not to show respect for the Buddha's land. The temples in Cambodia now become too touristy and the sacred atmosphere seems to disappear.Buddhist monks also have an icon in modern technology. In the Journal Business section on Jan. 27, an advertisement from Cisco Communication featured a Bikkhu holding a laptop surrounded by 11 young novices. The caption "Penalty Kicks. Ladakh, India" suggested the photo was taken in India, the original land of the Buddha.

Once again, the Buddha's land is invaded by advertising industry. From a Buddhist perspective, I think this is a bad sign for Buddhism in particular and other religions in general.Since there are so many misuses of the Buddha's name or his images, it is time to rethink the branding and advertising use of religions. Religious leaders and enlightened beings should get the respect they deserve. That way we can separate our spiritual life from the material life and make our religious life more meaningful.

Thuc Cong lives in Edmonton and has been practising Theraveda Buddhism since she was a teenager.

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