In the movie ‘Laggies’, there is a restaurant scene of Megan making childish squeaky noises while tweaking and laughing at the nipples of a ‘Laughing Buddha’ statue. (It is actually an image of Master Budai, a manifestation of Maitreya Bodhisattva, the next Buddha-to-be in our world.) Her friends gave her an awkward look, as Bethany asked, ‘Why would you tweak the nipples on the Buddha? That seemed like disrespectful.’ Megan replied, ‘Disrespectful to who? To you? Did you convert to Buddhism?’
Bethany said, ‘No, that’s disgusting. I’m not Buddhist. It’s… That’s Buddha. That’s Buddha!’ Megan retorts, ‘Right, right. But you know that was a joke about nipples. Right? And not Buddhism. Yeah, Buddha is sacred to a lot of people, but that is…’ Later, to another friend, Megan remarked, ‘You’d think that somebody who you’ve known forever would have known what you meant about nipples. And it’s a joke. Hey, hey, maybe like, using Buddha as a restaurant decoration is the bigger joke, right?’
Perhaps, like Bethany, who represents generally respectful non-Buddhists, and even Buddhists with average commitment to Buddhism, would also take some offense at Megan’s horsing around? What is a little ironical is that the scriptwriter, in adding that scene, accidentally fortified the mistaken identity of Master Budai as ‘the Buddha’, which is a title usually reserved for Sakyamuni Buddha. Perhaps this is itself not respectful?
Of course, with no ill intention detected, we can laugh it away, just like the ‘Laughing Buddha’ graciously grins on. Maybe the ‘uptight’ Buddhists are the ones who take offense too easily, but if even Buddhists do not ensure how precious Buddhist cultural imagery is being portrayed and understood, who will? Why not seize the opportunity to clarify and explain the misportrayed and misunderstood, such as by writing and sharing this review?
The fact that Buddhism is sometimes made fun of in popular media probably means Buddhists are generally and relatively more liberal and easy-going with our culture. Yet, this does not mean Buddhists should personally make fun of Buddhist culture or let everyone else make fun of it. To make fun of Buddhist culture, unless of truly ‘ridiculous’ aspects of it that should be reformed, is a sign that it is neither sufficiently understood nor appreciated.
What if other religions are poked fun at in the movies? While some are regularly laughed at, this seldom happens to some more sensitive ones. Does it mean there is more respect for the latter, or just more fear of repercussions? If fear is the censor, is it healthy? This is hard to say, but it would be worrying if no one like Bethany spoke up for ‘the Buddha’. Similarly, if Megan’s joke is violently objected by all Buddhists, it would be worrying too!
Was Megan’s joke really about nipples or Buddhism, or both? We cannot tell the scriptwriter’s intention, just like we cannot read the minds of those who put Buddha images on bikinis and name pubs ‘Buddha Bars’. (The latter was largely seen as disrespectful by the Buddhist community as the Buddha was clearly against intoxication.) Exactly because we cannot read one another’s mind, all should be mindful of how Buddhism is used, to prevent abuse, for worldly profiteering against Buddhist spiritual principles.