Oh please don’t tell me there’s a Buddha theme park in the works, I thought.

I spotted a brochure with this title at the Thailand booth at the DC Travel and Adventure Show not long ago. I feared it just might be something dreamed up by an enterprising Thai or expat to suck up a few more tourist dollars.

So I was happily surprised by what I found inside: an entreaty to tourists to respect the Buddha as they travel through the country.

Specifically, the brochure says that Buddhists would really prefer that tourists not:

  • Get tattoos of the Buddha
  • Deface or disrespect images of the Buddha
  • Use statues or images of the Buddha as decoration in the home
  • Use the name of the Buddha in a disrespectful way

I’m sure you can think of several examples of each of these rules being broken, and probably by people who did not at all intend disrespect.

Thai culture and Buddhist tradition dictate that the human body is dirty, so putting an image of the Buddha onto human skin is disrespectful. The feet are especially offensive in Thai culture – so much so that exposing the soles of your feet to someone is considered as vulgar as raising your middle finger would be in the US. In Thai temples, visitors are instructed to be sure to sit with feet pointing away from the Buddha images. So putting an image of the Buddha on a rug where it will be stepped on is taboo.

Using a Buddha statue for decoration is a no-no, unless you elevate it and place it so that it is revered. Similarly, the Buddha should not appear on clothing, or on jewelry, unless worn in a devotional way.

The Buddha Bar is on the list of examples of what not to do. And naming your dog Buddha is just asking for trouble.

I was surprised to see a full-color brochure on this topic at the Thai Tourism booth, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. There’s never a shortage of stupid and irresponsible tourists, and there’s also a rising Buddhist Fundamentalist movement in Asia. The recent conviction of a bartender from New Zealand who promoted an event in Myanmar with a drawing of the Buddha as DJ resulted in a sentence for 2 ½ years of hard labor. Myanmar is not the same as Thailand, but it is just next door.

In tourist areas, you will certainly find images of the Buddha available on t-shirts and other souvenirs, and figurines available to take home for decoration. Even in Thai establishments they might have a whimsical Buddha figure on display, but more often than not you will also find a more formal shrine on a shelf or high table.

All this is to say that although you might be accustomed to seeing the Buddha everywhere, some Buddhists find some of those portrayals offensive. Just think about it for a minute before you co-opt images from any religion that is not your own.

If you have a Buddha tattoo, I am certainly not judging you. I’m sure there was a time I thought that would be the height of dedication to an admirable dude. I am just passing along this info in case it matters to you.