Monday, January 12, 2009

The Buddha Tolerates

I snapped a photo of this charming little paradox at Noori's Collection in Aspen last weekend. In a room literally overflowing with buddha's, this little man alone bore the swastika etched on his chest. This was obviously an interesting juxtaposition - one of history's most famous and celebrated peaceniks wearing the symbol of the 20th centuries purest expression of hatred and intolerance - so I thought to record it as a prompt to look up the history of the swastika itself, because I thought I'd read somewhere that it wasn't always Hitler's favorite ideogram.

And indeed the swastika has been with us for a long, long time sporting an ancient history in both Asian and Europe where it is historically (and still among hindu and buddhists faiths followed by over 1 billion people) regarded as a symbol of good luck and success.

And to be fair to the buddha he's wearing the mirrored left-facing (form which is technically clean from association with National Socialism and in all likelihood predates the Third Reich and their senseless and damaging co-option of a good symbol by several thousand years.

So think of this next time you see a swastika in public and immediately leap to condemnations of white-supremacy, as happened with my brother-in-law upon witnessing the tiny swastikas adorning the floor at the Hamilton Club in Lancaster Pa. While they clearly aren't buddhists, there could be a totally plausible historical rationale for their choice in decor. (Whether the choice not to remove the swastikas, after their undeniable tainting since the Holocaust, denotes tacit anti-semitism is another matter, though I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt.)

1 comment:

  1. You know Nathan the Tibetans were using the swastika long before the Nazi's stole it as a symbol of the law, and a sign of good fortune. I understand the obvious offense but I see it a lot still in antique Buddhas.
    Like the blog.