Kill the Buddha, but not 10-year-olds

Kill the Buddha, but not 10-year-olds

   Mehmet Erdoğan, a 75-year old who was shot dead in Cizre allegedly by Turkish security forces, made only TL 10 a day.

The world has broken our hearts badly over the past two weeks.

Of course, I am firstly referring to what the sea has brought.

I haven’t really had a decent night of sleep since the little body of Aylan Kurdi washed up about 10 days ago.

And as if that wasn’t enough, recently, there was more news of child deaths on social media (as the Turkish media has long stopped covering the news) this past week; this time in Turkey’s Southeast.

In Cizre, a district of Turkey’s Şırnak province, pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) youth were digging trenches around neighborhoods saying those areas had now become self-governing units. The Turkish state’s response was brutal: They announced a 24-hour curfew and a shoot-on-sight order for anyone who defied it.

Several people died in the weeklong curfew.

They include a 35-day-old baby, who died because an ambulance that arrived to take her to the hospital hadn’t been allowed into the street where the baby’s family lived.

The mother of a toddler who dared to go out onto her apartment’s balcony was also shot dead, allegedly by Turkish Special Operations officers, although of course state officials say all the civilians who died in Cizre last week were killed by the PKK.

Another victim was 74-year-old Mehmet Erdoğan, who, according to his neighbors, was a “soft-hearted man.” He made a living (earning about TL 10 a day, according to Hürriyet) reselling paper and metal scraps he collected from the city’s garbage containers. “He gave any food he found in the garbage to stray animals,” the same neighbor said of him.

The elderly man was killed with a single bullet to his forehead, the “fine work” of a sniper positioned cunningly to ensure that nobody defied the curfew. (Or a PKK member, if we are to believe the state).

Another victim was 10-year-old Cemile, who was also shot by a stray bullet. Her family had to keep her lifeless body inside a refrigerator because they couldn’t leave the house due to the curfew. And this — that she couldn’t be buried for a long time — found more place in the news than the fact that she had been killed.

Amid all the macabre poignancy of this month’s deaths, Elif Şafak, a Turkish writer, who had been silent about both the migrant and Cizre deaths on social media, tweeted that it was unacceptable that the Turkish authorities had banned Buddha statues from being displayed in yoga centers in Turkey.

Bu ne kadar tuhaf,anlamsız bir karar.Niçin bu yasakçı zihniyet.Bu korku? Yoga merkezlerindeki Buda heykellerinin&müziğin kime ne zararı var? —  Elif Şafak / Shafak (@Elif_Safak) Sept. 10

Rightly, she came under fire from social media users because of sounding so detached from the country’s realities and so insensitive to the recent shared grief of the world. Yes, it is a stupid move to ban statues of Buddha, a central figure for the yoga-minded, and it really doesn’t make sense, but it beats me why someone who has stood silent in the face of attacks on secularism that are far more offensive than this one would take issue with this.

Enough trolling here, though, on my part. The real reason why I am talking about this is as a part-time Buddhist and the only blogger for Today’s Zaman who has talked or will ever talk about yoga, is I feel like I should be the one to say something about the statue ban.

Some of our readers might know a famous koan (attributed to great Zen master Linji), which says, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” This might mean different things to different Buddhists, depending on their spiritual development (or even their current mood); but it is generally accepted that you don’t need to follow a “great leader” to develop as a Buddhist, because you already are the Buddha. We all are. To know thyself, you have to kill the Buddha instead of following him.

There are many other koans where Buddha statues are destroyed or used as (in the case of wooden ones) fuel for the fire to help shivering monks in cold temples on mountaintops warm up a little bit. Of course, these koans and stories have deeper meanings, but their most practical quality is to show non-Buddhists that Buddhism is not a religion of idol-worshipping. Really, the Buddha statues don’t mean much to many Buddhists (or yogi, or atheists who have a spiritual appreciation for the Buddha).

Let me put it differently: When the Taliban destroyed the great Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001, it didn’t hurt just one bit, compared to the hurt and heartbreak the killings of Aylans, Cemiles and other children have caused, at least in my case. And I am sure that many Buddhists would agree with me.

Buddha statues at Turkey’s yoga centers are the least of our concerns. And unfortunately, they will likely remain so for a long, long time. The outcome of the November election is the only thing that can change, and I do hope that more Justice and Development Party (AKP) voters will join us this time in telling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP that they are no longer wanted.
This article originally appeared at

Author: E Baris Altintas

I am a journalist and a civil society professional. I can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s