A Danish newspaper publishes cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb as a headdress. Riots break out throughout the Muslim world. People are killed, property is destroyed. Many of us, who are not fundamentalist Muslims, are shocked by this reaction. After all, it was just a cartoon. However, although our response may not be as extreme, how different are we when we think our religion has been insulted?

The Buddhist teachings tell us that no one can insult us unless we allow them to do so. After all, an insult is simply our reaction to the actions of others. If we do not react there is no insult. Easy to say, but hard to do. An example of this difficulty is currently evident in the Buddhist community of Chicago.

Recently, a new club, the “Funky Buddha Lounge," opened in Chicago. On the outside wall is a large mural depicting a smiling, buddhalike figure sitting cross-legged, wearing a derby hat, with a brandy glass in one hand and a butterfly sitting on the other. Many expressed their outrage in e-mails sent to others in the Buddhist community. They said that this was “an insult to the Buddha.” To better understand their feelings, substitute whoever is the primary figure in your belief system and think how you would react.

I, for one, was not offended. During the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, others often criticized him. They mocked his teachings and his followers. His cousin even attempted to kill him. Yet, the Buddha did not become angry or insulted. Had he seen this mural, he probably would think, “What a happy looking fellow and beautiful butterfly.” After all, Shakyamuni Buddha did not wear a derby, or drink brandy, so this had nothing to do with him. How could I be offended on behalf of a person who would not have been insulted himself? Most likely, the club owners meant no disrespect. They were just ignorant to the feelings of others. Why were others so offended?

Feeling insulted is a form of suffering. Our ego demands that others respect us and our beliefs. Anger arises within us when we do not receive this respect. Yet, how often do we tolerate disrespect of others, or are a participant? How many of these Buddhists upset by this mural have defended other advertising or artworks that offended members of other religions? This cycle of insult and reaction can become never-ending.

The Buddha stressed that all things are our teacher. We must constantly ask the question, “What about me?” Instead of feeling insulted, we should think about whether we do the same to others. Let go of the initial feeling of hurt and anger, but remember how it felt. Become aware of how your words and deeds can cause these feelings in others. No one can be free from suffering until all are free from suffering.

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