The Lancet removes image of the Buddha from its cover after protests of hurt feelings

We all know that many Muslims go wild when Muhammad is depicted in unflattering ways, but I never would have expected that Buddhists would object to an image of the Buddha in a scientific journal—one shown in a flattering way. But such are the sensitivities of the faithful.

According to the site Retraction Watch, the British medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases has removed an image of the Buddha from its online cover because it offended the religious sensibilities of some Buddhists.

Here’s the original cover:


What was it meant to depict? As the journal itself explained after removing the cover:

The journal has received several emails making the same point as made by Arjuna Aluwihare.

The cover drawing is based on the Article on dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine failure associated with a triple mutant including kelch13 C580Y in Cambodia, by Spring and colleagues, which was published in the June, 2015, issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The drawing depicts a feature typical of Cambodia, a statue of the Buddha, with the statue contemplating a mosquito, the insect vector of the malaria parasite. No other interaction between the statue and the mosquito is intended or illustrated. The cover artist modelled the drawing on photographs of Cambodian Buddha statues that are freely available on the internet.

At the time of publication, we were not aware of any proscription against picturing statues of the Buddha. However, given the complaints received, the illustration was taken down from the journal’s website on May 22.

But, as noted above, several readers objected. One of them, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare of Sri Lanka, was even a Christian, and here’s his email:

I am a Christian living and working in Sri Lanka and was shocked to see that an image of the Buddha was used on the cover of the June issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Generally, depiction of the Buddha statue is frowned upon in Sri Lanka unless in a Buddhist context. Thus your use as a cover illustration is not forbidden, but displays a lack of sense and sensibility, with which I have associated the Lancet journals in the past. This incident bears similarities to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s publication of images of the Prophet Muhammad, and the ridiculous and insulting competition held in Texas, USA, that encouraged people to draw anti-Islamic pictures.

That is, pardon my Spanish, caca de vaca.  It is not at all like the Charlie Hebdo images, which were meant to call attention to the problems of Islam. The mention of Pamela Geller’s competition is irrelevant and meant only to inflame, and the image of the Buddha above seems rather nice. (Of course, I’m not a Buddhist.) But it’s certainly not insulting.

When Retraction Watch contacted Aluwihare, he added this to explain why he was offended:

Here it may cause more issues because the mosquito (who should be killed) is there and Buddhists are supposed not to kill — even a snake who may kill a man! However, many Buddhists are nonvegetarian — very contradictory. In this picture apart from religious feelings it might lead to mercy on ‘mossies’! At least to add ‘the picture of the Buddha should not be used as an excuse for sparing mosquitoes — like the one also in the picture.’

More issues? Seriously? Perhaps one could interpret that as the Buddha pondering whether disease-carrying mosquitoes should be killed. The journal, however, claims that the statue is meant only to represent Cambodia, and I think that’s true. But there’s no implication that the Buddha would spare mosquitoes to kill people, as Aluwihare maintains. His complaint holds no water, and it saddens me that such an innocuous cover should be censored, especially one that can not be construed as intending any offense or mockery.

What did they replace it with? Here’s the extremely boring cover that now is on the journal’s website:




  1. rickflick
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that I’ve seen the image of the Abrahamic God, very often with Adam reaching out to him, adorning the cover of many issues of magazines. I don’t recall any protests, but, after this, I won’t be surprised to see some resistance in future.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      That’s the point. Everyone can play the offense game!

      • EvolvedDutchie
        Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        I’m offended by what is written in the koran. Let’s ban it!

        • sensorrhea
          Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

          Now I’m offended ON YOUR BEHALF. Double ban it!

          • EvolvedDutchie
            Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

            Whenever someone recites the koran, we can now say: “You’ve offended two people!” It doesn’t sound as threatening as “You’ve offended a billion muslims!” yet, but wait a while. We’ll get there eventually.

            • Mark Sturtevant
              Posted July 2, 2015 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

              Here is how people like us will stop people who offend us: Rimmer forms a committee.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted July 2, 2015 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

                I prefer Lister’s reaction – “It needs killin'”


              • rickflick
                Posted July 3, 2015 at 6:38 am | Permalink


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 2, 2015 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure that there are submissive masochists who would struggle at your over-inclusiveness. Surely they can’t play the “offense game”. Unless they’ve used the ‘safe word’ first.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted July 5, 2015 at 12:37 am | Permalink

          Did you see the film Secratary, and the worm.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted July 6, 2015 at 8:25 am | Permalink

            No, but I’m filing into my memory banks as I type.
            Hang on … [reads review] is that a previous, ummm, incarnation of 50 Shades?
            [Reads up on Wiki.] Well that’s made it moderately more interesting. And made 50 Shades somewhat less interesting. I’m surprised there haven’t been law suits. I suspect that there have been brown envelopes instead.

  2. sensorrhea
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    More P.C. slippery slopery.

  3. David W.
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    May I suggest allowing Disney to copyright religious imagery that adherents don’t want misused? They have a Hell of a legal department, or so I’m told.

    • Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      In fact, I wonder if Disney is guilty itself. I’m not going to re-watch it right now, but I’ll bet 5 dollars there’s a depiction of a Buddha statue in The Jungle Book.

      • Posted July 3, 2015 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

        Maybe there’s an Allah depiction in Aladdin, too?

        I thought Jungle Book took place in India. I’d expect a Kali or Ganesh or…)

  4. mordacious1
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s time for a “Jesus and Bud” cartoon strip?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 2, 2015 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      What is offensive about Jesus necking a Bud?
      Except to the strip-Jesus’ bedmate, Mo?
      Sorry, am I polluting the meme pool again? And, more importantly, why does my spelling-mistaker not yet recognise “meme” as being a real word? Could I have been so lax as to never have used it before? Shome mishtake, shurely?

  5. sgo
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Weird. I think it’s all rather far-fetched. And think about the authors, too! It’s usually a big deal if your article makes the cover of an influential journal, and now theirs gets pulled!

  6. sshort
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    and here is where secular humanism pretty much trumps all this stuff.

    we are all human. we all share in human history and culture. we are free to reference, depict, study whatever we damn well please.

    at what point could you get pilloried for putting a cover of the pyramids (religious monuments) on a travel magazine for visiting Egypt because you, yourself, are not Egyptian?

    i suppose the french could get all uppity about flippant use of the Eiffel Tower, if they so chose.

    and anyway, for all the god’s sakes, isn’t the point of gigantic religious monuments the fact that everyone passing by can’t possibly miss it?

  7. barn owl
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m offended by the depiction of the letter “L” on the Lancet cover. It’s the first letter in the word “liberal,” and I identify as such. However, the letter “L” is also used by Libertarians, leading to issues that might offend me at some point if I squeeze my brain really hard.

  8. Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Wait, what? Buddhists are not supposed to kill any living creature? Then how about Buddhists actually do what they’re supposed to do before telling the rest of us what we’re supposed to do?

    • Posted July 3, 2015 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      I actually think the writer confused Buddhists with (hope I’m remembering right, now) Jains.

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted July 5, 2015 at 12:52 am | Permalink

        Not really, many buddists think killing is to be avoided including killing insects.
        Killing anything for no reason is definitely to be avoided.
        As with all things, there is dispute. But even strict non killing buddists don’t go as far as the Jain’s.

  9. Mark R.
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    promulgating profuse pettiness

  10. Randy Schenck
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    What offends me is Donald Trump but that’s a different issue, although Trump may just be crazy enough to believe he is a g*d.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 2, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink


  11. Gabriel
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I can’t understand how you write that the new cover is “extremely boring”… It is highly disgusting! A clear and obvious reference to the fifty names of Marduk! ( How disrespectful to that old venerable religion! What were the editors thinking? How insensitive! I’m writing a complain letter right away.

  12. Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The hills are alive with the sound of butthurt.

  13. Jeffery
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    The “problems” of Islam (which I view as a vast understatement: I prefer to use the word, “abominations”) are presently manifesting in other religions, as well: with increasing struggles amongst a burgeoning population over limited resources and opportunities, it’s no surprise that religion will use these conflicts to further their own memes and be used by individuals or ethnic groups seeking their own gain. Buddhists in Myanmar have already lost any respect I ever had for them with their violence against Muslims, and India has its own brand of rapidly growing, “fundamentalist” Hinduism that seeks to seeks nothing less than the domination of the lives of everyone in that country. ANY religious belief system can become an “Islam”, given the proper conditions- it’s in their very nature. In our own country, we’re seeing Mike Huckabee call for civil disobedience: that saying, “God trumps the law” (OUR particular God, that is) is one of the more dangerous statements against modern society a person can make.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 2, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Yes. They’re taking a leaf out of the book of Islamism – violence works, bullying works, threats work. And whenever a religion dominates it reverts to type and forces its teachings on everybody. As you say, there’s nothing peaceful about the Buddhists of Myanmar, and it’s not just the Rohingya who are suffering.

      Journalists reporting on the regime are being detained in large numbers, and several have disappeared. Families have sometimes been informed that their journalist relative died weeks later in mysterious circumstances. Another 23 were detained a few days ago.

      There’s even a NZ bar manager in their most notorious prison, sentenced to more than 2 years hard labour for posting a fairly innocuous picture of Buddha on Facebook that was taken down within a day when he was told it was offensive. Two locals were imprisoned with him, basically for association.

      Religion can’t be trusted in power.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 2, 2015 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Oh yes, I was going to mention that one about the poor guy in jail for the sign he innocently put up.

  14. Vaal
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Oh for effing sake!….

    There’s got to be pushback against this sinkhole of over sensitivity we are falling in to.

  15. Diane G.
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Must admit that my first reaction was that it wasn’t exactly diplomatic to have the Buddha right below the prominent heading, “Infectious Diseases.” (Though one can argue that religions are one.)

    Otherwise, a very attractive cover, IMO–the original one, of course.

    (Wonder why Cambodian Buddhas are so skinny?)

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 2, 2015 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Because gods look like beauty in the eyes of the people who worship them.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 2, 2015 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Well, the Japanese don’t exactly praise fat.

        But I imagine the Cambodians have some rotund Buddhas, too.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 2, 2015 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

          Sorry Diane – just realized how ghastly my comment sounds. Snotty, arrogant, superior, and a few other things besides. Not what I intended!

          I don’t think there are many multiple-limbed people in India either, then there’s all the animal-headed gods. It’s interesting to wonder where the images come from.

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 2, 2015 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

            Oh, Heather, sorry if I implied any offense! I was just remembering all the roly-poly, rub-my-tummy buddhas I’d seen.

            Interesting point about the weirdo gods. One’s tempted to postulate mental illness or drug highs, just like so much else of religion. 😉

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 2, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

              And people think Canadians apologize too much! 😉 Sorry. 😀

              • Diane G.
                Posted July 2, 2015 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, Diana!


    • bric
      Posted July 3, 2015 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Traditionally Gautama Buddha (Shakyamuni) was represented as emaciated to represent the years of ascetic practice that led to his enlightenment; of course the many schools of Buddhism were bound to develop their own iconographies. However the ‘fat Buddha’ images are never of Gautama Buddha _ they are either Budai (Japanese Hotei) the God of Happiness and Contentment, or the ‘future Buddha’ Maitreya associated with ‘Pure Land’ Buddhism in China and Japan

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 3, 2015 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Thanks! Now I’m glad I brought it up, else I’d never have learned that!

  16. SA Gould
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Really? Really? I’m sure we can find something offensive to someone in every issue- a cover, a drawing, an article, an ad, probably typefonts, who knows. If 99% of everyone isn’t offended, their opinions apparently don’t count. Maybe they should stop publishing all together. That would be safe.

  17. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Aiieee!!! Don’t they know that the letter L is offensive? L is for Lesbian and Lavender and Lace and … and…. Leer and Loo!

  18. bric
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    There is a well-known Zen Buddhist koan attributed to the 9th century Chinese master Yúnmén Wényan: when asked by a monk what was the nature of the Buddha, he replied ‘A dried shit-stick’
    I wonder if Professor Aluwihari would find that ‘displays a lack of sense and sensibility’

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted July 5, 2015 at 1:48 am | Permalink

      Ah, the famous shit stick, perfect for the pretentious, and the easily offended.

  19. Andrikzen
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    So much for a non-theistic, secular philosophy that espouses non-attachment and impermanence.

  20. chris moffatt
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    It’s not a picture of Gautama Buddha – the hands are wrong. It could be any old meditating priest or monk or pious layman. It could even be a hindu figure or tibetan lama.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 2, 2015 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      Wow, so many more people to possibly offend!

    • bric
      Posted July 4, 2015 at 4:59 am | Permalink

      It’s true that the ūrṇā curl is missing from his forehead, but that is not uncommon on statues; the depiction of tight curled hair and distended ear lobes is normal, and the hands and the hands are properly long and slender, in only a slight departure from the dhyana (wisdom) mudra. Monks’ robes are quite different and it could not possibly be Hindu. So Buddha, and Gautama Buddha at that.
      The article appears to be about a drug-resistant strain of malaria so I am not sure what the significance was; however I believe mosquito-centred efforts nowadays concentrate on making them sterile rather than killing them, which seems a Buddhist sort of approach

      • Posted July 4, 2015 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        The information coming forth on the Buddha is fascinating. I think Lancet’s artist was showing the Buddha contemplating the mosquito/disease problem. IIRC, you’re right about sterilizing the mosquito population, too. I love that this would better fit the Buddhist approach. That, alone, should have put the initial complainer in his place, if it were in the actual article.

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Pictures of Buddha are rife on pop album covers including this “Buddha Lounge” tribute to the Beatles replacing the familiar faces of JL, PM, GH, and RS with 4 images of Buddha

    You can buy chocolate Buddhas just like chocolate Santa Clauses.

    London has a Buddha Bar

    Maybe folks in Sri Lanka just don’t realize how ubiquitous images of Buddha as a pop icon in Western culture are.

    I guess something could be said for the “non-Buddhist context” but comparing this to Charlie Hebdo. Really?? Really??

    • CFM
      Posted July 3, 2015 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      “Maybe folks in Sri Lanka just don’t realize how ubiquitous images of Buddha as a pop icon in Western culture are.

      I guess something could be said for the “non-Buddhist context” but comparing this to Charlie Hebdo. Really?? Really??”

      Especially as you can buy Buddha statues in every possible colour (my favourite is pink), made of every possible material (often plastic) for home and garden decoration purposes. While some are quite tasteful, most are cheaply made. At least here in Germany, they are ubiquitous.

      The religious imagery of other religions is similarly treated: Hindu gods and godesses, Chinese gods and godesses are found next to pink pig “angels” with wings or nativity scenes in which elks represent Maria and Joseph – and the baby Jesus.

      These are all quite tasteless, but are they offensive? I guess the meaning of religious symbols or imagery is nowadays often redefined by people who see it as colourful folklore, nothing more, but also nothing less.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 3, 2015 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        Speaking of good taste, in front yards all over the U.S. can be seen the ultimate in religious hout Couture. These are miniature alters, of a sort, made of a half buried bath tub which forms the white framing for a sky blue statue of the virgin Mary. (aside: why is she still called the “virgin” after all these years?) They always face the street, so they are meant for viewing by passers by. The owners seem to be saying, “Look, see? I have no creative talent, but I do believe in something.”
        I assume these are always catholic homes.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 3, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          Often perfect targets for male dogs.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted July 3, 2015 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

            Oh, love it.

            I was going to ask why nobody uses them for target practice, but evidently the doggies do.

            That’s the best thing I’ve heard about d*gs this week.


  22. Posted July 2, 2015 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    This makes no sense at all, unless those Buddhists don’t want the image to be used for ‘commercial purposes’.

  23. Curt Nelson
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    People want to be victims, because… then they get respect?

    I guess by acting injured you get respect, just because who isn’t going to be sensitive and respectful to an injured person?

    I need special consideration because lately you’ve offended me and now I’m hurt. Could I get some respect from ya?

    • Posted July 3, 2015 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      Mmmm…. uh uh. Sorry.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted July 5, 2015 at 1:43 am | Permalink

      Yep, and, I think they feel clever as well.
      As though it is smart to be able to see and describe the offense.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 5, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Also…they feel entitled!

  24. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I must admit the cover did make me wonder what was the connection between Buddha and infectious diseases. “No other interaction between the statue and the mosquito is intended or illustrated.” But it certainly _looks_ as if there’s some connection. In fact it looks as if the statue is holding its hand for the mosquito to land on.

    I certainly don’t think it’s ‘flattering’ to the buddha – it looks to me as if the cover is suggesting something but I’m not sure what.


  25. Barbara Radcliffe
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    The replacement cover looks like the ‘L plates’ that learner drivers have to display when practising driving. I wonder if they have learned an (unfortunate) lesson from this brouhaha?

  26. Tony
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely absurd, and I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for many years. As long as the image is not used in a derogatory context, I see no legitimate complaint. There are a lot worse things that people should be concerned about. Take on an issue that matters.

  27. Mike
    Posted July 3, 2015 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    We will never get anywhere if we continue to pander to Religious Sensibilities, give them an inch and they will take a mile, it’s a Picture of Buddha or Mohammed ,so what ? get over yourself.

  28. rickflick
    Posted July 3, 2015 at 8:58 am | Permalink


  29. Chemiker
    Posted July 3, 2015 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Such “protests” are not about the alleged “offense.” They are about power and control.

  30. crocodylus73
    Posted July 3, 2015 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    It seems there are actually some people choosing to spend their lives straining and striving and reaching to be offended. So bizarre to me. I guess it takes all kinds, but I never would have dreamed of this nonsense.

  31. Posted July 3, 2015 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    “caca de vaca”
    I’ve never heard it put better.

    Lancet should have posted the complaint letter in its Letters to the Editor section. That is all. Well, all except any responses to that letter that might go into the next issue.

  32. Grant
    Posted July 5, 2015 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    This is a lovely pic. I’m transitioning into buddhism and from what I’m learning we not suppose to judge anything except ourselves.

  33. Allen
    Posted July 6, 2015 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

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