Home » Movies » 10 Reasons Why ‘Iron Fist’ Is No Buddhist

This is not so much a review of season 1’s ‘Iron Fist’, but a correction of its 10 mistakes made in the name of Buddhist culture.

[1] Danny Rand shares a ‘Zen’ saying, so he claims – ‘If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions.’ The closest Chinese equivalent is by the Third Patriarch of the Chan tradition Great Master Sengcan (禅宗三祖僧璨大师 ) in his ‘Faith In Mind’ verses《信心銘》 – ‘The supreme path is without difficulties, only disagreeable to those with preferences. Only when without aversion and attachment, will it be clearly understood.’ (至道无难,唯嫌拣择。但莫憎爱,洞然明白。)

[2] Rand tells a homeless guy, ‘[The] Buddha said, “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose.”‘ However, the Buddha did not say that, though Stonepeace did mention that ‘The purpose of life is to seek it, live it and share it.’ Amusing yet distressing, these pseudo-quotes attributed to the Buddha are, which tend to seem on the verge of making sense while not completely doing so.

[3] Rand’s pseudo ‘Buddhist’ robes are more like a blanket-like bathrobe! There are mixed feelings when seeing such scenes. Am glad that the cultural references portrayed are not really Buddhist in a spot-on way (or they would be slanderous), though also worried that they are mistaken by the audience to be really Buddhist. It is subtle romanticism yet misrepresentation at the same time. Should Buddhists laugh, ‘cry’ or shrug them off?

[4] Rand’s pseudo ‘Buddhist’ prayer upon discovering a dead man – ‘As long as the cycle of existence lasts, may your happiness never decline. May you attain the constant joy of the Bodhisattvas.’ Er… spiritual (joy and) happiness that never declines, that is thus constant is attained by Buddhas, who are perfected Bodhisattvas, who have transcended the cycle of birth and death.

[5] Despite having lived like a monk, Rand sits wrongly, ‘almost’ with the Samadhi Mudra (hand gesture for concentration) and ‘almost’ in the half-lotus leg posture, like a statue between double ‘peace offerings of oranges, flowers’, incense and water at someone’s doorstep. It was as if the offerings were made to him! He says, ‘Yeah, it’s uh… it’s a Buddhist tradition.’

While he hesitantly chuckled, there is no doubt that it is not a Buddhist tradition! Fruit offerings are supposed to be at Buddhist shrines, to remind us of the law of karma (i.e. moral cause and effect; seed and fruit), among other meanings. And shrine flower offerings (which quickly wither) are to remind us of the law of impermanence, so as to treasure our time here, to diligently work towards transcending the cycle of birth and death.

[6] Before eating, Rand recites this with palms together – ‘To the precious Buddha, the unsurpassable teacher. To the precious Dharma, the unsurpassable protection. To the precious Sangha, the unsurpassable guides. To you three rare and supreme sources of refuge, I offer.’ This is alright… but he was about to tuck into his personally catered special dinner, which looked like an entire spring chicken (i.e. a bird killed when very young).

As each sentient being is dear to all Buddhas like an only child, it is inappropriate to offer the carcasses of the very ones cared for to them. He then chats about how he used to only eat vegetables grown at the monastery (at the mythological K’un Lun), but sometimes snuck out to eat some donkey meat! If he was supposed to live like a Chinese monastic, that would clearly be precept-breaking.

[7] Rand also said he did not exactly practise meditation at K’un Lun, but learnt martial arts. Yes, this is the typical Western romanticism of Chinese Buddhism being much about ‘Shaolin-ised’ Kungfu. He claimed to have renounced material attachments, indulgent activities and romantic entanglements, even having taken a vow of chastity. But in the next episode, he breaks it.

[8] Rand eventually drinks too, which breaks the basic Fifth Precept against consumption of intoxicants, which can lead to loss of mindfulness that breaks more precepts. Harbouring vengeful thoughts against those who harmed his family and expressing them in action breaks the Bodhisattva precepts too. The flashback scenes of him back at K’un Lun were with much of his thick curly hair too. Looks like he did not even renounce his hair, what more anger!

[9] When Rand charged up his Iron Fist, about to use it to grip and slide down an elevator cable, he recited so, according to the subtitles – ‘Yamade wa Buddha, please watch me and guide over my descent.’ The problem is, there is no Buddha by this name! Replaying the scene, it sounded like he said ‘Amitabha Buddha’ (The Buddha Of Immeasurable Light). Actually, the lengthy line can be cut, by simply chanting ‘Amituofo’, Amitabha Buddha’s name in Chinese for blessings.

[10] There is no concept that even vaguely resembles that of being an immortal weapon (i.e. the titular ‘Iron Fist’) for fighting in Buddhism. (There are the teachings on Shambhala warriors though, but they are different in nature.) With these and the above points, the ‘Iron Fist’ is not really Buddhist. Just so you know, in case you are trying to learn the Dharma from the series or comics! (And his martial arts techniques are far from Shaolin styles too!)

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