Recently, I watched Osamu Tezuka’s ‘Buddha 2’ in a Buddhist film festival (‘THIS’ or ‘Thus Have I Seen’). Like its predecessor ‘Buddha 1’, ‘Buddha 2’ is more or less adapted from the comics series by Osamu Tezuka. The first film dealt with the theme of suffering which led to the renunciation of Prince Siddhartha to become a wandering spiritual practitioner. The films introduced a variety of fictional characters not found in the traditional telling of the Buddha’s life story, such as Tatta, Migaila and Dhepa. With a new character called Assaji, a name similar to one of the first actual five disciples of the Buddha, his story is completely different. With so many new characters, you know that this telling is not strictly historically accurate, taking much creative liberties.
The direction of the story helps the audience to better able to connect with Siddhartha as a kind-hearted human, instead of as a super well-trained up Bodhisattva biding his time towards enlightenment. He even showed attachment to those he helped. (But does this not depict him to be overly sentimental in the worldly sense?) There is some accuracy in that Prince Virudhaka from Kosala did have a slave as a mother due to the Sakyan’s fault, and he did invade the Sakyans, although in the film, they made the invasion earlier than in the historical records.
As another fictional story, it was amazing watching Virudhaka confront Siddhartha but unable to slay Siddhartha despite having the intention to. Instead, he was ‘pitied’ by Siddhartha for all the suffering that he inflicted upon himself and the Sakyans. In Buddhist terminology, ‘pity’ is the near enemy of compassion, as it suggests holding the person far away, whereas compassion has the effect of holding others near, and really doing what is possible to reduce or rid the person’s suffering. It might be due to lack of understanding of Buddhist terminology on the part of the subtitler, or the comic itself. Regardless, it shows certain ignorance of the Dharma from the producer.
What comes next that really makes this film really more for amusement rather than education. Towards the end of ‘Buddha 2’, the Buddha gave a nice ‘Dharma talk’ to Yatala, another fictional character, after which the Buddha wondered where his wisdom came from? It took an old man in the sky to tell him that he had become enlightened, and is now a Buddha. Without reading the comics, you will not know that the old man was supposed to be Brahma, an unenlightened god! (How then is he qualified to ‘enlighten’ the fully enlightened Buddha about him being enlightened? The Buddha is a ‘Teacher of humans and gods’; not the other way round, with any god being his teacher instead.)
What is also funny to the average Buddhist who knows the story of how Siddhartha became the Buddha was that there was no emphasis on the enlightenment during that one especially eventful night. Also not depicted was what he became enlightened to. Perhaps the most deviant (and demeaning) of all is that he needed someone to awaken him to the fact that he had awakened! The theatre laughed at this point, as many knew the story was totally off in this regard.
On the serious side, because of these deviations, it is dangerous for Buddhists who are not that familiar with the Buddha’s life story to bring friends who are totally new to Buddhism to the movie. Even if they know that it is not the traditional way the story is usually told, it will be hard for them to distinguish which parts are fictional, and which traditional, thus being unable to clarify to their friends. Of course, studying the Dharma properly would clarify matters, but how many in the audience of these movies would actually do so? Thus, these movies are not for educational purposes.
If I were to tell the life story of the Buddha, I would never compromise on the accuracy of the Dharma. To compromise the Dharma is like spreading false teachings, and this creates pretty serious unwholesome karma. If you are a Buddhist who wish to introduce your friends to Buddhism, please avoid the Osamu Tezuka’s ‘Buddha’ comics and animation trilogy, and watch this instead: http://media.kmspks.org/channel/cdsdvds/the-buddha-animated-film.
– Ng Xin Zhao
How Not To Portray The ‘Buddha’
Why Tezuka’s ‘Buddha’ Is No Buddha
This ‘Buddha’ Should Be Forgotten
Was The Buddha Reluctant To Teach?
The Buddha’s Victory Over A God And Demon
Was The Buddha Just A Man? (How The Buddha Called Himself ‘Buddha’)