This ‘Buddha’ Should Be Forgotten

Originally featured at ‘The Buddhist Channel’ on 14 April 2008

In the article “Buddha made unforgettable”, this was mentioned of Osamu Tezuka’s “Buddha” manga series – “A rare portrayal indeed that makes Tezuka’s Buddha more memorable and moving than any other interpretation of Buddha’s life we might have seen or read.” As in many other reviews, the series is again overrated. I speak as a Tezuka fan – of his other works though.

While the “Buddha” series is “moving” in some parts, I certainly hope it is not “memorable” – for there are parts of his portrayal that simply stray off, on tangent – away from orthodox depictions of the Buddha’s life and his teachings. These parts are highly misleading – damaging for newbies to Buddhism, and confusing to those with moderate understanding. As such, I beg to differ that “Tezuka does not swerve from the original legend of Buddha…” There are many other accounts of the Buddha’s life which are more moving – and more factual too.

I had bought half of the series before giving up on it – because the story is grossly inaccurate. The depicted “unconfident” Buddha (after enlightenment!) got his urna (the “spot” between his eyes, which is actually a coil of a strand of hair) emblazed upon his forehead by a god, and was commanded by him to teach the Dharma! This is utter nonsense! The Buddha in orthodox Buddhism is a “Teacher of humans and gods”, not a servant of any unenlightened god. What an outrageous demotion of the Buddha’s supreme spiritual status!

And Ananda (the Buddha’s attendant) was depicted as having been a petty thief! Many other key characters’ biographies are jumbled up for dramatic effect too. How disappointing it is that the series digressed so far from the story of the Buddha, while exploiting the “brand” of the “Buddha”! This is classic popular abuse of sacred culture. It does not do justice to the Buddha, Buddhists and Buddhism. Instead, it does a fine job of messing up Buddhist history and doctrine.

I had subsequently read the remaining half of the series at a library. At the end of the series, what the Buddha attained did not seem close to being ultimate bliss or true liberation. This strongly hinted of the author’s lack of understanding about Buddhism. The “Buddha”, like all readers, is left severely short-changed. It is an account of the Buddha’s life made unforgettable indeed – for wrong reasons, unfortunately.

Please let your friends be aware that the above series is not a good introduction to the Buddha’s life story. On a fair note, there is a disclaimer in the series that says “This work of fiction contains characters and episodes that are not part of the historical record.” But how then, are readers supposed to sift fact from fiction, if even the key character (the Buddha) is seriously fictionalised. I shudder to imagine how much of an uproar such publications would cause if they depicted religious figures of other major faiths instead. Would they be more tolerant or less? I hope we will never ever find out.

– S.A. Sng

[The comic series is being made into an animated trilogy titled ‘Buddha 1’, ‘Buddha 2’ and ‘Buddha 3’. Please avoid these films as a show of no support, and to prevent personal confusion.]

Related Reviews:

Why Tezuka’s ‘Buddha’ Is No Buddha
How Not To Portray The ‘Buddha’
Review Of Osamu Tezuka’s ‘Buddha 1 & 2′
Popularising New Dogma On The Buddha?,4958,0,0,1,0

Related Articles:

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’)

1 Comment

  • I avoided reading this manga and watch any related media the moment I came across it mainly because at the back of my mind, I associate him with being a entertainer of sorts and not someone who produces works of non-fiction or history documentaries.

    After reading his wiki, I noticed there is no mention of the author having any realinterest in understanding Buddhism at at any stage of his entire life (other than to produce this liberal adaptation of the Buddha’s life) or having been praised by any well-practised Buddhist teacher that he had accurately portrayed Buddhist teachings in the said works .

    There are many books on Buddhism authored by Asian writers and some contain statements that need either more elaboration or clarifcation on the subject matter but no footnote was made about it.

    News reports about Muslims from some countries objecting strongly to or resorting to some sort of street violence to protest against the foreign depiction of Islam or the use of the word “Allah” in certain media exist. I have yet to read about similar reports about the behavior of Christians and other faiths.

    As always, what we can do is to stay alert to the existence of such publications and continue to point any fallacies present to the public as quickly as we can.

    When more and more non-Buddhists can easily identify such fallacies in any social or published media, we know we are moving in the right direction.

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