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This 'Buddha' should be Forgotten

By S.A. Sng, Singapore, The Buddhist Channel, April 14, 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 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 of 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.

Related article: Popularising New Dogma on the Buddha?

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