Osamu Tezuka’s Brilliant Buddha

Sep 06 2008

Osamu Tezuka's "Buddha"

Osamu Tezuka's "Buddha"

I recently finished Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, a manga adaptation of the life of Buddha. It’s about 3,000 pages that focus on the historical man, and the evolution of his philosophy, as opposed to attempts to teach you Buddhism.

I had to be careful when reading this book, as I couldn’t simply pick it up, then put it down; I’d get sucked in and read through to the end. This is partly due to Tezuka’s unique style: he likes to mix up a dramatic story with occasional sight gags, and keep things moving with action scenes. He had a tremendous gift for pacing and entertainment.

So the story moves quickly, and presents Buddha’s life with sympathy and directness. Again, this book doesn’t try to teach you Buddhism; it chronicles Buddha’s life. However, one can’t do that without exploring Buddha’s philosophy.

I learned that the great spiritual teachers of Buddha’s time mostly taught asceticism—that one must forego the pleasures of the world and punish one’s body so as to free oneself from earthly desires. While Buddha agreed with the importance of discipline and abstinence, he rejected the idea of inflicting pain or otherwise hurting oneself.

In fact, he believed in hurting nothing. Radical for the time. He really wanted to achieve enlightenment, and he struggled to achieve it.

Now, the manga glosses over a lot of Buddha’s later religious teaching, which gets pretty extreme by non-Buddhist standards. He claimed to perform astral projection every day, and that he could teleport.

But the manga cares less about that than about Buddha’s moral journey. I gained a nice understanding of Buddha’s teachings; how they evolved in response to the events around him.

So, in all, I’m thoroughly glad that I finished this. I learned a lot, and in a way that kept me entertained throughout.

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