As I have mentioned in previous posts – the 1001 Comics list is one that I am doing together with my husband. If, oh reader, you are ever wondering who picked the comic – the manga is always me.
When talking about a work like Buddha it is key to mention that going into this I had no idea about the history of the Buddha. The only thing that I knew was that he was a prince who traded in his life of privilege to become a monk and (eventually) move hundreds of millions with his teachings.
What makes Buddha all the more interesting is that it was written in a secular fashion by a non-Buddhist. Because of this I felt far more able to settle into the groove of the game without looking for moments where the author was trying to convert me (read a Bible comic or two and you’ll know what I mean).
In fact, not only does he take a more balanced secular view (whilst still adhering to the story and making Siddhartha (aka Buddha) godlike), but he also makes it into a gritty historical epic. Not gonna lie, I was easily able to consume the entire series in a week. If it was not for a two day work meeting in Warwick University this would have been finished even quicker.
Buddha is riveting reading. The fact that (with the exception of Buddha himself) no character is safe means that you are always kept on your toes. We are talking people who looked like they could be major characters being starved to death, impaled by spears or even cursed to live the rest of their life as a mindless beast who ends up blinding themselves by staring at the sun for too long. It’s brutal!
Oh and the living people don’t exactly make it out well. Many of the monks are ascetics; as in they exercise extreme self-discipline (due to the belief that suffering = enlightenment). There is a regular character who ends up with his eye burned out because, you know, asceticism. He isn’t the only one who ends up with their eyes being burned out either. Seriously, the idea that you would get ascetic monks that would end up being crushed to death or picked to death by birds is just… wow.
And yet, with all the suffering and trials that we see it is still the parable that bookends the manga series that sticks in my mind. Rather than describing it here is a video of it:
This is why I loved Buddha. It opened my eyes to a whole different part of history. Sure it hasn’t particularly wanted to make me become a Buddhist, but that wasn’t the point. What it does do exceptionally well is entertain whilst teaching you about someone you would not have known too much about. It’s hard to do and only Ernst Gombrich’s A Little History of the World is the only other work that comes to mind which does the same… and it’s been too long since I read that.