Monday, April 23, 2007

Buddhism and Christianity: A Cross-Faith Exchange, Part 1

I used to read Chinese comic books when I was young, way back when I was still in elementary school. But I have to admit that my first encounter with comic books, or rather magazines, is with the English genre, courtesy of my elder brother’s collection such as the Superman and Charlie Brown’s series. Then I was just enjoying the drawings and sketches, concocting the story in my own mind as I leafed through the pages as English was not my mother tongue.

Then I got hooked on to the Chinese comic books when I attended Chinese primary school. I remember spending a few afternoons a week in a teacher’s room, devouring his collection of comic books on the famous Chinese characters of yore, the ever loyal Ye Fei of the Sung Dynasty and his achievements in the battle field and his untimely death in the hand, or rather machination, of the number one villain in my book then, the heroics of the female warriors from the Yang family, and self-contained excerpts from several epic Chinese literary works such as the Annals of the Water Margin and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Probably the seed of my writing hobby was sown then.

Then I migrated to the works of the written word with sporadic reading, more like scanning/skimming, of other popular English comic series such as Archie, Shonen Jump, and the Japanese Anime that I happened to pick up around the house. And yes, they belonged to my kids.

Along the way, I chanced upon the works of the great manga master of Japan, Tezuka Osamu. Previously I have come across his works but did not associate his name in Chinese to him. And my curiosity was piqued when I learned that he has created a manga series on the life of Buddha.

From the Tezuka Osama at World website, I learned that the original serial works that encompassed Tezuka Osamu's biography of Buddha based on his unique interpretation commenced in September 1972 and continued until December 1983 variously in "Kibo-no-tomo," "Shonen World" and "Comic Tom".

The problem with reading manga works is obviously the language barrier for a non-Japanese like me. Granted I know kanji, the Chinese characters that have been incorporated into written Japanese with essentially the same meaning most of the time. But as can be seen from a preview page below taken from the above website, kanji is used sparingly indeed (examples from the preview page include emptiness, respect, death, practice) and it would be a huge leap of imagination to be able to “connect the dots” so to speak. Also, the limited collection of hiragana/katagana words that I picked up when I spent two months in Japan in 1985 under the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) training program have deserted me entirely, relegated my grasp of the Japanese language to mere greetings.

While I was contemplating a search for a Chinese translation of Tezuka Osamu’s Buddha, my old friend, Peng Leong, emailed the following to me, all the way from Singapore, and more important, he has agreed to share his thoughts with the visitors to this blog (Thanks, Peng Leong) [save for some editorial corrections, the following has been reproduced verbatim from his email where Tezuka Osamu has been abbreviated to OT by him, including the multiple dots]:

"I just came back from a company sponsored "Energy Workshop" in Mumbai ... it is amazing how 18 million people squeezing into such a small piece of real estate ... a land of extremes ... of a few extravagant and almost obscenely rich scattered among the millions of homeless poor ... almost like the OT stories I read when he wrote of Buddha's life in India...

I love OT drawings and telling of the Buddha story in his unique way ... Buddha sacrificed a lot in his pursuit for meaning in life ... even near the end Buddha was disappointed that his closest disciples, Ananda, and the rest could not grasp the essentials of his teaching ... but everything turn out OK in the end...

Reading these 8 books is like reading the book of Eccelesiastes which is credited from King Soloman ... everything in the "material world" is "vanity of vanities" it is like "chasing the wind" sigh!!! if you read Eccelesiastes again, you will find a lot of similarities in what Buddha is teaching ...

Many years when I was still in school, it was this book of Eccelesiastes that provoke me to think about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life ... I seek and after a long journey I finally in 1979 made a decision to believe that in Christ I can have eternal life (which is not the same as my life on earth). when I discourse with my Buddhist friends over the years, they said that I was in fact practicing the Buddha way of life from my sharing of the gospel taught by Jesus ... I believe there are many similarities except for the concept of sin and the divinity of Christ Jesus ... Buddha never claims to be God and the books showed that in the end all living souls (whether man or animals or birds or insects" will return to the "source" and be reincarnated again.

I will continue to read the teaching of other religious teachers as there is much wisdom in them and it is helpful in our journey on earth ... and one day we will return to our eternal home and there will be no more tears, no more suffering ...”

While a devout Christian, Peng Leong is not averse to learning the teachings of other religions, Buddhism included, though some could argue that reading OT’s Buddha may not be the best source of Buddha’s teachings as even the above website acknowledges that "In the story, many people surrounding the hero, Sittarda, are fictitious, and historical figures are significantly dramatized.”

But I have no qualms in recommending OT’s Buddha to followers of other faiths if that is what it would take to propagate the teachings of Buddha so that others could benefit, notwithstanding the fact that I am yet to read them.

So my next reading project will be OT’s Buddha, the English translation, eight volumes of them. But first I would have to lay my hand on them. A search at the local public library turns out empty. Perhaps the USF library ... Then there is always eBay, Barnes and Noble …

Since this blog is already quite lengthy by my normal standard, I decided to blog about my response to Peng Leong's musing in the next installment. So stay tuned.

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