Buddha, Vol. 3: Devadatta
In spite of the title, Buddha, Tezuka departs, at nearly every turn, from the historical account of the life of Siddhartha, and he wanders far afield from the way of the Buddha, at least as passed down to us. In this work, Tezuka not only so thoroughly distorts and corrupts Buddhist philosophy but also so frequently perverts and even abuses the person of the Buddha that it would be no wonder if the reader begins to mistrust the author’s motivation for creating the series, as it unfolds.
Behind the seemingly invulnerable aegis of “artistic license” and with his characteristically magical artistry, Tezuka conjures caricatures of both Siddhartha and Buddha, in this series, that are imposters at best. At worst, he transmogrifies them into idols of a falsified spiritual legacy. In place of the historical Siddhartha and the magnificent Buddha, Tezuka fabricates an alternative retelling of the events of Siddhartha’s life and experience of awakening; the result is a chimeric mash-up of Hindu concepts and syncretized Shinto beliefs that in no way reflect those present in Buddhism. While both of those alternative spiritual traditions are certainly worthy of consideration and respect in their own right, wholly substituting them for Buddhist ones in a series ostensibly about the Buddha—even if fictionally—is not only disingenuous but also does a disservice to both the Buddhist faithful and those curious about Buddhism. For any reader who is well-acquainted with Buddhist legend and philosophy, the recasting so flagrantly—even brazenly—deviates from the inherited spiritual tradition that the reader rather naturally begins to suspect that Tezuka’s gratuitous indulgences and overtly irreverent assaults were willful.
To the reader who is unfamiliar with the Buddha’s teaching, at least as preserved in scripture and thanks to the various and venerable monastic communities worldwide, beware! Beyond the alluring imagery wrought by Tezuka’s fantastic artistic talent, there is almost nothing Buddhist about the Buddha in this series, other than the name and appearance. In contrast to tradition, the Siddhartha of this series is weak and infirm, lazy, emotionally callous, mean—even cruel on one occasion—and, generally, unsympathetic. The Buddha of this series is confused, helpless, hopelessly dependent upon Brahma, emotionally unstable, frequently agitated, grief-stricken, befuddled, and pitiable, a truly pathetic and uninspiring figure. Apart from the occasional vignette that is genuinely touching and the infrequent depiction of the Buddha in an honorable and inspiring pose, the Tezuka’s Buddha is a mirage that bears no resemblance to the one venerated by Buddhists nor even popular conceptions of him. Although it surely is the prerogative of artists to take some license to tell a captivating tale, when it comes to representing historical personas, especially those spiritual or religious ones who have immeasurably influenced humanity, there ought to be some responsibility to represent at least the essence of their teachings with an appreciable degree of fidelity. For example, the Noble Eightfold Path, which is a fundamental component of the Buddha’s teaching, is only ever stated in print by the Buddha once, maybe twice, and late in the series, and even on those occasions, the representation is botched, being inaccurate in contrast to any formulation of the Path. After so many pages, there’s little justification to charitably forgive such an error of commission, other than to attribute it to rank negligence on Tezuka’s part, if not willful counterfeiting.
To the reader who might identify as “Buddhist”, or merely appreciates Buddhist philosophy, and who is intrigued by the prospect of a graphical representation of the Buddha’s life and teachings that might convey a similitude of authenticity, Tezuka’s portrayal of the Buddha will be disappointing, perhaps even concerning. If such a reader has a keen eye for the Triple Gem, then he will recognize in Tezuka’s Buddha—just as Johnny Depp’s Donnie Brasco does with the fake diamond ring—that … “It’s a fugazi.”