Friday, September 21, 2007

Two Buddhas on the Road

On Tuesday, I read two more volumes in Osamu Tezuka's big eight-volume retelling of the life of the Buddha -- Vol. 5: Deer Park and Vol. 6: Ananda. (Previous volumes: Kapilavastu, 1; Devadatta, 3; The Forest of Uruvela, 4.)

As before, much of the bulk of these books is taken up by melodramatic stories about minor characters (many of whom become Buddha's disciples eventually). In Deer Park, the former brigand Tatta becomes a guard in the service of the King of Magadha; his service culminates with a duel with the giant Yatala (of the guard of the King of Kosala, the country that conquered Siddhartha/Buddha's homeland). Then, in the end of the book, the focus shifts back to Buddha directly, with a couple of parables and his the recruiting of his first monk disciples. The different bits are well-told, but this one definitely feels like middle, with captions saying things like "and this will be important later" or "that meeting colored all of their subsequent lives" or even "and this will be on the test, so pay attention."

The title character of Ananda was shaped by a female snake demon to be Buddha's nemesis, and we follow his story for about the first half of this sixth book. Then he's finally caught in a trap the demon can't save him from...but Buddha arrives serendipitously to drive out the demon, recruit Ananda, and, along the way, start building a larger group of followers by humbling first revered one leader of fire monks, and then his two brothers. That's pretty much the whole story here; Buddha's movement is starting to gather speed, but this book, also, doesn't really end a story of its own in the way that the earlier books did.

The modern references are still jarring, but that's just the way Tezuka seems to work -- melodrama runs right into slapstick, and serious philosophy follows low comedy. The screwball little kids aren't much in evidence in these volumes (the one major kid character is a sullen grump of a prince), but we do have people kicked through panel borders and several references to this being a work of fiction. (One character takes off his helmet because "it's tough for Tezuka to draw.") Since the whole of Buddha is such a long story, and will presumably end with Buddha's death, there aren't a whole lot of narrative hooks to drag the reader forward into later books. Again, the individual stories are interesting, and Buddha's teachings obviously have weight and substance, but the structure of the overall project is a bit diffuse.

But, at this point, I might as well see how it all comes out...if I can dig up copies of the last two books. (My local library system doesn't have them.)

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