The Manga Dharma
Buddhism is easy to understand, and easy to embody. That is the real message of “Basic Buddhism Through Comics.” The book seeks to take complicated ideas and rephrase them in everyday language, using everyday examples, to bring a small slice of enlightenment into the lives of curious readers.
Manga artist Furuya Mitsutoshi is best known for his parody of Japanese family life in his comic “No-Good Dad” (Japanese title “Dame Oyaji.”) In that series, he reversed the standard roles in the Japanese family by showing a weak and ineffective father and a strong domineering mother. In this comic he uses a similar sequence of family dramas to illustrate the basic tenants of Buddhism.
One thing this book is definitely not is “Buddhism for Kids.” The family dramas that Furuya uses to illustrate the Dharma are very adult; a lonely housewife who can’t get her family to acknowledge her. Another woman whose husband is a drunken slob who never works. A loud-mouthed businessman who thinks he already knows all the answers. A married couple who fight over money. Each of these characters in turn is introduced to a friendly Buddhist monk who shows them how following the path of Buddhism they can improve their lives and find happiness.
And Furuya takes these lessons seriously. There is nothing of the history of Buddhism here, no esoteric mustering on after-lives and reincarnation, no thousand-armed Kannons or smiling Hoteis. Instead he focuses on the Dharma, the rules of daily life laid down by Shakyamuni Buddha. The Three Seals of the Dharma. The Four Noble Truths. The Eightfold Path. The Six Paramitas that Lead to Spiritually Rich Living. He shows the connections between these truths, the connections between all things, and the right way of living that brings happiness.
Because “Basic Buddhism Through Comics” focuses so much on the Dharma, it can almost be read as a self-improvement book rather than a book on Buddhism (although some would argue that Buddhism is the ultimate self-improvement). If you believe in the religion or not, there are some undeniable truths here. All things change. All things are connected. Knowing the right thing and doing the right thing are entirely separate issues. I got quite a lot out of this book even being pretty much non-religious.
Because this is a manga, a brief comment on the art. It isn’t spectacular, but suits the purpose of the book. The art is pretty typical of Japanese family drama series like “Sazae-san,” with round-faced people on short squat bodies. The art is good enough to move the book along without being impressive in its own right.