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April 08 2006

Bodhisattvas - wisdom beings in science fiction. The Buddhist philosophy of helping others first and putting your own needs second is a prevalent theme in the Buffyverse according to this article in SyFy Portal.

Great article, very thoughtful, very deep, and I liked that he talked about the fact that it is hard even for heroes to be heroic. Also, that you don't need superpowers to help others. :-)

I always like to see when people take the 'Verse seriously, not dismissing it as "just sci-fi." (I hope I can go to one of the philosophical/academic Buffy conventions one year!) I really liked this part:
No, we aren't facing anything as dramatic as demons, witches, or malevolent aliens like the fictional characters do. But we often face challenges just as thorny in our real lives.

We can all start on the bodhisattva path simply by being mindful to extend kindness and assistance to those in need and by being more gentle in our thoughts, speech, and actions toward others. It sounds easy, but often it's easier said than done.

When I am encountering problems in my life, I turn on some good science fiction and allow these fictional bodhisattvas to inspire me to continue on in my own non-fictional path. If these characters can overcome what they have to, then eventually I can too.

I have to admit, I take some inspiration from the 'Verse that way, too. "WWBD -- What would Buffy do?" ;-) Thanks for the link, Simon!
Bodhisattvas are beings who have travelled the path to enlightenment and stopped just short of Nirvana (nothingness) out of infinite compassion in order to show others the way to enlightenment. While they are depicted as mentioned above (putting others first, sacrificing for others..), in the religious courses I've taken- focusing on Chinese Buddhism- normal people aren't referred to as Bodhisattvas simply because they help others. In non-Mahayana Buddhism Bodhisattvas are god-like beings. They are compassionate.. but they are also extremely powerful and on a much higher plane of existence.

Buffy and Angel would be considered Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism in a sense, but not simply for helping others in general. They would have to be helping others to reach enlightenment on the path to Nirvana. I wouldn't consider them (much less the Stargate crew) Bodhisattvas even under the Mahayana definition because they aren't offering any Buddhist spiritual guidance (or are they..?).

That said, I've noticed a lot of Buddhist ideals in Buffy. For example all beings are on the same path.. humans, demons, and gods are all caught in the same problems and they all have to grow to higher levels (they are caught in the illusion of self and must eventually reach Nirvana..). Spike, Glory, Clem, Buffy and even Dawn are all considered equals on the journey despite their varied forms of being. The idea of many dimensions of hells and heavens is a Buddhist notion. Angel's curse kicks in when he reaches true happiness; in Buddhism happiness is a curse because it is a construct of desire and to reach Nirvana you must be free of all desire and self-identity. There are many acceptable forms of Buddhism, and there is an amazing tolerance of other belief structures, so the magic and spiritual powers originating from many sources but equally powerful and true in the Buffyverse can be a Buddhist paradigm. Oz (I believe) learned to control his wolf side from Tibetan monks. And yes, Buffy and Angel have to sacrifice themselves for others, so while that is a Buddhist notion (and Christian, Norse, etc etc) it doesn't make them Bodhisattvas. They're more like gods. Willow and Cordy are the the Bodhisattvas because they've reached some wicked levels of power, but they came back down to help out the little guys.

And of course, the Buddha is hooking Mal up with a pony and a little plastic rocket...
Wow, I was totally fascinated by what you wrote, Awkward Saw, and then you ended it with a perfect LOL moment! Shiny! ;-)

The times I've seen the Dalai Lama interviewed, like in Michael Palin's "Himalaya" series, he always seems to be smiling and laughing (except when he's talking about something really, really serious, of course). I think, as deep as Buddhism is, it must be a path with a lot of room for laughter! :-)
Quite an interesting article though i'm also doubtful about Buffy, Angel and especially the SG-1 team except, possibly, for Daniel Jackson who actually ascended to a higher plane then came back because he couldn't handle not being able to help people and so was effectively kicked out (once ascended, though you have almost limitless knowledge, you can't interfere in the lives of corporeal beings). Just being a 'good-guy' doesn't seem enough.

I've always found Buddhism (and Eastern religions in general) to be more tolerant of others and less proscriptive than Christianity and other Western religions. Unfortunately, I just can't manage the whole loss of individual identity that goes with Buddhism or Taoism. I guess proponents would say you can't lose what you never had and individuality might just be a Western myth but, like free-will, it's one that i've grown fond of over the years (along with Robin Hood and the possibility of an honest politician ;). Plus, I don't really suit sandals.

That's a good point billz. Maybe it's all that fresh mountain air or maybe it's a deep belief in reincarnation but the Dalai Lama seems way less po faced than some Christians (especially fundies). If I really believed I was going to heaven i'd be grinning ear-to-ear 24/7 (and if not, well, if you can't laugh at eternal damnation, what can you laugh at ? ;).
Could be just me but I couldn't read the last two paragraphs, you know, like, the unimportant bits, with neither Firefox nor IE nor Safari browsers.

So thanks billz for providing the closing sentences and Awkward Saw for your thoughts and Simon for the link!

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