Buddhists ups in arm about Jesus, Buddha-inspired Japanese comics

Thai conservative Buddhists and fans of Japanese comics are standing firm on opposite sides of a debate about whether Saint Young Men portrays Buddha, one of its two main characters, in an inappropriate manner. 

Yesterday, Knowing Buddha Organization, an NGO that claims to help guard Buddhism and protest any disrespectful treatment of Buddha images, publicly condemned Hikura Nakamura, the writer and illustrator of Saint Young Men, and expressed concerns over the ignorance of young Thai Buddhists who read the comic.

“Has the conscience of Buddhists all gone?” wrote Knowing Buddha on its Facebook public page, which has 7,500 members. “Don’t they have any gratitude? Why do they forget how to pay respect to the prophet, who is of great importance to mankind?” 

Comic fans, however, have cast Knowing Buddha’s efforts as condescending and contradictory to the principles of Buddhism the organization claims to champion.

“If you are a really conscious person, please read the comic with calm mind and think about what the writer really wants to convey or teach,” commented Facebook member Nattaphol Chavananikul. “Reading his book makes me want to learn more about the Buddha’s biography and I believe that many readers think like me.”

Saint Young Men rapidly gained popularity in Thailand after its initial launch in Japan in 2007. The fans on its Thai Facebook page eclipsed 6,000 in less than three weeks. That number seems to be rising as the controversy gains more attention.

Nakamura portrays Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha, the founders of Christianity and Buddhism, as two cool guys who share an apartment on their trip to Earth. The plot evolves as both characters encounter new challenges in modern society. Nakamura often makes jokes about the most distinctive characteristics of the two prophets: Buddha’s tightly twisted curly hair and Jesus’s crown of thorns.

The comic received the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for Short Work Manga in 2009. Its English version is available online for free here.

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