I wrote Hosshoji the Rocket Temple as a Buddhist science fiction short story. The e-book has made a record for more than 10,000 paid downloads. I also consider this work as a “buddhpunk” short story. In this article, I would like to elaborate on Buddhist sc-fi and buddhpunk.
What is your idea of Buddhism? In Japan, Buddhist temples are everywhere. If you happen to live in Japan, you might have visited at least one. However, many people have little idea about how monks live in these temples. Temples might be sought as simply a place for a funeral. You might have heard a chanting of a sutra, but again, very few people can understand its meaning when they hear it. In a way, Buddhism seems to be familiar but at the same time, foreign and distant.
Religion is a delicate topic, but it is hard to avoid even for non-believers. Many Buddhist terms have entered into Japanese vocabulary, such as setsuna (a tiny fraction of time), jigoku (hell), gokuraku (paradise), nenriki (supernatural power), etc. Buddhism is also prevalent in the Japanese lifestyle such as Obon. Having a basic knowledge of religions, including Buddhism, leads to an understanding of a culture.
Buddhist science fiction can be defined as a subgenre of science fiction that reflects the world view of Buddhism to some extent. For example, in Mitsuse Ryu’s Hyakuoku no hiru to sen’oku no yoru [Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights], Sittata (Siddhattha) and Ashura are major characters together with Jesus Christ. Some works by Komatsu Sakyo also reflect Buddhist thoughts. In the works of manga, parts of Tezuka Osamu’s Hinotori [Phoenix] deeply reflect the idea of reincarnation and “dependent origination.” The latter is a Buddhist term to describe the connection of cause and effect among things. In Ichikawa Haruko’s Hoseki no kuni [Land of the Lustrous] 28 “gems” are attacked by getsujin [moon people] in shapes of Buddha statues. The number 28 may also be a reference to 28 subordinate deities in Buddhism. Whether this manga is categorized as science fiction may be an open debate, though. In Oku Hiroya’s “GANTZ,” the protagonists fight with Buddha statues. It is interesting that quite a few works depict buddha statues as mysterious enemies for some reason. There are also many works that feature reincarnation. However, it should be noted that reincarnation is not a uniquely Buddhist notion. Many other works incorporate Buddhist elements, but there is only a handful of science fiction that focus on Buddhist themes or feature main protagonists as monks. There are also biographical works of Buddha or Kukai, but these are not science fiction.
In any case, a work of Buddhist science fiction does not aim to spread Buddhism. It contains fictitious elements and is not intended to teach an accurate Buddhist knowledge. However, it could be a primer to make readers interested in Buddhism.
I am not a Buddhist expert. Buddhism is very diverse and complex, and even an expert may find it difficult to know all about Buddhism. There are huge differences in views and positions depending on the country or denomination. For example, one might find commonalities between Tibetan Buddhism and Jodo Shinshu, but at the same time, the way of thinking and values show stark differences. Even within Tibetan Buddhism, there are many different sects. Not being a monk or a Buddhist can be an advantage, because I can write from a neutral position.
So why do I write Buddhist science fiction?
To be continued in Part 2