Continued from Part 1.
Why did I write a Buddhist science fiction short story Hosshoji the Rocket Temple?
First of all, because the world view of Buddhism is attractive. If you read a modern translation of the Lotus Sutra, you will be overwhelmed by its imaginative world. The description of transcendental time and space and the merits of buddhas are truly science fiction. Its scale is astronomical. Indeed, a sutra can be read as science fiction. This grand imagination is similar to that of old Chinese novels, such as Saiyuki (a.k.a. Monkey King) (or Hoshin Engi [Investiture of the Gods]). One should also note the charm of Hinduism, which shares some religious notions with Buddhism and has had a great influence on Esoteric Buddhism. In Hinduism, colorful gods and goddesses with immense powers play vital roles on a cosmic scale. This also reminds us of the imagination science fiction.
Buddhism has a practical purpose, which is to relieve people’s suffering. It might be described as a “prescription for reality.” Human suffering has not changed for thousands of years. Many Buddhist ideas are still relevant today. They are still pertinent as themes of modern novels.
However, as with other religions, the attraction of Buddhism can sometimes become dangerous if it loses its flexibility. Buddhism is a relatively tolerant religion, and yet it also has some intolerant aspects (for example, concerning the status of women). One of the roles of Buddhist science fiction is to think objectively about Buddhism’s problems.
I would also like to experiment with the possibilities of modern Buddhism. For example, what do Buddhists think about technological developments such as nuclear power, the Internet, AI, and evolving modern values? Can AI and robots attain enlightenment? What will happen if a new buddha appears? How can one reconstruct the Buddhist cosmic structure, chuu (or bardo, the transitional stage between death and rebirth), and reincarnation in a science-fiction way?
A work of Buddhist science fiction also challenges novels based on Christian and post-Christian ideas. In science fiction, the works of English-speaking authors are predominant, and Christianity has a strong influence over many of them. The fun of science fiction is that you can create not only fictitious technologies but also fictitious cultures. Fantasy also deals with fictional cultures, but science fiction writers can incorporate science and technology when they develop their fictional cultures. I am not against Christianity. I respect (and sometimes criticize) all religions. However, presenting a non-Christian perspective may be important to English-speaking readers.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a thought-provoking animation series. It incorporates Christian and related elements, such as angels, Adam, Eve, Lilith, the Lance of Longinus, and the Dead Sea scrolls. This treatment is appropriate for its primary audience, the Japanese. The Japanese have a basic understanding of Christianity, but it remains an exotic religion in Japan. It should be noted that only about one percent of the Japanese are Christians. However, I am not satisfied with the superficial way Evangelion deals with Christianity. In this work, Christianity is only used as a seasoning to produce mysterious effects. Of course, even if the work addresses Christian themes (such as apocalypse or salvation) in a straightforward way, that does not increase its value. The audience is not interested in it. It might be true that tackling serious religious topics in a work of entertainment is risky, and there is no merit in doing so. However, I think that novels can handle religious themes more deeply and better than television series and movies.
My colleagues and I are preparing to launch a YouTube channel in English. It introduces and promotes Japanese and Asian science fiction. I will also participate in this year’s WorldCon, CoNZealand. I would like to take this opportunity to engage in dialogs with readers and writers from around the world about many topics including the significance of Buddhist science fiction.
Now, I would like to introduce a new sub-genre of science fiction, buddhpunk. In a narrow sense, it is defined as stories of a fictional world based on the world view of buddhics. Buddhics is a fictitious academic discipline that combines Buddhism and physics. Buddhpunk is a form of Buddhist science fiction.
So why do I write works of buddhpunk? It’s primarily because I’m tired of stale worldviews such as cyberpunk and steampunk. If it is possible to build a civilization based on cyber infrastructure or steam engines, it should also be possible to build a civilization based on buddhics. In particular, the Buddhist method of overcoming desires provides one interesting answer to the question of how civilization may develop in the future. In addition, the superhuman nature of Buddha and the buddhahood that is said to exist universally stimulates the imagination of science fiction writers. I will show my own interpretation in the prequel to Hosshoji the Rocket Temple, which I am writing now.