Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Holy brothers

You might have noticed six volumes of a Japanese comic book in my picture of loot from my trip: Nakamura Hikaru's 『聖おにいさん』 Seint oniisan imagines that Jesus and Buddha, taking a breather from the other world, share a one-room flat in a suburb of Tokyo. (I found out about it because the first volume is available in French translation as Les vacances de Jésus et Bouddha.) Turns out many folks I know had heard of it, and were glad to have a chance to peruse my copies. It's basically a series of comedy gags, kin to "a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar..." but somehow sympathetic to religion. It's heavy on puns (most of which I don't get), and presupposes a religiously literate readership.
Here the two are visiting a hotspring resort in Izu and Jesus introduces Buddha to ping pong. While a great athlete - he was once known as "rumblefish of the Ganges" - Buddha's unfamiliar with the game. How will he keep his eye on so small a ball, he asks at lower right above. Imagine it's the world, says Jesus. While Buddha says this sort of thing totally stresses him out, it makes him a prodigious player. At left above the two duke it out, Jesus shouting amen at every shot, Buddha 南無三 namusan" (an abbreviated invocation of the three jewels, 南無三宝 namusanpo). But at bottom left the ball seems to be exceeding Buddha's reach. If only I had more power to save this world, he wishes... ... and suddenly he's sprouted a score of arms (one of them conveniently holding 卓球入門 an introduction to ping pong) - and hits the ball! Just like the thousand-armed bodhisattva Kannon, he explains to a confounded Jesus, as the extra arms make peace signs over his head. Silly? Undoubtedly. But conversant with the bodhisattva vow to go to any length required to save suffering beings. Could Seint niisan itself be such a reach? I'm happy to lend a hand.

(Ah: translations!)

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