Buddhist Detachment in Shikabane Hime vs. Christian Charity

Today’s article is a guest post by a friend to both me and the blog, Medieval Otaku.

Those of you who read my blog may be familiar with my article Un Programme d’Articles pour Novembre.  (Why French?  Because most things sound better in French, obviously.)  Therein, I promised to write an article on Corpse Princess and my history with horror films and anime, but a more interesting topic came to mind.  I became curious with the way the show presented Buddhist ideas of detachment, which ultimately led to me contemplating on how detachment differs with Christian charity.

Anime Buddha Corpse Princess

Those familiar with this delightfully action packed and soap opera-ish anime called Corpse Princess, a. k. a. Shikabane Hime, know that the heroes are affiliated with a Buddhist sect.  This sect uses certain undead young women, known as Shikabane Hime, to eliminate undead monsters.  They boast that their monks have reached enlightenment, and therefore have no attachments to this life.  This makes it impossible for them to become undead themselves, since the undead enter that state because of intense regret and attachment.  The hero, Ouri, resists Buddhist principles of detachment, particularly in regard to Makina, his role model’s Shikabane Hime.  He does this despite both Makina and others telling him to treat Shikabane Hime as tools and aberrations—not as people.

Corpse Princess

Corpse Princess

How different is the Kougen sect’s attitude from Christianity, whose essence is charity!  Charity, at its heart, desires to unite all things and make them whole.  The more charity enters one’s heart, the more one wishes that broken relationships heal and the more one’s own happiness depends on others being happy.  We have the example of Christ: “’I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!’” (Luke 12:49-50)  This baptism is His Passion and Death, by which He would free the world from sin and death.  Because He saw that the whole of humanity would be consigned to hell without this baptism, He felt agony in this baptism’s delay—Jesus did not wish to be happy without humanity being happy. 

Corpse Princess

Yet, here lies a huge gulf between Buddhism and Christianity: the Buddha desired to have no desires in order to escape suffering; Christ desired every man, woman, and child from Adam to the last human formed in the womb and the world returned to its original beauty.  His “I thirst” on the cross manifested his insatiable desire for human hearts.  His unquenchable charity to draw all men into His Father’s kingdom led to fathomless suffering.

Shikabane Hime

Shikabane Hime presents arguments for and against attachment in a surprisingly even handed fashion.  The fact that people’s evil desires produce so much suffering is manifest, especially in the undead whom Shikabane Hime fight.  On the other hand, many people have good desires—especially the desire for love, friends, and family.  Of course, the Buddhist sect does not condemn these things—unless they happen to involve Shikabane Hime anyway.

Shikabane Hime

Shikabane Hime

Ouri in particular might be considered to imitate Christ.  To him, Shikabane Hime are nigra sed formosa (black but beautiful), a phrase from the Song of Solomon allegorically referring to the Church.  Instead of monsters, Ouri sees human beings.  Even Shikabane Hime like Makina, who have embraced being monsters, Ouri calls on to embrace their humanity.

Shikabane Hime

All these things make the show much more interesting than a fanservicey horror anime has a right to be!  But, I wonder if Shikabane Hime or yours truly has misrepresented Buddhism in some way.  So, I should be more than happy to hear if my understanding of Buddhism is off or any comments on charity.

Medieval Otaku is run by a bookworm inflamed with a desire for learning and for God.  The study of foreign cultures, literature, and history eventually led to him discovering anime, which hooked him with the remarkable richness and beauty of its stories and is likely to remain a strong hobby of his for decades to come.

18 thoughts on “Buddhist Detachment in Shikabane Hime vs. Christian Charity

  1. Come ooooooooon Medieval, I haven’t seen the show, but that so sounds like a Buddhist version of Hellsing’s Iscariot division of manslaughter-happy priests xD.

    If you want to know the Buddhist approach to loving all living things, start by checking out Amida’s 18th vow (aka the Universal Vow).

    Then again, the Buddha IS all living things and the distinction between any two forms of life is just an illusion, so if you chance upon more anime series with Buddhist monks calling some form of life an aberration and whatnot, you should know that it’s just entertainment and take it with a grain of salt. (Or two xD).

    1. I hadn’t thought of it as borrowing from Hellsing! In some ways, it certainly does; but it’s missing the attitude of religious bigotry and insane characters which makes Hellsing so amusing to watch.

      Thanks for clarifying the Buddhist understanding of living things. I hoped that you in particular would comment on this article. 🙂 But, I wonder how one can make the claim that distinctions between forms of life are illusions? My category-loving Western mind sees that certain creatures have attributes not shared by their fellows. And I think that Hinduism has the idea of there existing a sort of devil (Maya or Illusion, if I remember correctly). Might this being not be considered an aberration?

      Reading Amida’s vows convinced me that I need to study more about Buddhism before I can understand them. As much as I love Japan, Confucianism, and Taoism, I always found myself leery of India and anything deriving from there.

      1. Ha, ha. I’m no less Western in that regard than you, I suspect. Thankfully, the idea is neither particularly complex nor unusual.

        A few centuries ago, African people were considered less human than Europeans. This idea was considered common sense, as it was supported by a very obvious observation: their skin is black. (an attribute not shared by their European fellows).

        In the contemporary world, that way of thinking is almost entirely discredited. A scientist will say that the DNA differences between different peoples are far from large enough to consider them different species. A Christian will say that all people have souls bestowed by God, and so are equally human.

        In the same vein, if all living creatures possess a Buddha nature and operate on the same principles, then it is only reasonable to consider them all as representatives of the same group. The illusion isn’t even in noting the obvious physical differences – it’s in attaching to them more significance than they deserve.

        For those who believe in reincarnation, the need to treat all life forms with respect is particularly easy to swallow – they might end up reincarnated as a bird/bug/dog the next cycle around. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but Key’s Air visual novel (adapted into an anime by KyoAni) has the fascinating idea that since there’s no guarantee that the movement of the soul is limited by the rules of the physical world, it’s possible enough that you and your reincarnated bird/bug/dog self will meet and affect each other, so you better be nice – you never know when you’re talking to yourself xD. (Well, this actually works in Buddhism, since the divide between two individuals isn’t considered as significant as some would think, either.)

        My knowledge regarding Hinduism is very limited, too, so I’m not sure how it incorporates maya/illusion into the system. There is not much use for that from a Buddhist perspective, since I would assume the being to be evil in some sense of the word where Buddhism doesn’t have the pure good/evil dichotomy to begin with, And I can’t help thinking that such a being would serve as the source of, and therefore an excuse for, human suffering in vices. Buddhism doesn’t have a devil tempting us towards evil, so our mistakes are entirely our own. I find that delightfully optimistic, since everyone’s salvation/personal improvement are entirely in their own hands, without a reliance on the whims and mercy of superior beings, good or evil :D.

        1. Thanks for explaining everything so thoroughly! Buddhist teachings on the matter are very clear now.

          May I just crave your indulgence on the question of evil. I think I remember a story about Siddhartha Gautama defeating Maya in a temptation story similar to the way Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness. But I wonder whether this might just be taken to mean Siddhartha overcame illusion in general not a deceptive being.

          In Christianity, all our sins are viewed as the fault of the persons who do them. People possess a free will that cannot be forced by an external force. Of course, the devil often influences us to sin, but even all hell cannot force us to sin.

          But, people form bad habits which are often impossible to break without the help of grace, and any good work is only possible through grace. This almost seems at odds with my understanding of free will above, but that is solved by God’s generosity and mercy, by which he constantly pours down grace upon grace for the conversion of sinners. It is only the hardness of the human heart (obstinacy in wrongdoing or pride) which prevents this grace from being effective. Thankfully, God is not whimsical but unchanging Love.

          1. I do think Maya, in the sense of illusion-as-an-independent-being, belongs more in the teachings of Hinduism. Buddhism is never about a struggle between two forces, only a struggle within yourself. Gautama Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment – to do so, he would have to overcome the attachments and aversions clouding his body, mind and spirit, and thus overcome the illusionary image of the world in his mind.

            That said, he was only confronting himself throughout the entire ordeal, not an outside force or being. When Jesus conquers sin and resists temptation, he does it half in His own name (as He was born fully human) and half in the name of humanity (as He was also fully a God of his people). But Gautama was in no way more divine than you and me, so he didn’t win any struggles on humanity’s behalf. All people equally hold the potential to become enlightened, and “saving yourself” is the only true way of being saved. (Note how even the Buddhist heaven in Japanese Pure Land Buddhism is not a final destination, but a place which gives you “every opportunity possible” to become enlightened, though I do suppose many casual believers don’t see the difference :D).

            The fun part is, if there were a hypothetical deceptive being hell-bent on keeping everyone chained to their attachments and aversions, that being would then, as part of the real world, have to function as part of the universal truth, possess Buddha nature and the potential to become enlightened :D. And Amida’s 18th vow, for example, would also apply to it. Kind of reminds me of a talk I had with TWWK on whether a good Christian should prey for Satan’s salvation ;).

            Thanks for your comments on the Christian perception of sin. I do wonder whether sin was at all possible before Satan’s interference, since without him tempting Eve, it does not seem like there would be any opportunity to sin in the first place.

            I’m more concerned, though, with the idea of original sin. Too often I hear priests telling people they should feel guilty about something they didn’t do, or else that children go to hell if they don’t get baptized, which is just -_-. I know that’s not the only possible approach to the issue, but still…

            1. Yep, I can clearly see that Satan just wouldn’t fit into the Buddhist schema. The problem with any purely spiritual being is that they live in eternity and hence have their will set in eternity. A human being can repent because things in the physical world are mutable. One might think stealing a good idea at one time and then repent of the deed later either by receiving a punishment for it or by reflecting on how much of a crumb one is for stealing. But, an angel cannot stop being good nor a demon stop being evil.

              A story goes that God and Satan were talking one day.

              Satan said: “Why do you forgive men who have sinned thousands of times, but don’t forgive me who has sinned only once?”

              God replied: “When have you ever asked to be forgiven?”

              Basically, the devil is too proud to ask for forgiveness. The only kind of prayer I make in respect to the devil is that he’s kept far away from me!

              As to whether sin was possible before the devil’s interference, it must have been. But, one needs temptation of some kind, whether from oneself (as in the devil’s case) or from another (as in Adam and Eve’s). The prohibition against the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil must have been foremost in Adam and Eve’s minds, but fear of God kept them from it until the devil claimed that they would not die by eating of the tree. Fear of God is the first thing to go when one commits a serious sin!

              The whole solution to whether unbaptized persons and infants go to hell lies in the fact that God is not bound by the sacraments. The Church understood that the whole human race had been on its way to hell unless their sins were washed away by Christ’s sacrifice. Therefore, St. Augustine and others gave the idea of Limbo–a place in hell where there is no physical torment, just separation from God–for unbaptized infants and righteous pagans. But, if Christ can pour down the fruits of His sacrifice on whoever he wishes, I have no doubt that children, whom He loves so much, are saved even if they do not have the benefit of baptism. And thanks to Irish theologians, we know that, since Christ made reparation for all sins, past, present and future, very many pagans before Christ’s time have been saved by His Passion.

              I say Irish theologians because certain ancient Irishmen would rather have been in hell with their ancestors than heaven without them, so the Churchmen there were particular to explain how their ancestors certainly had a chance of salvation! Of course, we also have the curious phrase “baptism for the sake of the dead” in the New Testament.

              Personally, I think it impossible to be sorry for Original Sin, though it was on my soul for some time until August 1986, and I should have had it cleansed from me April 5, 1986 should the decision have been left to me! But, it is certainly wonderful Christian charity to pray and do penance for the conversion and forgiveness of others. As Christ has reunited humanity to God, we are all united to one another in Christ.

              1. Yeah, the only thing I don’t get, (which sparked my discussion with TWWK) is that God did not create Satan evil (else we get “God is the creator of evil”), and at some point, Satan decided to turn away from God. Which means that Satan needs to have:
                a) free will
                b) the ability to change his mind
                and if so, why not change his mind again? If spiritual reality is eternal in its shape, how does one explain the initial change in Satan’s relationship with God?

              2. St. Thomas Aquinas explains it that God wished for every rational creature to freely choose Him. Human beings have their entire lives to seek God and choose His ways wholeheartedly. Angels had a brief moment in time which Aquinas calls “in via”–on the way. Their intellects are vastly superior to ours, and God’s attributes and goodness would have been ever more perfectly in their minds. The only thing they did not have at this point was seeing God face to face–the Beatific Vision.

                The reason for that is simply because it is impossible to sin when one sees God face to face. One’s will is free, but every option other than the Holy Will of God becomes so tawdry in comparison that it is impossible to even want to choose evil.

                Therefore, the angels did not have the Beatific Vision, even though their knowledge of God far exceeded the knowledge of the greatest human mystic. But, even with this clear knowledge of God’s goodness, some decided to place themselves above God, for which they were punished in eternity.

                As to the question of changing one’s mind, human beings do it all the time because of our ignorance. So, we can regret. The angels had a much more full and complete knowledge, because of their lack of ignorance, the demons decision to sin so radically is set in stone, so to speak.

              3. Wow, that’s fascinating! It’s the first time I hear about a large part of what you explained just now, are those things mentioned directly in the Bible or what did St. Thomas Aquinas base his thoughts on?

              4. St. Thomas is quite awesome in that he brought together Scripture, St. Augustine and the other Church Fathers, and the Ancient Greek philosophers (especially Aristotle) all together. The “in via” period isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but Aquinas used what he knew about angels and the Beatific Vision to come up with this conclusion. St. Thomas Aquinas is pretty much the Catholic Church’s best authority on the angels.

  2. What strikes me is that there seems to be a false teaching of Christianity out there which states that it is ungodly to have desires, and that wanting something for yourself is selfish and sinful…

    1. Well, choosing others over yourself is one way of expressing love. For people who only think in 0/1 terms, any kind of personal desire might seem like negation of love and therefore sinful. Oversimplification can be a scary thing.

    2. Yeah, I thought about addressing that point in the original article, but it almost appeared like a digression and hence I omitted it. The best Christian authors would say that we should overcome selfishness, but we ought to love ourselves. After all, how can we fulfill the commandment to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” unless we love ourselves? And loving others is often driven by our love of ourselves, e.g. by loving x they love me back or by loving x I become a better person. In the case of certain saints who performed extraordinary feats of asceticism, they felt by doing so more souls would be drawn toward God and that they were becoming more like Jesus Christ, which pleased them very much.

      But, it is so difficult to act out of love rather than selfishness that it is often better to perform actions which are bitter to ourselves if they benefit someone else.

  3. You might be interested in looking at Shinto – it’s inextricably linked to Buddhism. Detachment, from what I read, helps achieve a heightened awareness of things; suffering is part of the world, and the sooner you cast of your “fetters,” the more enlightened you become.

    1. One day, I shall certainly look at that religion. Thus far, I have not delved much into Shinto besides what one might glean from folklore and certain anime.

      1. Shinto is fun because unlike the “great religions”, it doesn’t ask or attempt to answer any fundamental questions, nor is it concerned with making too much sense. Have a photo of one recent Shinto god (enshrined in at least two places, helps grant success in battle, ability in sports and studies, as well as harmony between husband and wife :))


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