Enjoy the Ride!

Beyond the obvious gore and sexualization that is prevalent in much anime, there is probably one anime fundamental that bothers most Christians who are fearful of exposing their children to thoughts that might undermine their Christian faith: Eastern philosophy.

While modern Western thinking is arguably based in post-Enlightenment secularism as much as it is in the Judeo-Christian ethics that preceded it, the question of what to do and what to think about a medium based in something so incredibly foreign persists. However, while a strong argument can be made about expanding one’s horizons by exposing oneself to different thoughts in order to understand them, not necessarily agree to them, I’d like to bring you, our delightful readers, to one persistent Buddhist concept: living in the moment.

saint young men buddha

As an enormous fan of anime works that explore traditional Japanese culture, I’ve also come to realize the intrinsic link that a culture’s entertainment has with the spiritual thinking that has groomed it. Mushishi, which takes place in a fictionalized version of late 1800s Japan, departs from historical reality while simultaneously reflecting many of Japan’s religious ideals. Rurouni Kenshin, following a slightly more historically accurate Japan (none of those pesky fantasy “mushi” to muddle things up) is not just subtly influenced by its creator’s background, but is steeped in it. Examples of these entries go on and on, nearly never-ending.

Some Buddhist concepts go beyond the media expressly attempting to demonstrate them. The idea of living in the moment (or #yolo as the Millennial generation would say) is one of these. Whether you are watching a shounen manga, harem comedy, or a fantasy drama, you are more likely than not to be exposed to this idea. In fact, many Japanese creators have been expressly confirmed as to having been influenced by Buddhism, exhibited seriously in works like 1976’s Unico by Osamu Tezuka. The idea that life is in a(n) (near) endless cycle of reincarnation naturally leads to the conclusion that it would be irresponsible to not make the most of the time provided in the present incarnation (please note that this is an oversimplification, and I realize that the Buddhist and Hindu principles of reincarnation do not play out in the same way).

At first glance, Unico hardly looks like something inspired by Buddhist principles!
At first glance, Unico hardly looks like something inspired by Buddhist principles!

To the educated Christian, at first glance, this principle appears to be terribly hedonist, doesn’t it? I’m dying anyway, so I might as well enjoy life while I’m here. Yolo, yo! While there is definitely some truth to the irresponsibility of this thinking, I’d like to direct you to something that author Robert Velarde had to say:

Christianity is an adventure, although we probably don’t always think of it as such. It is, of course, a spiritual journey, and it may not take us to some distant and exotic land (although it might). But there is much about being a Christian that has affinities with the concept of adventure. In Acts 9:2 we learn that Christianity was also known as “the Way.” Derived from the Greek word hodos, “the Way” literally referred to a road or path-a way  of getting from point A to point B. In broader terms, Christianity as “the Way” is about the Christian life as a whole.

While Christians are endowed with a sense of responsibility with which to carry the bodies they have been given in the world we’ve all been entrusted to steward, we’re also not just here to wait around until we get “whisked away to Heaven” (don’t even get me started on that misconception). Like Velarde said, part of the Christian faith is the adventure of living life as a Christian! In other words, enjoy the ride!

~~~~~

Robert Velarde, The Wisdom of Pixar: An Animated Look at Virtue (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010), p. 104.

13 thoughts on “Enjoy the Ride!

  1. So, a few comments from the resident Buddhist xD.

    I think people with basic knowledge about Buddhism already know this, but just in case: Buddhism is largely the opposite of the hedonist approach. Both notice that the human body is often at the mercy of outside stimuli (pain and pleasure), but while the hedonist will accept this and aim to maximize pleasure in their life, the Buddhist believes it is possible to reverse the master-servant relationship between the self and body.

    The Buddhist focus on the present moment, on the other hand, is all about responsibility.

    (A) I’ll be a good Christian and support those in need… starting tomorrow.

    (B) I’m being a prick be cheating on this exam, but if I pass and become a doctor, I can help so many people! Surely God will forgive this.

    Are A and B good Christians? In both cases, a hypothetical and uncertain future is used as an excuse for present sins. It helps to turn away attention from the fact that A isn’t helping others /right now/ and that B is being a thief /right now/.

    Where is Christian humility if you calculate your morality on a spreadsheet a few years in a advance, when you know not what God has planned for you tomorrow?

    Matthew 25:13 “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

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    1. Thanks, Cytrus! I always look forward to your comments!

      Yes, I purposefully oversimplified the Buddhist tradition to make my point more concisely, so it would be easy for someone unfamiliar with Buddhism to link hedonistic tendencies to Buddhist thought based on this article alone. I appreciate your clarification and hope that our readers will take the time to read your comment!

      Your points on Christianity below that rather perfectly illustrate the point I was making. Thanks!

      (As an aside, I believe that the verse you mentioned at the end of your comment is taken slightly out of context, as it refers to the coming of Jesus. The concept is solid, however, as illustrated in verses like Matthew 6:34)

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      1. Thanks, Japes. The concept of the uncertain hour of individual death as well as humanity’s final judgment pops up several times in the Bible, and I just remembered the “you know not the hour” quote, so I typed that into Google to get the exact passage. Quite a few verses came up, though, so I might have well picked one that isn’t the best fit.

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  2. When I saw the phrase, “Live in the moment,” my first thought was not so much one of hedonism, but rather, one of not worrying and of making the most of each new day and opportunity as it comes, as opposed to (something I need to learn) trying to micro-manage the future.

    “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

    “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

    ~ Matthew 6:25-34, New International Version

    Blessings to you! =) I have been praying for you, Japesland, God bless you!

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    1. Yes, exactly! I didn’t write about it explicitly in the article, though perhaps I should have, but that second passage is exactly the passage I used to respond in my comment above. 🙂

      Thank you for reading and continuing to support the site. I greatly appreciate your prayers, as these past few weeks (and likely the next few) have been (and will be) busy and stressful… but with great rewards! I’m excited to see where we are able to take Beneath the Tangles and the communities we will be able to reach!

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  3. The level of Buddhism of course makes it all the more interesting when an anime unintentionally or very intentionally invokes something Judeo-Christian to make its point (And I wonder what that says about the level of Truth and Meaning present in Christianity ;D ).

    As for living “in the moment” and whether atheism promotes hedonism…I think it depends, as with all worldviews, on the disposition of the individual. I decided, because I figured I might be going to Hell and I’d only get one shot at life…to make this life count. To not shirk back from either enjoyment or responsibility for a moment, because a moment is all that He and I have. I think that Mar feels the same way. In fact I know he does—-He was the one who showed me a metaphor for his immortality as a never-ending sunset.

    We all get such a short amount of time to act, even if we’re undying, before we must face the Arbiter. Let’s all live life with everything we’ve got and all the love we have.

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    1. I’m just a tiny bit confused by your wording (I think I may be missing a little bit of context here), but I think you’re touching on the heart of what I wanted to say, which can probably be summarized as the following:

      Modern Christians are always in danger of being idle because we simply undervalue the current life as though it were garbage to be thrown away in favor of the eternal, when in fact God’s creation plan is to redeem the Creation that he intended to be eternal in the first place! While acknowledging an eternal reality toward which we are constantly marching, we must engage every day with our full selves, else we are not doing justice to the belief system we follow!

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      1. Heh, I forgot, you haven’t necessarily had the conversation with me I had with TWWK. But anyway, yes that’s essentially what I mean. Although what I also mean is that no ideology truly inclines you either to disregard the importance of your life or give this life everything you’ve got. Instead, what you do has more to do with you personally than your God. I’ve met scrupulous Buddhists and dependent, idle Buddhists. Christians who believe God demands engagement with this life and Christians who believe God demands they ignore it. And I am the person who, BECAUSE I believe I’ve got only one shot at life to impact people, believes in living life in a way that helps others instead of merely “enjoying it while it lasts.”

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  4. Frankly, I don’t think this is going to help the issue many Christians have much. Finding one parallel between Buddhism and Christianity isn’t very interesting; you can do that with every belief, even Jedi. Finding a hundred juxtapositions, however, isn’t, and it strikes me that thinking like this is what leads many Christians astray into accepting doctrines of other religions that don’t line up with the Word because they find a small but convenient thing that does.

    The Buddhist concepts of karma and the self-centred four noble truths, and their worship – Hebrew ‘shachah’, Greek ‘proskuneo’, both meaning to bow or lie prostrate before something – of false idols, for instance, should be utterly hideous to a Christian, but I find many buying into it and forgetting, ‘in the moment’, about what Christ actually said about the rewards and penances for your works, and what we live for on this Earth, and what to worship – and what worship is. I only have to talk to some of my Catholic friends who are worried about sinning because ‘God might punish them’, the emphasis on the affect on the self rather than on service to God and others, before they ‘shachah’ to images of Mary and say it’s ‘not worship’.

    Plus, relating the Buddhist reincarnation cycle to the Christian path, which is a one-stop trip to eternity, is hazardous thinking. While we aren’t here to ‘wait around’ until Heaven, Paul explains in Philippians why that’s the case, and it’s directly contrary to Buddhist teachings of karma. It’s ‘more necessary’ to /the Church/ that Christians ‘remain on earth’; we’re here to serve as Christ did to get more people to him, not to follow a path towards self-fulfilling enlightenment, as in Buddhism.

    Look, for instance, at why, according to a list of ‘basic’ facts about the religion (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm), Buddhism is becoming popular in places like America (my emphases):

    ‘Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries for a number of reasons, The first good reason is Buddhism /has answers/ to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes (for those who are interested) /a deep understanding of the human mind/ (and natural therapies) which /prominent psychologists around the world/ are now discovering to be both very advanced and /effective/.’

    ‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.’ – 2 Timothy 4:3

    Though a better follow-on from that verse would be, from the same list:

    ‘The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word as true, but rather to /test the teachings for themselves/. In this way, each person decides /for themselves/ and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding. This makes Buddhism less of a fixed package of beliefs which is to be accepted in its entirety, and more of a teaching which /each person learns and uses in their own way/.’

    It’s fundamentally of the flesh, and I believe we’ve all died to that, and should have no confidence in it any more. The spirit behind Buddhism is not of the God I worship. It must, by biblical default, be of the enemy.

    We, as Christians, are not of this world. Any religion that proclaims itself as being so, and evidently is so, is something I want to keep out of my mind. Or, should I exchange some of my devotion to God to finding what other similarities unbelievers have with me? How much do I want to yoke myself with them in how I’m supposed to approach the concept of religious worship?

    If this standard ‘worldview’ enriching nonsense isn’t a way to open up windows for the enemy, I’d like to know what is.

    I tolerate Eastern spirituality in anime because I find Christianity, and things useful for my Christianity, in what I watch, and I line up anything that isn’t with the Word and reject it accordingly – I never find a non-Christian spirituality acceptable. Demon worship. To approach something like this and think ‘it’s okay, we have a lot in common!’ is naive; we should know that the enemy’s schemes are deep and complex, and we should /know/ them by the Spirit, not the casual match-making of each person’s doctrinal beliefs.

    I only seek to know the truth, God’s truth, and the only times I talk about other religions is if I need to use that truth to expose untruth, for myself or another Christian. Since Christ is the only way to God, if a Buddhist doesn’t have Christ, their religion has nothing to teach me. Do they believe that there is also one God? Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

    Needless to say, I’m not on board with the sentiment behind this article, nor with how it’s carried out. Writing that attempts to line up the Word with a false religion and doesn’t use the Word itself is not, as I said at the start of what’s now become a long comment, going to affect the opinions of any Christians who feel repulsed by Eastern spirituality in any form of media. The issue here has been /sidestepped/ rather than addressed, and that’s often the first step on the treacherous path of deception.

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    1. Hi JekoJeko!

      I’m glad you took the time to read my article and to give serious thought to your response (it’s very obvious that you thought your response through thoroughly and intelligently!). As always, one of our favorite things about Beneath the Tangles is the sense of community we attempt to shape and the avenues for serious discussion that such a community entails. I’ve given serious thought to your comment over the past few hours, and while my response below is much more brief than yours, I hope it serves to explain some misconceptions you may have had as to the intent and the ‘sentiment’ behind it.

      First, I would like to point out that we have a rather diverse staff here, numbering about 14 now! Yet, while the staff has indeed grown over the past several years, we all share the same zeal for Christ and the core beliefs that make up Christ’s teachings. If you have any doubts about the stock and exclusivity that I, or any other writer here, put in Christianity, just look over the document we put together outlining our core beliefs: http://www.beneaththetangles.com/our-values-and-beliefs/

      Second, I’d like to explain how I approach all of my articles, as this article is very similar in style in content to many I have written in the past (particularly for Anime Today). I believe that Christianity is The Way (emphasis on capitalization and singularity). All truth comes from the God of Moses, who is, in part, represented by Jesus Christ the Son. With that said, when I see a concept being preached by someone from outside this belief system that aligns with what I believe, it is one of two things: coincidence or God’s intrinsic inspiration. I would contend that the concept of general revelation implies that the former IS the latter, but that’s besides the point.

      Regardless of the source of overlap, using illustrations, sometimes surprising, is an effective form of conveying a message, which is why preachers have used sermon illustrations for millennia, modeled from Jesus’ parables. I don’t want to teach, or even subtly imply, that I believe that Buddhism is another source of truth. While I respect many who DO follow that belief, I believe that the God of Christianity is the source of truth, and sometimes other belief sets draw upon Him in smaller ways.

      I’m happy to see your passion for this topic, but I hope that clears up any misunderstanding. As always, I’m happy to explain my points and motivations if ever there is a miscommunication ^_^

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    2. JekoJeko, it is always great to see people with a clear view of their beliefs and priorities.

      I see you are strongly opposed to Eastern religions, and that is perfectly fine. Still, I think that if you have a chance to talk to some Buddhists, they will see you as a brother or sister first, a Christian second. Jesus taught to love one’s enemies – I hope you can offer your love to all the people you meet on your path.

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  5. Japes, I totally agree with everything you discussed. Christianity is certainly an adventure, and those who are on it definitely understand how much fulfillment it can bring! I can say with confidence from personal experiences that most millennials and non-Christians choose to live in the moment because they have not experienced the love of God.They don’t see any hope for their future, so why not make life matter in the here and now? Their point of view is totally understandable and makes logical sense, but only if they knew what we knew.

    I don’t quite believe that Buddhism is about this YOLO lifestyle like you mentioned in your article, but is actually the contrary. I have a Buddhist friend that goes to school with me, whom always checks his actions before he does them, worrying about messing up his karma. He is concerned out of his mind with trying to get to heaven, perfecting his actions and boosting his karma, yet he can’t tell how far he has gone. He will never know what “perfect” karma is or what “horrible” karma is, which is one of the major flaws with Buddhism. At least we know exactly the conditions for spending an eternity with Christ!

    -Micah Marshall

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Micah!

      Yeah, the “YOLO” connection is a bit of a stretch when taken the full distance. In essence, my point was that the Buddhist tradition as it is played out in stories such as Tezuka’s Unico (though many of Tezuka’s works were greatly influenced by his interest in Buddhist teachings) is that one must present one’s full self in the here and now.

      Christians, of course, have a different view of eternity, which fully separates Christianity from Buddhism at a fundamental level. But with that said, many Christians forget they we are HERE and we are NOW for a reason! Though, based on what you said, it sounds like I’m preaching to the choir at this point. 😛

      Thanks for reading, and I hope your blogging endeavors have been going well!

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