Buddhism teaching

The manga monk: teaching Buddhism through comics

NYUZEN, Toyama Prefecture–Buddhist priest Yoshiyuki Kondo offers his own brand of enlightenment through a the manga comic series he created after his own life took a rough turn.

Kondo, a former schoolteacher, said he hopes the series titled “Yankee to Jushoku” (Bad Boy and Chief Priest) will help others find wisdom when they encounter upheaval in their lives.

His strategy proved popular.

“I was emboldened when a reader told me that my work gave them the power to live,” said Kondo, 36.

The series revolves around an unlikely friendship between a Buddhist monk and a young delinquent. The young boy is a member of a biker gang who is well-versed in Buddhism, while the young high priest struggles to be comfortable at social gatherings.

Through the couple’s casual exchanges and witty banter, readers can deepen their understanding of Buddhist teachings, Kondo says.

In an episode that explores the Buddhist concept of “hige-man”, the monk is disappointed when his temple’s social media account receives fewer visits than one run by a more popular nearby temple.

“I have no talent,” says the priest, to which the boy replies, “You shouldn’t get depressed so quickly.”

The boy notes that ‘hige’ (self-mockery) and ‘jiman’ (pride) are signs that a person is too preoccupied with what other people think and too busy comparing themselves to others.

“Don’t you think great people aren’t too proud or too downcast either?”

The priest replies, “I’m not tall because I often underestimate myself.” The young biker describes his remark as “hige”.

In another episode, the manga discusses the phrase “tenjo tenge yuiga dokuson”, which is often misunderstood and sometimes displayed on biker jackets in Japan.

Many mistakenly believe that it emphasizes the superiority of an individual over others, but in reality the notion refers to the equal worth of all.

STUDENTS THINK IT IS RELATIVE

The idea for the manga came to Kondo after encountering obstacles in his own life and work.

He first embarked on his Buddhist path in 2012, researching the teachings of the monk Shinran (1173-1262) at the graduate school of Ryukoku University. Kondo decided to teach Buddhism in middle and high schools.

Kondo worked at private Buddhist schools in Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures, but soon found the work overwhelming. He was so busy supervising club activities and preparing homework for the next day’s classes that he often continued to work until 2 a.m.

Kondo said he gave up his teaching career after five years to give him time “to think about my life”.

He returned to the family home in Nyuzen, Toyama Prefecture, last spring. Passionate about painting since his childhood, Kondo took it up and started creating his own manga.

As a test, Kondo drew a four-picture comic on the principles of Shinran.

After he posted it on the social media photo-sharing site Instagram, his former students sent him messages praising the work. One called it “super interesting.”

“It made me realize that manga could be a good way to convey the appeal of Buddhism to even more people,” Kondo said.

Kondo’s interest in Buddhism was sparked at the age of 14, when a relative suddenly committed suicide.

Kondo asked a senior priest who attended the funeral if “killing yourself is a bad thing.”

The monk gave him an answer he hadn’t expected.

“No one’s way of living and dying can be wrong,” the priest told him. “It’s because all spirits try to live to the best of their abilities.”

The monk’s words helped him through this difficult time. After spending several years studying materials science at Tokai University’s School of Engineering, those words eventually became the catalyst that prompted him to enter the priesthood.

Now Kondo has found an outlet where he can share similar words of wisdom to help others.

Kondo serialized “Yankee to Jushoku” on Twitter in late May, and it quickly caught on.

A Tokyo-based publisher approached Kondo to publish his work online as a comic in October.

“Although I am a superficial person, Buddhism offers deep insight,” Kondo said, pledging her determination. “I will humbly continue to create manga.”

The 138-page manga is published by Cork Inc. and is available for 330 yen ($3.17), including tax.