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Review: The 14th Dalai Lama – a manga biography
September 23rd, 2010
10:51 AM ET

Review: The 14th Dalai Lama – a manga biography

Editor's Note: CNN's Gabe La Monica files this report on the new manga biography of the Dalai Lama.

“Manga” in Japanese means “whimsical pictures.”  Author and illustrator Tetsu Saiwai brings whimsy to life in "The 14th Dalai: a Manga biography."

The book is a hybrid comic book/graphic novel. The central character, Tenzin Gyatso, is introduced as a kind of 2-year-old embodiment of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim: an audacious and quick-witted boy with no fear. He grows up fast. At the age of 5, in 1939, Tenzin Gyatso becomes officially recognized as the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and is renamed “Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom.”


The black and white images are quick and light, but even at the book’s airy beginning, they convey a mood of portent. Everything moves fast; the reader’s eyes race across open blocks and pages. At one point there is a discussion about war while the Dalai Lama looks up at a starry night sky. On the next block, on the same page, everything has changed: Clarity and innocence turn quickly into confusion and fear.

The rise of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 is painted as forever complicit in Tibet’s demise. On October 7, 1950, the Chinese Liberation Army crossed the Tibetan border under the guise of emancipating Tibet, “a part of China,” and its people from foreign imperialists.

The Khampa Resistance Army and the Tibetan border police are crushed by the Liberation Army, which numbers in the tens of thousands. Food becomes scarce as the occupation decimates farmland and remaining supplies. Confusion reigns when China announces the enactment of a 17-point “agreement” for the liberation of Tibet.

In the book, as the Dalai Lama grows up he is often pictured looking down on his people from a temple with a telescope. He is high and lonely and they are poor and happy. But if the Dalai Lama was previously blind to his own elitism - or to the dichotomy between the power structure in Tibet and its poverty-stricken people - he seems awakened to it under the domination of China’s army.

It’s suggested that the Dalai Lama comes to think of Chinse leader Mao Tse-tung as a reformer for good, with a flawed means to an adulterated vision. He meets with Mao once. At the end of a tense but outwardly amiable meeting, the chairman leans over and whispers in the Dalai Lama’s ear. “Religion is evil,” he says. The meeting was a ruse by China to show good intentions and togetherness between Tibet and China to the rest of the world. The world does seem to turn away from the plight of Tibet, while real diplomacy between the two nations disintegrates.

Massacre after bloody massacre contributes to a rising tension of fear and anger that culminates in a storm of fury when the Dalai Lama escapes Tibet and the capital city of Lhasa is brought to its knees. He stays in exile for the rest of his life, advocating a nonviolent struggle free from hatred as the only path towards peace. His life is committed to the idea of a world free from hate.

Since the 1950s, manga has been a common form of cartoon and comic art in Japan. Likewise, since 1950, when the Dalai Lama became the official political leader of Tibet, he has become a household name around the world. But the history of his ascension and of the destruction and degradation of Tibet are less well-known. Saiwai’s book is a quick read packed with the history of a life that spans nearly eight decades. It’s a tribute to the book’s form that so much is conveyed in such a small space.

The book releases September 28.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Art • Books • Buddhism

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. what is astronomy

    I simply could not depart your site prior to suggesting that I really loved the standard information an individual supply in your guests? Is gonna be back often to check up on new posts

    April 4, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  2. mangaduu

    "Fairy Tail" A sociedade é um local de encontro de muitos poderoso mago. [img]http://www.kread.info/g.gif[/img]
    Menina Lucy sempre quis se juntar e se tornar um membro de um. No ver?o (Naz) sob a orienta??o de Lucy, finalmente, come?a a experimentar desejo, e se familiarizou com muitos poderoso mago. Posteriormente, Lucy com o ver?o (Naz), Gray (Gray), Elsa, e Habib formaram a "mais forte?" Team, dois homens e duas mulheres história de um gato assim come?ou ... ...

    February 10, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  3. Tenor

    Moderator-please email me and tell me why my comment is awaiting moderation since 9/27. Actually, I first posted the comment on 9/24; got the awaiting moderation message and when I checked back it wasn't there. What is possibly objectionable about it if that is the case? If not, please post it!

    October 7, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
  4. Tenor

    Moderator-please email me and tell me why my comment is awaiting moderation since 9/27

    September 30, 2010 at 7:48 am |
  5. Manga

    The production group of this book, Emotional Content, is also publishing more biography-like mangas of historical figures, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Che Guevara, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, etc. I think they are also working on Abraham Lincoln and Anne Frank.
    http://www.biographicnovel.com

    September 28, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  6. John Roberts

    This is great! Manga will introduce a whole new set of readers to the Tibetans' history, which, sadly, appears to be of diminishing interest to this generation. In the 1990s, between Hollywood popular films about Heinrich Harrer and Scorsese's Kundun, and the Tibet concert series, awareness was much higher. Today, I think it would be easier to reach young people with a video game pitting Tibetans against the PRC, than to raise awareness any other way. Then along comes this idea, and it really brightens my outlook. If it has piqued your interest, the full story of Tibet's fight is told in the book "Freeing Tibet: 50 Years of Struggle, Resilience, and Hope" (2009) - which I now wish I had told and illustrated through Manga!

    September 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  7. dongfanghong

    Does it include the part where the Dalai Lama was bribed by the CIA to incite rebellion?

    September 24, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  8. Shivya

    Buddhism is a religion which gives credit for people in the sense, it assumes people can think on their own. It lays out guidelines but does not give doctrines. But the larger populace is like standard normal curve. Most of them are just average sheep who would follow rather than think. Otherwise how are religious "Heads" able to cheat and abuse people for this long.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Shivya

      I did a mistake there.. Buddhism is not a religion. Its a Philosophy and an offshoot of Sanatan Dharma which is Hinduism.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  9. Dr Perry Fisher

    Salvation is from belief in Jesus all else is based on shifting sand.Dalai Lama is the worlds greatest Conman , he has never had a job fools like those posting here have given their hard earned money to that conman for many years

    September 24, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • NL

      At least everyone can agree that shifting sand is real.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Anu

      You mean Dalai is a bigger conman than pope? How could that be?

      September 24, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  10. fwat

    wat is the sound of one hand fapping?

    September 24, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  11. Frogist

    I think I will go out and get this manga. It seems to me the review is saying it's a fairly good account of the history behind Tibet's conflict with China. That alone makes it attractive. The drawing style is very clean next the manga I prefer. I love the complex, flowing detailed art styles better. The review doesn't tell you much about how well the story flows except that it is a fast read. Nevertheless I think I will still get it.
    Since I don't know much about Buddhism, I am also greatful for those who have taken the time to explain what their experience of it is. All I know about the Dalai Lama is that he is a compassionate and curious person. It's not much but if that is what Buddhism can give you, more power to it.

    September 24, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  12. More Reality

    Dogma and mystical beliefs of some traditions and people aside, Buddhism is more science of the mind and the pursuit of inner peace and ultimate truth than a hard and fast religious path for everyone. Tenzin Gyatso is an interesting man. He has lead an interesting life. I look forward to the book's release.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:45 am |
  13. buddha follower

    Do not try to seek the origin of the universe, look deep into your mind, and it will be revealed.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:27 am |
    • NL

      Isn't that what got us the six day, talking snake Genesis accounts and the thousands of other creation myths that people have made up over the ages? Some of us really would like to know what actually happened and, no doubt, it will be far more enlightening than any of these stories. How could the truth, the actual truth, not be enlightening?

      September 24, 2010 at 8:32 am |
  14. Chirag

    Following any faith is for self improvement and not to apply to others..

    September 24, 2010 at 12:00 am |
    • Manga me a sandwitch

      @Chirag

      Tell that to the dead who were killed because of their faith and to the others who were killed because of the faith of their murderers. Zen is nothing but an empty room.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  15. Zack

    Am I the only one who gets a "Persepolis" vibe from this guy's drawing style?

    September 23, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
  16. Reality

    Did you know that sinful Buddhists are reincarnated as Muslim terrorists?

    September 23, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
  17. Connie in Calgary

    Why would people bring science into a discussion of any manga work? Why is it that the mention of any spiritual leader makes some people traipse scientific definitions out to disparage the whole discussion? Buddhism is a complex belief system with a longer history than western science; and the ability to incorporate folkways and local religions, into a highly literate and esoteric specialist practice. You sciency-types dont abandon your worldview even though the ancient greek scientific philosophy that we base our western scientific tradition on, arose in a society founded on the belief in 12 capricious anthropomorphic gods, an animistic 'universe', and an unshakeable belief in the idea of 'fate'.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
    • NL

      Witch doctoring has been around longer than our medicine, but would you go to a witch doctor instead of a gynecologist.

      Sarah Palin might, but I think she actually preferred skipping over the boarder to your Canadian doctors back in her early Alaska years.

      September 24, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  18. Tenzin Gocha

    Tibetan Buddism can be classified into three sub categories namely Buddhist religion (Buddhism), Buddhist Philosophy and Buddhist Science. What modern scientists and His Holiness the Dalai lama converse about has got nothing to do with Buddhist Religion and faith. Apparently, they do not discuss to prove or refute the theory of reincarnation neither do they meet to talk about previous or next life. His Holiness has a keen interest in modern science and has always been fascinated by the working of machines and gadgets. His Holiness reportedly said that he would have been an engineer if he were not a monk and not the 14th Dalai Lama.
    Buddhist Science has a rich information about mind, consciousness (subtle consciousness) and their interplay. Similarly, buddhist science agrees and admits that modern science has a lot more concise and detailed information on other aspect of Science including but not limited to Metaphysic, Quantum physic and Cosmology.
    In the nutshell, the Mind and Life Meeting (Annual meeting of His Holiness with the Scientists) is intended to garner and share knowledge on similar grounds between Buddhist Science and Western Science. The meeting is by no means a propaganda about righteous stand of Buddhism. The meeting also doesn't prove or defend the dogmas and ideology of Buddhism.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
  19. Kat

    Saying that Buddhism has religious mythology like all other religions is truly not that surprising. It is human nature to deify. What I enjoy about Buddhism is not the parable stories (birth from a lotus flower; the Buddha taking seven steps at birth) but the truth of finding a "light" unto oneself-the philosophy behind Buddhism. It's a logical, pragmatic view of one's place in the universe. While I agree that faith, in many ways, can be negative when we start relying on mythology to explain the natural world, Buddhism is still the only "religion" that doesn't actually require a faith in god. (You can have one, but you don't have to. And, with Zen, it's expected that you would not have beliefs in anything above or beyond what this world offers.)

    September 23, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
    • Buddah2112

      Thank God for Godlessness. How come the Pope did not meet with Richard Dawkins while he was in the UK?
      How about an interview with Howard Stern or Bill Maher?

      Thank You for your wisdomic observation!
      May Your Path Be A Bright One!

      September 23, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
    • Jason

      Right, I don't think you can call Buddhism a religion, but there are many buddhist that pray to buddha and believe in mystical tales, which really isn't what Buddhism is about, at least to me. It's more about realizing and waking up to the fact that the present is a perfect miracle, but it takes great practice through meditation to stop all those thoughts distracting us or saying otherwise, and I think buddhism is all about helping and teaching others with this process, maybe because I am more attracted to Zen budhism...zazen meditation brings great peace!

      September 23, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
    • ltran

      Would one be sure that one does not need god ?

      6. Both 'The self exists' has been expounded and 'The self does not exist' has been taught too. And "Neither self nor non-self exist' has been taught as well by the Buddhas.

      Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way – The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapada of Candrakirti.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  20. Reality

    It is true that many exponents of Buddhism, most notably the Dalai Lama, have been remarkably willing to enrich (and even constrain) their view of the world through dialogue with modern science. But the fact that the Dalai Lama regularly meets with Western scientists to discuss the nature of the mind does not mean that Buddhism, or Tibetan Buddhism, or even the Dalai Lama’s own lineage, is uncontaminated by religious dogmatism.

    Indeed, there are ideas within Buddhism that are so incredible as to render the dogma of the vir-gin birth plausible by comparison. No one is served by a mode of discourse that treats such pre-literate notions as integral to our evolving dis-course about the nature of the human mind. Among Western Buddhists, there are college-educated men and women who apparently believe that Guru Rinpoche was actually born from a lotus. This is not the spiritual breakthrough that civilization has been waiting for these many centuries.
    "
    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2

    September 23, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • David Johnson

      a lotus you say. Hmmm... Are there any transitional fossils?

      September 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • ringo

      Blue lotus contains a nitrite reuptake inhibitor.

      look it up

      September 23, 2010 at 9:58 pm |
    • Aashen

      A lotus you say? Why, that's almost as crazy as the first woman being created from some guy's spare rib!

      September 23, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • ltran

      If the belief in virgin birth will someday enlighten you, why not ? If the belief in lotus birth will someday enlighten you, why not ?
      If you know that you are in jail and the only way to free yourself is through the commode sink hole, why not ?
      There are 65 thousand kinds of medicine to cure 65 thousand diseases in this world, how would one know that one medicine is better than the other ?

      If one compare this and that medicine, you don't really know your own real problem is.

      September 23, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
    • Mike

      I agree with you that the peripheral elements of religious fervor often imbue and embellish religious claims, including within Buddhism. But if you cut to the chase and examine the core teachings of Buddhism, the four noble truth's, you will see a very pragmatic view of how the mind can be freed from the trappings of views (dogma).

      A couple of salient points come out of the earliest recorded Buddhist scriptures (known as the Tipitaka): 1) Siddhartha Guatama (AKA The Buddha) encouraged his students to practice skepticism including when they examined his own teachings. Quite a radical feature that would tend to spurn the proliferation of Dogma. In fact the father of western philisophical skepticism, the Greek known as Pyrrho, went to India in the 3rd century BC with Alexander the Great and It is believed by historians that he founded his school of skepticism based on brushes with Madyamaka Buddhists. 2) The Buddha stated that the first stage of understanding (enlightenment) results in the shedding of rites and rituals (AKA Dogma's). Meditation is the tool used to cultivate the cutting through of belief in "views" and "beliefs". Buddhism is not founded on "Revelation" but on self inquiry. That is why it is difficult to communicate Buddhism with conceptual language. Concepts are barriers and direct and immediate experience counts for more when coming to terms with reality.

      The Buddhas teachings centered on examination of the "evident" and liberating the mind from views and speculations. How Buddhism has morphed in other enclaves is another story altogether. Some claim that it was necessary to engage those who may not be intellectually up to the task of underrstanding the core teachings. But a critical examination of the earliest recorded teachings of the Buddha reveals a man not concerned with abstractions. Unfortunately, many of today's thinkers tend to superimpose their personal biases on what exactly Buddhism "is" and they don't take the time tpo research it. If they did they might come to the conclusion that things are often not what they first appeared to be.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:54 am |
    • hmmmmho

      dude, you miss the point. regardless of who is front and center in life it is YOU who has the answer, that is what the first Buddha said. stop looking to the dalai lama or the holy see or whomever to look where the cracks in thinking are. they only offer a path through their own journey, flawed as it may be, so they can point the way, but if you're strong enough (and not so weak minded you need to destroy buddhist thinking) then YOU can find your own enlightenment if you so desire. and i would guess the dalai lama and others have done more to show the path toward peace than you in all wasteful time you spend criticizing someone else's journey.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:04 am |
    • Tenor

      Poetic metaphors can be so confusing if you don't understand their meanings or take them literally.
      In tantric Buddhism, the Lotus represents the female and, even more particularly, the feminine generative organs. In both tantric and sutric Buddhism, the path to Enlightenment is differentiated between the Wisdom path, which is symbolized by the feminine, Mother; and the Method path which is symbolized by the masculine.
      The lotus also signifies renunciation of cyclic existence. Every image of a Buddha sits or stands upon a very large lotus. The petals of a lotus are pristine and elegant, even though the flower blooms from the muddy swamp of samsara. Generating renunciation of samsara is the gateway to the Buddhist path to Enlightenment, so all Buddhas are born from the Lotus-Renunciation.

      [2 be cont]

      October 8, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
    • Tenor

      [Part 3 of 3 – Reply to Sam Harris' 'Reality]

      Guru Padmasambhava introduced tantric Buddhism to Tibet, so he is the archetypal tantric master. Naturally, one starts the difficult meditative visualization of all beings as Buddhas, by seeing one's own tantric lama as Enlightened in the form (for some traditions) of Guru Rinpoche.

      My word, culturally xenophobic nihilists take everything so literally! But with a little open-mindedness, one can realize that poetic imagination is a powerful tool for conscious development.

      October 8, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.