The following paper was written for my Buddhist Traditions class, led by Dr. Patrick Mahaffey. The original presentation that inspired this paper can be found here.
Tintin in Tibet was written in 1960 by Belgian writer Hergé, neé George Remi. The comic features the title character Tintin in search for his friend Tchang, whose plane has crashed in the Himalayas. When the search turns up nothing, Tintin fears the worst. Despondent, he takes refuge in a Buddhist monastery to recover from his grief and his near-death experiences in the mountains.
The ageless and inquisitive reporter is the subject of numerous comics spanning over five decades—from the late twenties to Hergé’s death in the eighties. The comics’ popularity is due in part to the comics’ sweeping international landscapes, daring adventures, and Hergé’s expressive artwork; but the character of Tintin is one that draws people in. He is the iconic youth, always optimistic and progressive (as symbolized with the forward and upward style of his hair—an icon in itself). Along with mystery and adventure, the stories express central themes such as tolerance, chivalry, and most importantly compassion. His selfless defense of not only his friends but of the oppressed is an example to us all in the compassionate life.
It was for this reason that I decided to cast Tintin in my own comic centering on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He also provided me with a typical Western perspective on Eastern philosophy. Not only is it difficult for the Western mind to grasp the Buddhist concept of death, but also to grasp a concept of Shadow that is not dichotomized by the narrow view of Good and Evil. Western philosophy has been shaped largely by the last two thousand years of Christian mythology – so much so that it shapes the thinking of most Europeans and Americans (here referring to all of the Americas), even those of us who were not born Christian. With Catholic ties dating back to his origins, Tintin is no exception. In my comic he mourns Tchang’s death because he cannot fathom where his friend has gone off to, and cannot even be sure that his friend’s soul still exists. When confronted with the concept of the Wrathful Deities, he automatically assumes they are evil. The Abbot patiently explains to him that the darkness surrounding the Wrathful deities does not make them evil; they perform a necessary function of liberation. They are projections which Tchang must recognize to become enlightened. Tintin, too, must recognize that his fears of the Wrathful deities are projections of the dualist nature of Western/Christian philosophy.
I chose this theme to elucidate in my comic because of the way the West tends to treat Buddhism. We do not realize just how trapped we are in dichotimized thinking: that all things must fall into good or evil. It is so deeply ingrained in our culture that we cannot grasp any other way of thinking. Light = good and dark = evil. As a result there have been many attempts to westernize Buddhism by removing the Shadow and all acceptance of the dark side of human nature. Too easily do we equate the dark side with evil – even going so far as to equate Mara with the Devil. The teachings of the Bardo Thodol (called the Tibet Book of the Dead in the West) instruct the dead to recognize these projections on order to be liberated from them and grow. The Bardo is a teaching not only for the dead, but for the living as well.
Below are the two pages I drew for my Tintin and the Tibetan Book of the Dead comic. I will be the first to admit that I have no skill in art (especially at 4am before the deadline), so pardon the quality. Hopefully one day I will learn how to use Photoshop and redo them. Copyright remains with the Hergé Foundation (Moulinsart).
Books referred to in this paper: