The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography plots the Buddha’s journey from crown prince of the ??kya kingdom to Enlightenment as a reformed ascetic, as told and illustrated by Hisashi Ota. It’s a story not often heard outside the studies of practicing Buddhists or lectures on World Religion, but it is key for even a basic understanding of Buddhism, the religion based on Buddha Sakyamuni’s teachings.
The book follows Prince Siddhartha as he travels beyond the palace’s four gates, where he sees his subjects suffering in poverty and disease, noting that “people live in search of happiness, but in fact life leads straight to the horror of the grave.” Meanwhile, his father, the king, notices his discontent and provides him with all he thinks his son needs to be a happy, contented heir to the throne, from food and drink to the most beautiful wife in all the land. But these comforts don’t seem to satisfy Siddhartha, either, who decides to enter the wilderness, fasting and meditating until he figures out the meaning of life.
To introduce readers to Prince Siddhartha and his search for meaning, Ota uses two fictional characters: A?vajit, an attendant to the prince, and his friend Udda, whose directionless lifestyle leads her to seek counsel with Siddhartha. As sympathetic characters, their actions coincide with the Buddha’s journey, helping to spur the plot along from scene to scene. Udda, especially, is meant to relate to readers, as she is first drawn to the Prince’s royal lifestyle before realizing herself that comfort and pleasure are not wholly satisfying.
Not unlike graphic novelizations of the Bible or the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the biography’s goal is primarily to educate, with its comic-book format and manga-style artwork intended to appeal among younger audiences. Every new setting and character is boldly labeled, and each chapter ends with a take-away quote that summarizes the teachings explained by the preceding story. The book includes, as reference, a map of the region of modern-day India and China where Buddha lived and taught.