Buddhist ideas, American TV: Avatar


Sometimes you keep hearing about something again and again, forgetting and remembering, until finally, at long last, you go and check it out. That’s how it was for me and the animated TV series called “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” from Nickelodeon (you can read all about it at Wikipedia). Nick has an excellent Web site devoted to the series. At TV.com, you’ll find a compact episode guide and viewer reviews.

Many different people had asked me whether I had seen this TV series. When I said no, they would always tell me a little bit about it, such as “One of the characters is this boy Buddhist monk.” I would think, yeah, yeah, I’ll look into it. And then, I would forget.

So finally someone mentioned that he had downloaded all 60 episodes of the animated series with BitTorrent, and that led me to watch the first season (20 episodes, about 25 minutes each). Whoa. These are really good!

So first, you need to know I do like animation. The original Disney “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) is a lifelong favorite of mine. Recently I discovered the work of the Japanese animation great Hayao Miyazaki, and now I’m on a leisurely mission to see all his films. But I have not seen much of the zillions of anime series from Japan, and I do not run out and watch every Pixar or Disney feature film. So, yes — I like animation, but I’m not a freak for it.

Second, I have a very low tolerance for stupid stories. A lot of U.S. animation (especially on the Cartoon Network) is just junk. It is unwatchable, in my opinion.

So with those two facts in mind, you are about to hear how much I love, love, LOVE “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” I’m up to episode 7 in the second season, and it just keeps getting better and better!

Now, it is true that Aang, the young hero of the series (he is the Avatar, whose task it is to save the world — of course!), is a monk. No one in the series says “Buddhist,” and I have not seen any Buddha images so far. But in episode 4 (season 2), a man with prodigious martial arts skills tells Aang that the whole world is one big living organism, just like the giant banyan tree above them.

“You think you’re any different from me, or your friends, or this tree?” he asks Aang. “If you listen hard enough, you can hear every living thing breathing together. You can feel everything growing. … We all have the same roots, and we are all branches of the same tree.”

Later in that episode, the same man tells Aang and his friends: “Time is an illusion, and so is death.”


4 responses

  1. One of the other Dharma Folk also posted about this, and now with your teaser summary, I think I have no choice but to finally check out this show. Thanks for the post!

  2. Man, I wonder if my little one would like this. I can’t get Nick here in Ireland, but I will move back to the US soon and may consider it. She’s a bit young, but if the show is serious (and it sounds like it is), then it’s something she can grow into when she’s older.

    But yes, I grew up with Saturday morning cartoons, and I remember how awful they were (yet so nostalgic). I don’t let my little one watch them much because of the lack of content among other things. :-/

  3. The series is off the air now, Doug, but you can buy each year as a DVD set (check on Amazon.com). Even though the central character is a boy, his two best friends are a sister and brother, and the sister is a powerful martial artist! I love her character.

    Some parts of some shows might be scary if your daughter is really young, but everything always comes right in the end. There’s fighting (martial arts with magical stuff) and some spooky bits in a few shows. But the storylines are really classic stuff — good guys and bad guys are fairly unambiguous.