In the much anticipated final two episodes of Puella Magica Madoka Magica, the tragic timelines of the magical girls finally come to an end. On Walpurgisnacht, Madoka contracts Kyubey, and wishes to, with her own hands, erase all witches from existence before they are even born. With the miracle, she becomes a goddess-like existence —a force of nature outside our universe— who bends the known laws of the world across all times and timelines.
The parallels to Buddhist teachings are fascinating. In addition to the surface visual symbolisms and karmic language, the story embodies some very core ideas of Buddhism.
In Buddhism’s world view, life is driven by karma. In the truest sense of the idea, karma is simply any action that has a consequence. It is particularly interesting the language used in scriptures to describe karma:
According to the seed that’s sown,
So is the fruit you reap therefrom,
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Down is the seed and thou shalt taste the fruit thereof.
— Samyutta Nikāya (Buddhist scripture)
Of course, there is the sense that good seeds will bear good fruits, and vice versa. This imagery of karmic seeds reminds of grief seeds in Madoka. In fact, Kyubey has used karma specifically to describe magical girls. When Madoka wishes for her miracle, Kyubey refers to the cycle of hope and despair, magical girls and witches, as the law of karma. However, bear in mind though that karma itself is an amoral* concept, much like incubators.
Rebirth, Samsāra, and Suffering
Embedded within this idea is a sense of inevitability. An action -or in some cases, an idea- will grow to affect all futures in a never ending cycle of karma: action leads to consequence leads to action leads to consequence. Desire driven magical girls will eventually become witches. There seems to be no escape from cause and effect.
However, the wonderful complexities of Buddhism also integrates free will into this seemingly fatalistic world view:
If anyone says that a man or woman must reap in this life according to his present deeds, in that case there is no religious life, nor is an opportunity afforded for the entire extinction of sorrow. But if anyone says that what a man or woman reaps in this and future lives accords with his or her deeds present and past, in that case there is a religious life, and an opportunity is afforded for the entire extinction of a sorrow.
— Anguttara Nikaya (Buddhist scripture)
The importance of rebirth to the Buddhist world view is clear. In Buddhist doctrine, rebirth is closely tied to Samsāra, which describes the cycle of endless suffering (dukkha), perpetual wandering, and transmigration. Because of desires and dissatisfaction, all sentient beings continuously go through conception, death, and rebirth. We, or rather our consciousness, are forever trapped in this wheel until the accumulation of our karma lives out its consequences. Sound familiar?
Further, an ignorance concerning suffering, its origins, and its cessation leads to volitional actions (karma), which gives rise to consciousness and cognitive awareness. It is this consciousness that drives rebirths. Only by enlightenment can one break the cycles and enter nirvana. Here is the interesting tie to Madoka. The difference between the last timeline and all previous ones is that Homura reveals the truth about “past” timelines. This is quite an enlightening experience for Madoka indeed, and one about her own “Samsāra” nonetheless. It seems only natural that Madoka would later reach nirvana.
Part of enlightenment is also embodying non-duality and understanding the fallacy of dual natures. In a sense, this is realized by Madoka after she changes karmic laws. The duality of hope and despair, magical girls and witches no longer exists. As a force of nature outside karmic laws, she has reached nirvana and full understanding of the nondual views of self and world.
Nirvana is the end state of having broken free from Samsāra. The mind is without attachments, identity, and boundaries. Naturally, without any of those, the liberated one has no more desires, and thus no more sufferings, and consequently, produces no new karma. Moreover, even though nirvana describes the cessation of the stream of consciousness that ties together rebirths, it is also a higher level of awareness. It is nothingness, the end of the world. Indeed, this seems to describe Madoka’s final goddess presence upon becoming the embodiment of hope.
To dig into Madoka’s spiritual ascension even deeper, let us examine the definition of nirvana. Nir-vana. Nir means to leave, be without, or be free of. Vana defines several natures, including the path of rebirth, forest, weaving, and stench. Therefore, nirvana is the state of being away from the path of rebirth permanently, as Madoka’s final change is the end of her timeline.
Nirvana is also often symbolized by the the extinguishing of the dense forests of three fires of lust, malice, and delusion.
It is being free from the knot of cause and effect, of the stench of karma.
Let us stretch the parallels one step further. Before nirvana, all consciousness are born, die, and reborn as beings in the six domains of the Desire realm: God realm, Asura realm, Human realm, Animal realm, Preta realm, and Hell realm. This is the wheel of life, the place where Samsāra occurs.
It is surprisingly neat how the characters in Madoka Magica fit into these realms. For example, the deva that occupy the blissful God realm are way more powerful than beings in all other realms. Among their powers include a sort of telepathy and illusion construction. Moreover, one particular class of deva are passionless and sexless. Indeed, this seems a bit reminiscent of Kyubey.
In assuming magical girls to be the demigods that occupy Asura, we would find equally convincing parallels. The Asura are beings more powerful than humans. They are often characterized by jealousy and desire. The Asura are reborn into this realm because of good intentions that had bad results. This very aptly describes Sayaka and other magical girls.
Perhaps the most interesting character of this exercise would be Madoka of the Human realm. Of all the domains, a rebirth in the Human realm has the highest potential of reaching enlightenment. Indeed, this is the samsaric realm in which humans can directly achieve nirvana either in a future rebirth or even this present, as Madoka has done.
(Added 4/25/11 — Drawn mostly from 2DT’s comment and my reply below)
Bodhisattva are enlightenment-beings on the path to Buddhahood and nirvana that have either reached enlightenment or are destined for enlightenment. They stay within the universe because of a desire to save people.
Quoted from my comment reply below:
Madoka most resembles a Bodhisattva right after her wish was granted. I believe that is when she becomes an enlightenment-being, someone who has been enlightened or is bound for enlightenment. As she flies around to all the magical girls and purify their gems, she is like the Bodhisattva. She will soon escape from Samsara but is staying around for just for a few more moments to save people.
I would argue further that when she finally disappear — when she sheds any form — and becomes simply a force of nature, that’s the Madoka version of attaining nirvana, and reaching Buddhahood.
2DT points suggests lovely the Bodhisattva parallels in a comment below:
A certain story goes that a girl was about to reach nirvana and leave the cycle of existence. But just short of the last step, she looked back and saw the suffering of mankind, and it moved her so deeply that she decided to postpone enlightenment until she freed everyone on earth. She became Kannon, the first bodhisattva and the Goddess of Mercy.
There are other bodhisattvas as well. One, Maitreya, is only a prophecy: He’s supposed to teach the perfected dharma in a future age. But his enlightenment transcends linear time and reverberates even here, in the past.
— 2DT (2D-Teleidoscope)
Other Visual Symbolisms
Buddhism pervades Madoka Magica not just in its themes and concepts, but in the visual symbolisms as well. There is a clear parallel between seeds and gems. The karmic seeds and the fruition of consequences (vipāka) are oft visually represented as grief seeds and the organic components of witches.
Another interesting visual is the use of dissipating flames. As explained earlier, one part of the definition of nirvana (also the ending of suffering) is the extinguishing of the flames ignorance. In fact, nirvana literally means snuffed out. When Madoka ascends to her new form, she “snuffs out” the various grief seeds.
Perhaps the most outstanding symbol for me is the white elephant. When Walpurgisnacht first arrives, Homura —the girl who “births” the Madoka in this current timeline— is first greeted by an elephant. The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born for the last time as Siddhartha. Legend says that on the night Siddhartha was conceived, his mother dreamt of an elephant as well.
And, like the Buddha, Madoka eventually reaches nirvana, a deathless existence outside of karmic laws.
Goddess, I love this anime!
- Buddhist principles mostly drawn from ideas accepted by both major branches, Theravada and Mahayana. The post focuses more on Buddhist world views and philosophies instead of the religion’s theistic aspects. In fact, Buddhism is often seen as a nontheistic religion because of its rejection of a prime mover.
- Karma, nirvana, suffering, and other concepts simplified because interpretations of these terms can go on for pages. For example, I called karma “amoral” although it does deal with the moral sphere, because of various complicating reasons. I go into further detail in a comment below.
- Goddess in the Buddhist sense has a much different meaning from that of monotheistic and even polytheistic religions. The use of the term in this post is mostly rhetorical.
- Terms and ideas in this post are from a Buddhist perspective. Other religions, most notably Hinduism, may have similar ideas, but are often quite different in some key points.
- There are plenty of references to other religion as well, including a painting of Michaelangelo’s Creation of Adam. I do believe though that the nontheistic take on Madoka’s final change (her existence outside the timelines is explained as a fundamental part of the new universe) is more in line with the Buddhist world view. Of course, that is not to say the story does not parallel the doctrines of other religions. After all, it is surprising how similar many religions are to each other.
- It is fun to go back and read past speculations on this series.
- Comments below note some interesting counterpoints that I address.
- Ryan A. gives a fascinating, well written quick read on Gödel’s incompleteness theorems.
- I cried so hard at the end…
It’s not surprising that Madoka entered the realms of religion as well. My word, this show has done it all hasn’t it? Now that’s great writing right there. Sadly, all I have is praise and nothing more. I didn’t exactly go as far as conduct research on the show’s themes as you already know. Still, I enjoyed Puella Magi Homura Magica immensely and would watch it again in the future. The Dark Knight/Valkyrie will live on till the day she’s finally summoned by her beloved to Valhalla.
Some have compared Madoka to Evangelion, Serial Experiments Lain, and other anime that are generally thought of to be extremely profound and thought provoking. I don’t disagree. And it has the added benefit of yuri magical girls!
That’s true. This show threw everything but the kitchen sink at us and it all worked out very well.
Also, we must send our condolences to the lovely Kyouko and her fallen beloved, Sayaka. curse you Sayaka for being obsessed with a whiny brat who gave up on life before you came along. I’m sorry but I can’t sympathize with the lad for some reason. It’s not because he had an inexplicable curse cast on Sayaka before Kyouko came along, but there’s something else about him that upset me. Maybe it does all come down to his pre-concert emoness.
I’m secretly hoping for some KyoMi/MamOko action. Weird, I know but why not?
I never gave Kyosuke (I think that’s his name) much thought at all. To be honest, Sayaka isn’t my favorite character.
Anyway, Kyouko x Mami… That would be nice. ^ ^
The main reason why I was so interested in Sayaka at first was because I thought her primary was going to be a super baseball bat. Even though it was a sword, I still referred to it as a bat. I guess Kyosuke was the least entertaining side character of all. Even the “other” girl Madoka and Sayaka were friends with was more interesting.
Since it’s highly unlikely that Mami and Kyouko will be chasing after boys anytime soon given their current conditions, what’s stopping them from falling for each other? Mami’s spunky enough to turn any person on, big breasts or not.
I still think Madoka’s mom was the most interesting side character of all.
The main reason I liked Mami sooo much was because of her outfit and muskets. So classy and elegant looking. I really love her.
Sayaka annoys me, but you already know that. ^ ^
Didn’t give Madoka’s mom much thought either. She seems like a terrible parent, but I’m being too mean.
As an actual mother figure her decisions may not be as controversial as Chikane’s from KnM but i can understand why she wouldn’t win any mom of the year awards. The reasons why I liked her are:
1: She’s entertaining when she’s not being serious.
2: She’s semi competent.
3: She’s not single. Then again, I think the whole single parent thing in anime thankfully died out. Not sure.
I apologize for not having any dialogue worthy of challenging your thoughts on this show like Solaris does. (Then again that person has a natural gift of debating and criticizing.) That’s primarily because I didn’t do any research on the show whatsoever. I merely watched it and went to a dentist to get my jaw fixed after the show ended. That’s all. My review barely covered as much intricate details that others who watched the show have but I’m still proud of what I wrote.
Lastly, I think you got enough challengers to satisfy your thirst for competition already.
The mother didn’t have enough screentime for me to take particular note, and while she amuses me a bit, she’s just another minor afterthought.
“I apologize for not having any dialogue worthy of challenging your thoughts on this show like Solaris does.”
Haha, it doesn’t feel that good to be criticized (especially if it’s a complete blanket denial based on something I never said!) I take a lot of pride in the posts I turn out, so I’m usually very glad that most people agree with my views.
Evangelion & SEL are actually very good comparisons if you buy this Madoka Buddhist perspective, because those two also seem heavily Buddhist.
> On the reasons for use of Judeo-Christian symbology in Eva
> YAMAGA: I don’t know exactly why. I suspect that Mr. Anno may have read some book on it, and there was some thoughts he wanted to express on it. I personally am glad that, rather than Christianity, he didn’t express some obscure Buddhist theme, because then it would have been linked more with Aum Shinri Kyo. [LAUGHS]
Or see especially the short essay on NGE & Buddhism, ‘Dharma Cats’ http://goo.gl/EtzEy
I was always under the impression that NGE has heavy Christian undertones, but I’ll admit, I didn’t watch NGE that carefully because I didn’t like the story at all. (I know, what blasphemy! 😦 )
But as with all interesting works, it seems like there’s multiple interpretations.
Anyway, thank you so much for the link. It’s quite fascinating. ^ ^
I think I like the idea using a Buddhist angle on the show far more then the ones using Jesus. (Aside from some very basic elements it doesn’t really fit all to well to me.)
I will say that Gen is one helluva writer! Beyond all the good episodes that came before I consider it quite a feat to actually create a good satisfying ending. I think it shows the merits of anime original stories that don’t feel the need to manufacture half-hearted endings because the source material is continuing long past where the anime will stop.
In any case it was a great read as always!
I agree. I thought many of the Christianity references in Madoka only hints at her goddess-hood through a few visual elements. Storywise, there isn’t much more to go on.
Agreed about the satisfying ending. Beforehand, I was a bit scared of how the series would end. I wanted something conclusive, and this certainly delivered. Adaptations are nice, but there are often too many limitations on the story. I’m glad Madoka doesn’t suffer from that!
Anyway, thanks for reading and for the comment!! ^ ^
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When the church of madoka opens you can be sure this will be a very prominent passage in their bible.
Church of Madoka? Sounds fun!!
Where do I apply?
A certain story goes that a girl was about to reach nirvana and leave the cycle of existence. But just short of the last step, she looked back and saw the suffering of mankind, and it moved her so deeply that she decided to postpone enlightenment until she freed everyone on earth. She became Kannon, the first bodhisattva and the Goddess of Mercy.
There are other bodhisattvas as well. One, Maitreya, is only a prophecy: He’s supposed to teach the perfected dharma in a future age. But his enlightenment transcends linear time and reverberates even here, in the past.
You’re quite right, I think. This seems to me like a much better fit than Jesus, as neat and tidy as “Madoka died for your sins” sounds to our ears. Excellent post– but I do think you may be overthinking the elephants. 😉
I like that each character represents one of the six realms:
Madoka – The Human Realm
Homura – The Realm of Hell
Kyoko – The Realm of Hungry Ghosts
Sayaka – The Asura Realm
Mami – The Realm of the Gods
Kyubey – The Animal Realm
Ooh that’s another very valid take on the six realms, and it fits really well as well. It’s more clever than my version.
To tell you the truth, I got the idea from another anime called Amaenaidayo (Ah My Budda as its know in the West). There are six nuns in the series who implicitly represent the six realms. It seems like the creators of Puella Magi Madoka Magica took the same tact with its own characters.
I wonder if this trope has been used in other anime without anime fans having a clue. For those who were not raised with Buddhist influences, either religously or culturally, its not something that an average anime fan would catch.
The most obvious other example I can think of off the top of my head is Naruto. Buddhist motifs are everywhere.
@2DT: I didn’t get into Bodhisattva because they’re sort of a later addition to the original ideas of Buddhism, but now that I think about it, they’re key to this discussion. Thanks for bringing it up!!
Madoka most resembles a Bodhisattva right after her wish was granted. I believe that’s when she becomes an enlightenment-being, someone who has been enlightened or is bound for enlightenment. As she flies around to all the magical girls and purify their gems, she is like the Bodhisattva. She will soon escape from Samsara but is staying around for just for a few more moments to save people.
I would argue further that when she finally disappear – when she sheds any form – and becomes simply a force of nature, that’s the Madoka version of attaining nirvana, and reaching Buddhahood.
Anyway, thanks for the enlightening comment! (Forgive the terrible pun. 😦 ) As a kid living close to several large temples, Bodhisattva played a huge role in my childhood, especially the Bodhisattva of mercy. She was the deity in many temples. I’m quite interested in reading up more on all the other ones now. Maitreya seems like quite the metaphysical one. ^ ^
I’ll confess something about those elephants. On the first watch through, I was convinced I saw the elephant to be white. When I went back to take screencaps, I saw that they’re green… But I had already written the post. Wouldn’t it be nice if that elephant is actually a white elephant with six tusks?
Hmm, so this was the post you were talking about with 2DT…
Well, let me start of by saying that my knoweledge of Buddhism is limited, and may often be muddled with my expertise in the field of Hinduism and more specifically, the Bhagvad Gita. If anything sounds off, it’s probably because of varied interpretations.
Karma is basically the law/concept of “what you give is what you get”. When Madoka wishes to remove all the taint from the Soul Gems, she is doing good. It’s something that is undeniably good. Therefore, she too must receive something good in return. But, she doesn’t. This is probably because (according to MSMM rules) when someone makes a wish to become a mahou shoujo, they get despait/grief proportionate to the amount of happiness they derived from their wish being granted. Summing it up, this is what you get:
Get X quantity of happiness from wish = Get X quantity of unhappiness from wish.
But, Karma dictates:
Give X quantity of happeniss = Get X quantity of happiness.
Thus, this is why Kyubey says Madoka’s wish surpasses karma. However, my take is that ALL wishes surpass karma – because you get despair from all wishes and not happiness. The very existence of Mahou Shoujo is for defeating evils – a just purpose.
Thus, it’s safe to conclude that wishes being granted have nothing to do with karma and that the premise of inculcating the concept of karma in itself was questionable. This is because the show actually follows a much more grounded, non-religious and scientific principle: Einstein’s. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Now, as payment they get a wish, agreed, but they also forgo their soul and normalcy in the process. To me, the pros are outweighed by the cons.
Wow, this is turning out to be rather long. Guess I should just stop hogging your comments section and make a post at my blog XD. But seriously, good read as always, Yi ^^
I’d like to point out a few things. And this is, of course, dependent on the school of thought and the particular interpretation.
First, the whole idea that karma is “what you give is what you get” is more of a “modern” evolution of Buddhism. As much as Buddhism is a religion, it is also simply a world view, and many of its core concepts are devoid of moral stances (judgments on good or bad).
Karma, in its most basic form, is any action with any consequence. There is no inherent moral value to actions. Afterall, who can define what is good and what is bad. Despair and happiness are both subjective and relative. And where there is an action, there is a consequence: cause and effect.
I believe that Kyubey says Madoka’s wish surpasses karma, he means that this wish is the consequence of all the past actions across the timelines. This is the effect that ends all the causes. This is especially important to the discussion of Madoka’s later goddess existence, because to transcend to “Buddhahood,” one must let one’s karma live out its consequences.
Therefore, I think it’s a very valid take to use karma as part of the discussion. In fact, Kyubey’s reference to the laws of karma fits surprisingly well. When Madoka’s wish is granted, Kyubey tells her that this will bend the laws of karma, and it does indeed (but not necessarily because of the whole good/bad thing).
Thanks for reading and for the counter-point. ^ ^
This show was so magnificent that I even wrote a poem about it. I only write poems when I’m in love, but this was an exception. (Not really).
Please do share! (Only if you’re comfortable with sharing of course. ^ ^)
Sorry for spamming, but just forgot to add another point (this is why I encourage all blogs to install the IntenseDebate commenting system…)
Nirvana/Enlightenment is the state of complete detachment from worldly pocessions and desires. It is in the equilibrium between action and inaction, when a man is able to reach pure mental serenity and revelation. Madoka made a wish to let go of her pocessions – but also wanted to make everything right from her personal point of view, such as her friends being alive and well. Nirvana is a more broad concept which means that a person lets go of EVERYTHING. All needs, wants and desires. Madoka wanted her friends to be happy, so that she could be happy. Thus, she is in fact not wanting material benefit, but emotional upliftment. This is still against the “rule” for attaining nirvana.
Once again, apologies and the note that this is based on the Gita’s interpretation. Hoping not to set off a religious arguement or anything ^^
“Nirvana/Enlightenment is the state of complete detachment from worldly pocessions and desires.”
True, but there are also further subtle nuances to this commonly held idea. I have to stress that Buddhism is really a very very complicated set of concepts that the more widespread understandings miss on a few details. And more importantly, as most religions and philosophies do, the core doctrines sometimes seem to contradict themselves.
Now, to address the issue of attachment, let’s first look at the stages of Madoka’s wish through a Buddhist angle.
She makes a wish (enlightenment), she then “physically” purifies soul gems and talks to Homura (Bodhisattva… Check out 2DT’s lovely comment and my reply above), and finally, she changes the universe to become part of its inherent nature (Buddhahood). Once she ascends to Buddhahood and completely disappears from the universe, I believe that is the definition of attaining nirvana. She has let go of every desire and is simply something that is. The new laws surrounding magical girls were driven by her attachments to them, but are no longer ran on her desires.
To relate this back to karma, her volitional actions have worked out all its consequences (note my previous reply about karma). In fact, one definition of nirvana in Buddhism is the cessation of new karma.
Note another thing: The path to nirvana can be driven by attachments, and it often is. Indeed, Bodhisattva are perfect examples of this. They are enlightened beings that are on the path to Buddhahood, but decided to stick around to save other beings. But once they do move on, they become one with the universe – a force or a law of nature in some sense. This describes Madoka extremely well.
In other words, while liberated individuals produce no new karma, they prebut preserve particular individual personalities that are results of their karmic heritage. This means that although Madoka, as a law of nature, no longer volitionally act on the universe, her new form of (or rather, formless) existence reflects her kind personality.
Btw. there are significant differences between Hinduism and Buddhism, especially in the nuances. For one, Hinduism believes in a supreme soul, while Buddhism has no such prime mover personality in its world view.
I believe Madoka did finally let go of everything but only after she ended her journey. When Madoka talks to Sayaka, there is no strong emotions, just understanding, acceptance and gentleness. At that point, i believe she has really let go of everything as she has seen and understood everything.
I agree actually. That seems like a very good interpretation of her feelings at that point. And it’s great note: empathy and understanding doesn’t necessarily mean attachment.
Thanks for the elaboration on this!! And thanks for reading. ^ ^
Posts like this make my esyes sparkle *__* I have little time to read it all now, and I knew from before you were too silent so that you’d be plotting something big like this. So this is the result. Great. Comments in later days.
Haha, yea, this post took… a lot of time. I hadn’t had too much time to respond to comments in the other posts. I’m slowly getting to them now. ^ ^
Also, there are a few comments that are quite worth reading I think: mostly addendum and counterpoints that I address. I’ll be adding them to the page soon.
Anyway, hope you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Wow, I never realized just how much Buddhism parallels with Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica until after reading your post. Kinda a bit ironic that I didn’t realize this and my family is Buddhist! Great food for thoughts…
Yea, it really all came together for me in the last two episodes. I totally didn’t realize it earlier either.
Personally, my religious/ spiritual background is quite a mess… I’m still not sure exactly how to label myself in terms of religion, but I guess I don’t really need to. I digress…
Anyway, thanks for the comment! ^ ^
I agree with some of the previous comments in that I find your Buddhist interpretation favorable to that of Christianity. Thank you for your time and effort into writing this post and showing us the uncanny parallels!
Thanks for reading! I hope you liked it. ^ ^
i have a feeling i’m going to really like this anime when i start watching. although the plot is gonna mess with my mind, a lot. And you got your Buddhist views right and all. Me being one, i completely agree with all the points and this should at least make Puella Magi a little easier to understand…..still, just reading the synopsis is mindblowing me
Oops… I should’ve put in a spoiler alert. 😦 Sorry about that.
Anyway, I’d highly recommend watching this!! It’s got a lot of neat ideas and really probes the audience to think deeply about a lot of things.
Glad I got my Buddhism right. It’s been a while since Buddhist studies.
Anyway, the story is really quite something. I hope you enjoy the series as much as I did!
i just watched the first episode and i’m loving it 😀
although why they hell did i read the synopsis first…..now my favourite character thus far is gonna die………….
I love Mami a lot too!! She’s… so gorgeously designed. Love her muskets…
Sorry to hear about the spoilers. I was afraid of that so I usually avoid Twitter and most posts on a particular episode until I’ve watched it.
I think that there are…shallow references to Buddhist concepts in Madoka, but that you should be careful when simplifying concepts like these. With that in mind, I’m going to unfairly pick apart your post like a total jerk. But, I’m doing it with love, ok?
First, Madoka hasn’t attained nirvana. Most obviously, according to every major Buddhist religious system since Buddhism’s onset, it’s impossible for women to achieve nirvana directly. I’m not particularly happy about it, but it’s true. More subtly, Madoka continues to interact with the universe after her supposed ascension – something that would directly contradict her supposed removal from the cycle of rebirth. Interestingly, the psuedo-amnesia that everyone (save Homura) experiences in regards to Madoka’s existence has no parallels with Buddhism. If everyone had forgotten about the Buddha…
I’d like to mention that the word that Kyubey uses for Madoka is kami.
The deva, as you note, are powerful. However, they are (and this is extremely rare for any type of eastern spirit) categorically benevolent – Kyubey is anything but. Similarly, I’d dispute you’re basis for magic girl/asura connection. According to everything I’ve ever read, asura are the continually fighting spirits of those who were exceedingly violent, combating each other, other spirits, humans, devas, and basically everything. For example, Ueda Akinari’s The Owl of The Three Jewels features the asuran Toyotomi Hidetsugu. In a sense, then, there are similarities between the magic girls and asura – the magic girls are expected to fight for the rest of their existence (with the distinction being the length of their existence comparative to that of an asura).
I’d also like to note that the Buddhist (or original) concept of karma dictates that actions of this life affect the next life. Only colloquial interpretations suggest that what you do now will affect what happens to you in your current life.
tl;dr Any Buddhist references were tangential or superficial.
Sorry so being so unfair and combative. You gave me an excuse to talk about spirits, and I like spirits (I find them romantic~) so I had no choice. Well, that’s how I’ll excuse my actions, anyway. Please give me more opportunities to talk about spirits in the future.
Thanks for the criticisms. I’ll try to respond to all the counterpoints… Like a total jerk, but with love. ^ ^
First of all, I think to discredit the Buddhist angle because Madoka’s a woman is actually very shallow. Symbolisms and parallels are those because they are not the exact same thing. That’s akin to saying Neo from the Matrix Trilogy is not a representation of Jesus Christ in the Bible because he was not born in Bethlehem. As a magical girl presentation of Buddhism, there will obviously be some differences. To me, this line of argument sounds a bit too narrow-sighted and a bit too desperate to find fault.
Further, the Buddhist scriptures surrounding women are highly contradictory in this aspect. While it’s true that some teachings have claimed women to be unable to achieve nirvana because of the five obstacles, Buddhism also supports the idea of the irrelevance of form. In fact, many Bodhisattva are female in form, but considered genderless. Many modern scholars interpret this as simply somewhat silly outdated additions to the religion because of its originations in a patriarchal society. The gender take is also much more fundamentalist than most practices. This is unsurprisingly common in many religions.
“More subtly, Madoka continues to interact with the universe after her supposed ascension – something that would directly contradict her supposed removal from the cycle of rebirth.”
Check my response to 2DT and TRazor above. I left out Bodhisattva in my discussion. That was my mistake… Sorry about that. In short, there is one more form before nirvana, the enlightenment-being. It is in this form that Madoka’s existence parallels that of the Bodhisattva of mercy.
I’m aware that Kyubey refers to Madoka as kami. I don’t expect Madoka Magica to be so blatant about its influences. That would be a bit too blatant and shallow. And kami is quite the loose term.
Now let’s talk about the deva. Devas are not categorically benevolent. The beings in the deva realm are categorized as deva because they are non-human and are more powerful and more blissful, not because they’re benevolent. That’s not to say they’re not benevolent, but not all of them are.
I should also note that although Kyubey is not kind, he’s not evil. He is amoral.
As for the Asura, they are often characterized by jealousy, combativeness, and all the things you mentioned, but they are defined more so by an addiction to passion, such that they’re personalities have been warped to some degree. That sounds plenty like magical girls to me, even if their intense emotions are not always negative.
I don’t think it’s necessarily the best to draw the comparison between Kyubey and magical girls and the six realms based solely on your ideas of morality and benevolence. After all, morality is very subjective, and even Madoka Magica doesn’t really claim one way or the other whether Kyubey is actually “evil.”
“I’d also like to note that the Buddhist (or original) concept of karma dictates that actions of this life affect the next life. “
I disagree. As I quoted in the post:
“But if anyone says that what a man or woman reaps in this and future lives accords with his or her deeds present and past, in that case there is a religious life, and an opportunity is afforded for the entire extinction of a sorrow.”
Note that the results in this and future lives accords to both deeds present and past. Karma at its purest meaning is cause, and its fruits (vipaka) may happen in this life, or the nexts, or both. Rebirth only comes into play because of the continuation of consciousness that binds one rebirth to the next.
Overall, I find a lot of you criticisms to be trivial. I don’t believe that a story needs to tell the tale of the Buddha and all its teachings verbatim to be a story about Buddhism. And I don’t think it’s that tangential or superficial, especially because its take on Madoka’s ascension to “goddess-hood” is, to me, very uniquely Buddhist. I think Madoka pays enough homage both in its story development, its symbolisms, and its ideas on rebirth/ timelines and spiritual ascension to make it a profound, different magical take on Buddhism.
(In my opinion, what is a superficial reference would be Michael Angelo’s painting. And, what would be shallow story would be an exact retelling that leave no room for interpretation.)
I think these counterpoints are really trying desperately to find differences, which is really awesome in itself. After all, contrasting Madoka and Buddhism is a nice exercise, and it helps us both to see this argument in a new light.
Still, I don’t think the counterpoints go far enough to discredit the parallels I’m arguing in my post, which is based primarily on the key Buddhist worldviews (i.e. gender is not a key concept in this).
Sorry for being so defensive (I hope/know you understand how we can all get very… too defensive about our ideas).
And thanks for the lovely long counter argument. ^ ^ I’m sure many people would see it your way. Madoka is very open to interpretation. And Buddhism is much much much more so.
Hmm… I ‘ll only argue briefly for my first point, because it disgusts me. It’s accurate, but distasteful. Id say, though, that my statement was more similar to claiming that Neo isn’t Jesus Christ even if the writers of The Matrix gave him similar qualities than what you claim it was.
I think you have a slightly different understanding of Bodhisattva than I. Bodhisattva have not attained nirvana. They are, however, exceptionally close – they are guaranteed eventual enlightenment. They “dimmed their radiance and mingled with the dust.” Their decision to do good is not conducive to achieving enlightenment (though it may be helpful in raising the status of one’s rebirth). The argument that you may examine the traits of Bodhisattva (compassionate, honest, etc.) to evaluate a Buddha is fundamentally flawed – they are markedly different. So, Madoka may eventually achieve nirvana, but most Buddhist sects agree that everyone will (and those that don’t tend to place little emphasis on Bodhisattva, and more on arahat.
I think it’s a bit far-fetched to argue that every single culture that Buddhism encountered was patriarchal. It’s far more likely that Buddhism reinforced patriarchal notions than that it adapted its highest aim to the theoretical beliefs of every culture that it encountered.
I hardly think it’s fair to discount the categorization of Madoka as a kami. It’s a bit silly to discount the intention of the writers because it’s too “blatant” – how can you claim to be evaluating the symbolism of a show if you ignore the words the show specifically decides to use? To be honest, my initial comment was more of a curiosity than an argument, so I don’t want to delve too far into this, either.
I can’t do anything but disagree with your analysis of Deva, either. I could quote sources, but I’d find it juvenile and inappropriate considering the medium. The Deva are considered more powerful than the non-monk human, as you somewhat noted (you did not mention monks), but are also the only tangible spirits of realms elevated above humans. Other spirits are often more powerful than (non-monk) humans, but are members of the same realm (many ghost-like spirits) or lower realms (asura). As a result, the Deva are considered benevolent as a group (categorically) compared to the nats of Burma, the phii of Thailand, the yaksas of India, or the kami of Japan. If you still disagree…well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.
Kyubey is most definitely evil by human standards. If you think that a spirit that intentionally tricks young girls into contracts that will doom them for his own goals is not evil, then you’re a very, very scary person, Yi~
You’re definition of asura sounds more like that of preta or even oni, but I don’t think we’ll agree on this, either.
I didn’t think I based my conclusions on the six realms based on ideas of morality or benevolence. I merely forwarded the notion that your analysis of one of the (actually much more than six) realms lacked the critical component of benevolence (specifically, I noted that Kyubey isn’t kind). I didn’t even comment on morality – some may consider blind benevolence immoral (I, admittedly, don’t, but that’s beside the point).
I have to disagree with your interpretation of that quote. Really, though, I find the translator at fault for introducing that level of uncertainty. Present deeds may affect future lives, and past deeds may affect present and future lives, but present deeds do not affect the present life. If you want, I can go find quotes that directly comment upon the issue, but I said I wasn’t going to do that, so I won’t unless you ask.
…That’s kind of hurtful, Yi. I think it’s not Buddhist because it’s about a girl who secures power (you argue achieves nirvana) because of her desire to save others through a wish with a powerful entity. That’s nearly anti-Buddhist. I pointed out the small issues because I found them interesting, because they were explicitly outlined in the show itself, and because they directly contradict your thesis – which claims to reveal part of the show.
I never claimed Madoka was a shallow story (on the contrary, I liked it), but I still contend that references to Buddhism were shallow or tangential.
I don’t think they were particularly desperate…I just chose them because I thought they were obvious, to be honest. I’d think it would be difficult to contrast Buddhism and Madoka because they are almost entirely different.
I do think that Madoka borrows upon some Buddhist ideas (or popular understanding of Buddhist ideas), but not to the extent you describe. The gender comment (That you keep bringing up, Yi~) may be paralleled like this: You see an animal high on a ledge, and call it a bird. I note that the so-called bird doesn’t have feathers, wings, or a beak, and got to its lofty perch by climbing across the rocks with its webbed feet. I’m not saying that it isn’t interesting that the animal climbed up to the ledge, but I am saying that it silly to insist on calling it a bird.
I’m sorry to bother you with my trivial, desperate counterargument…kidding! You’re being more than gracious with your response.
Sorry if my points came across really… mean. 😦 I really don’t mean anything harsh.
On the Bodhisattva issue, my understanding is that there isn’t an overarching definition for them except that they are guaranteed Buddhahood and are either already enlightened or very close. They’re sticking around because they want to save everyone. I’d argue that Madoka has saved everyone (or at least her target people – magical girls) by the end, so she does move on from the role of the Bodhisattva. (p.s. I’m using Bodhisattva to examine traits of Madoka at a particular stage, not a Buddha.)
I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. In fact, I can’t think of any culture that it encountered that’s not patriarchal (at least until modern times). Stemming from India, to China, to Southeast Asia, to Japan, to Korea… It’s all pretty patriarchal. In any case, India, where it originated, is patriarchal, which undoubtedly has something to do with that extra addition to the world view.
Kami is a very very loose term that can be used to describe anything. (It is commonly associated with the spirits in Shinto, but could be also applied to gods of other religions or non-humans…etc. depending on the context). I’m merely noting that Kyubey’s use of the term doesn’t actually mean anything concrete in terms of what kind of ascension Madoka experiences. I’m not ignoring it (or I don’t mean to dismiss it). Rather, I think it’s a pretty smart script in that it hints us at the right direction but still gives us plenty of room to interpret.
There are minute differences between Buddhist deva and deva of other religions. Buddhist devas are not morally perfect and are capable of ignorance, arrogance, lust, jealousy, and anger, ie. The devas of Kamadhatu. Your interpretation of the deva (and Asura) sounds much more like those of Hinduism, in which they are defined by their benevolence. That’s not the case with Buddhism.
I must warn against lumping all these religions and world views together, because as much as they may be similar, there are subtle differences in definition that render the comparisons obsolete. Nats of Burma, phi of Thailand, yaksas of India, and kami of Japan all have roots in folk religion (i.e. Shinto). While they have been integrated into Buddhism in many cases within those regions, they’re not truly part of this world view.
“then you’re a very, very scary person, Yi~”
Haha. ^ ^
Benevolence, I think, is a moral judgment call, but perhaps not really. I think this stems further from the discussion earlier on Deva, which in Buddhism, doesn’t have a particular moral stance.
Ahh it’s fine about the quotation. I’ll maintain my point in that not all karmas rebound in future rebirths, but that might depend on the particular interpretation.
“…That’s kind of hurtful, Yi.”
Ahh I’m so sorry. 😦 I’ll blame it on the late night grouchiness. Please do forgive me.
I think we’ll just have to disagree on the Buddhism parallels. I saw enough homage to the core ideas to make an argument. If I failed to convince you, then either my arguments were too weak or the parallels are too weak. I guess not everyone will see this the same way, which is fine. ^ ^
“I never claimed Madoka was a shallow story”
Yea, that’s my mistake. You’re right; you never said that. I jumped the gun on that one. Sorry. 😦
“I’m sorry to bother you with my trivial, desperate counterargument…kidding! You’re being more than gracious with your response.”
Not at all! I think most literary endeavors should have two sides to the argument. This may sound weird, but I’m kind of glad you’re not buying what I’m saying. (Hopefully there are others who would though… Or I’d feel pretty down.)
Anyway, thanks for the comment again! And for not leaving because of my grouchiness.
Oh, you weren’t being mean… you were just defending yourself. Any issues lie with my response to your post.
Our definitions of Bodhisattva are similar; I just exclude those who have achieved nirvana – I’d call them Buddhas.
If you believe that it’s more likely that every nation that Buddhism encountered was sexist than the possibility that Buddhism has been sexist…then there’s nothing I can say. I don’t think any of the important Buddhist doctrines would be irreversibly affected by the removal of these prejudices, but it would weird to act as if those prejudices don’t exist.
I never suggested that the use of kami denoted a Shinto deity…please give me a bit more credit then that next time. While it is a bit of an umbrella term, it’s not as loose as you suggest. It is, for example, not particularly Buddhist, as those kami would be considered either Bodhisattva or traces of Bodhisattva in a Buddhist context.
My understanding of Deva is a result of reading Buddhist texts or texts on Buddhism – I don’t have much knowledge on Hinduism. Again, I rather not draw out sources, but I can, if you want.
I wasn’t lumping religions together. I was giving a list of spirits Buddhists had to develop responses to as Buddhism spread. The list was interesting relevant, as all the spirits I mentioned are varying degrees of ambivalent, in contrast to the Buddhist Deva (alongside the other spirits converted to Buddhist) who was invoked in protective or celebratory rites. Buddhists claimed to, and were eventually expected to, deal with the local spirits just as much as they dealt with the spirits of their own system. I wasn’t tangentially bringing up a different religion, I was contrasting a Buddhist spirit with other spirits that Buddhists adopted. The inclusion of phii was admittedly a bit misplaced, as orthodox monks mostly don’t deal with them. Please excuse that mistake~
I’m still comfortable saying that deva are considered benevolent. I’m not sure how I can argue the point any further without blowing this way out of proportion, so I won’t.
I was being sulky, so I wouldn’t worry about it. I’d blame the parallels.
I might have to leave, seeing as you’re so grouchy, though.
Just kidding~ Please bear with me in the future
My definition of Bodhisattva excludes nirvana as well, but not those who have reached enlightenment. I’m also drawing a difference between nirvana and enlightenment.
I don’t believe Buddhism is not sexist. I’m saying that sexism within Buddhism is there because of its cultural context, but it shouldn’t be considered a key part of the doctrine. And, I think for the purpose of this discussion, it is irrelevant.
On the kami issue, I’m merely using an example, not suggesting you’re implying anything. p.s. I am responding both to you and to others who may be reading this… So sometimes I preemptively strike against certain ideas that others may have while reading. (Please do forgive this. ^ ^)
Hm… That’s really interesting about the Deva, because that’s very different from what I learned (from texts on Buddhism and scholarly interpretations in college)… I’m too lazy to dig out sources too, so… Let’s just leave it at this. Same with the benevolence issue. I’m almost 100% certain that benevolence is not a part of their defining characteristic, but again, so are you. So I’d rather not have to go through pages of text…
I understand your point on the other “deities” now. Point noted. ^ ^
“Just kidding~ Please bear with me in the future”
Haha, you’ve had to bear with me for much more!
Anyway, one last thing, I feel like we’ve both presented and argued the points well enough that we’re reaching a dead lock. But I think this has been a worthwhile endeavor. At the very least, others unsure about some finer points can come here, read our thoughts, check on their sources, make their own interpretations, and draw conclusions. That’s incredibly valuable, so thanks!
As a final side note, a lot of this discussion on whether Madoka is some particular deity is all side points to the main ideas of rebirth-karma-enlightenment-nirvana in Madoka Magica.
Ryan A. below sums up my feelings pretty well.
Cheers! ^ ^
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Well, this is so far the best Madoka post I’ve read.
Fantastic job, Yi!
Thanks, vuc! I put a lot of work into this, so that really means a lot to me. ^ ^
Woah! That’s a lengthy write up with indepth view on the whole season and how much it can parallels to the teaching of Buddhism. If the verdicts of you and the others are true I will surely give this anime a try and evaluate myself.
Definitely give it a try. It’s a pretty amazing anime I think, and it gives the audience quite a lot to think about.
Anyway, hope you enjoy it. ^ ^
It always amazes me how much you are able to push a concept and explain your point of view so clearly. I never even saw the shadow of the concepts that you listed out here since I’m one of those people who don’t like to think much when I’m watching a show.
I have also read the counter arguments of @Marina before me, and they also made sense. I would say that the concept is a bit pushed, but it also have a lot of sense in it. Sure, there are also other parallels to be made but you can’t expect a show to perfectly follow the concept of buddhism. It’s pretty amazing what you managed to dig out from the mass of symbolism that this show contains. Good job.
*I also loved cried in the end…
Yea, some of the other comments had several very valid counterpoints, and I hope I’ve addressed them well enough. Feel free to check them out. ^ ^
There are a few things I feel I pushed a bit too forcefully (the elephant, and maybe the Six Realms), but overall, I think it’s within reason.
Thanks for reading!
Great post Yi! Thoroughly enjoyed the read. I was concerned in similar fashion to what Swordwind mentions about mahou/asura. After re-reading both arguments, the nuance is rather trivial because Madoka isn’t directly presented as Buddhist philosophy anyway, and it’s pretty damn similar. Yet there is another philosophical question we could gander and that is the notion of power as form or power as awareness.
In some ways, I feel the magical girls would be less aware by knowing a simple truth about the universe; Kyubey’s niche. Meanwhile, humans, who are unaware of this one particular truth, are not confined to the same focus or pressures as magical girls, and may further heighten their awareness through life… sadly, I don’t see this opportunity for the girls. They are rich with emotion and desire, but along with the pressure of consequence, I can only find their situation blinding on a greater scale. But it may come down to information and what is meaningful; e.g. Kyubey is ripe with certain knowledge about the universe, and though he is aware of the fact about human emotions, is he aware of understanding emotional functionality? (I don’t recall)
All good thoughts. Aside from the Buddhist relations, one particular idea I found interestingly represented was that of Godel’s incompleteness theorem and how it relates to the problems/solutions proposed within the series. The relevant aspect of the theorem is this: in a system there exists some problems which have no solutions [which exist strictly within that system]. (Here, the idea is that those problems may be solvable in a system encapsulating the given system)
One of the core issues I found was the cyclical friction in wishing and witches. Early on, I figured the solution to the complexities presented would require a very specific kind of wish to break the cycle. Madoka’s wish fulfills two interesting aspects in relation to Godel’s theorem: the first and most apparent is that the wish does solve the predicament, and the second is that in rendering the solution, Madoka becomes external to the given system (the universe where Homura exists). Of course, it can be viewed that Madoka still exists within this universe, but from within the system it is a non-provable. Homura recollects the occurrence, but iirc she acknowledges that there is no means of proof… or is there?
We’re left with the boy drawing and writing Madoka’s name in the sand, hinting that perhaps she is a functional aspect within that universe/system. That particular detail turns the presence of Godel’s theorem in the story into a true undecidable, but it’s still fun to ponder.
I thought some of the counterpoints were kind of trivial too for the reasons you mentioned. Thanks for reading the comments as well!!
That’s a very interesting philosophical take on “enlightenment.” That magical girls are blinded by their added pressure of consequence is very true. Perhaps it furthers the comparison I drew earlier: humans have the most potential to reach nirvana, because Asura (magical girls) are ripe with desires emotions, and deva (Kyubey) occupy such a blissful and practical being that they don’t feel the urge to ascend further.
I remember you mentioned Godel’s incompleteness theorem on twitter. That’s quite a lot of things to digest in such a simple idea. And I’m still trying to wrap my brain around some of the things (proof from within the system). At the end of Madoka Magica, new Kyubey raises a similar point: there’s no way to prove that all of this happened, and that none of it is Homura’s delusion. Even the Madoka’s brother’s drawing may be just that, an imaginary friend.
Anyway, it’s also worth noting that Madoka’s solution creates a new system with its own problems (those weird things magical girls battle).
Very fascinating thoughts! Thanks for the great read, Ry. ^ ^
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I haven’t given Madoka that much thought before, but your thoughts opened my eyes a bit. thanks for enlighting me with your well written post =D
I guess I’ll have to watch these two last episodes again, because I was a bit confused here and there, but aside from that the show was great with it’s story and it’s stunning visualisations.
I’m really glad you found the the post somewhat useful. I’m probably going to be re-watching this anime soon too to find some other things that I may have missed. I think the anime deserves that. Anyway, agreed totally about the story and the stunning visuals. Loved it!!
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Whoa! Nice post hahaha
Such a fun show! From start to finish really got people talking which is always a good thing, the last two episodes were so good! Especially with Homura’s final attacks with all those weapons tat was easily the best part and of course giant universe Madoka! Kept making me think of TTGL and Diebuster2.
Ending leaves a bit of questions for me, season two? or maybe a ova/movie? Either way might be nice or this ends right here with no need of anything else.
Yea, Madoka Magica has been quite a ride. That last two episodes and the one before that really shook things up. There’s just so many things to pull out from the scenes.
I loved Homura’s battle scene too!!
I’m not sure if I wanted a season two or any more Madoka. I think it’s wrapped up very well as is. The loose ends are tied up, and we do get to see glimpses of the new universe. But I guess I wouldn’t mind just a little more to keep the wonderful series going.
Looks like the Madoka thing I predicted was wrong…
Well, I’ve speculated too much.
The series is very open to interpretation, so maybe not.
And it’s good to speculate. ^ ^
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A very interesting parallelism you’ve thought of. I was actually thinking that Madoka somewhat pulled of a ‘Jesus ending’ wherein she takes up on all the grief and despair so that other mahou shoujos do no become witches. Well it was holy week and Madoka aired on a good friday, so yeah thats the best i couldve thought of XD
The last scene is kind of disturbing in a way because Homura all of a sudden got wings made up of a witch’s barrier (or what looks like it), but in a prior scene she had white wings.
The Christian parallels are my initial thoughts too going into episode 11, especially with all the witch burning, implied Joan of Arc, and Michael Angelo’s Creation of Men. The resurrection story does fit in some sense, but I think it doesn’t really cover the whole breadth of the series. Overall, I lean more toward the Buddhist angle to Madoka’s universe development. (That’s not to say the Christian angle isn’t valid or doesn’t exist.)
I’ll have to check out the last scene, but that’s an interesting detail.
Anyway, totally didn’t think about good Friday. Good note!
I haven’t actually seen this show yet, even with all the hype surrounding it. It looks like a show which requires a lot of my attention. It’s unlike Kimi ni Todoke or Hanasaku Iroha, if you know what I mean. I’ll definitely watch this show, but at a later date. Though I must say, I don’t find it surprising to see elements of religions in it. Much like how Christianity or Paganism is occasionally referenced in other works, be it anime, movie, books and TV series.
Good job in linking the show to Buddhism. Very well analyzed.
I thought the hype was justly deserved. I’d highly recommend this anime, especially if you’re itching for some intensity. And yes, totally different in mood and feel from Kimi Todo or HanaIro.
To me, the Buddhist elements feel more than just mere references, but an inherent part of the story. It’s very interesting to watch.
Anyway, if you do watch it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did (or more).
Very nicely written. 2DT was certainly right, I have trouble imagining any symbolic review of Madoka’s ending getting better than this xD; also made me realize my own understanding of Buddhism hardly scratches its surface.
I personally still see too much of a mashup of religious references during the finale to believe that Shinbou went after one set of religious philosophy in specific, but this post was very convincing in that direction ^^
Thanks for visiting and reading!
Madoka Magica really pushes a lot of religions together in its visual references, but I do feel that the whole story development with the restarting of timelines and the spiritual ascension and subsequent role outside the universe is quite uniquely Buddhist. Good point about the mash up of all the other religious symbols though. And, it is surprising how so many religions can cross each other in many ideas (i.e. a sort of spiritual ascension driven by self-sacrifice happens a lot).
That’s some deep symbolism and writing there. I’m so glad that you’ve pointed these things out because when it aired on a hardcore Christian holiday I started to cringe a bit that it was set up that way, but with all this Buddhism stuff that’s obvious when pointed out I can see that it was most likely just a coincidence. But maybe I’m overthinking (or underthinking?), because in all honesty in many ways Christianity is a borrowed religion that takes it’s aspects from other religions, and even Buddhism isn’t safe from that. I don’t want to get into debate with anyone though so I’ll shut my mouth about that now XD Great post, most likely the best Madoka write up I’ve seen thus far.
It’s kind of interesting how I didn’t realize it aired on a hardcore Christian holiday at all until much later. I wonder if that coincidence was actually intentional. The anime does try to mash a lot of things together though, so maybe yes.
Also, very true about Christianity (and most religions). They all draw from a lot of past religions and folk traditions. While I don’t know if Christianity and Buddhism every crossed paths (due to timing and location), it’s very possible tales and myths from one have been incorporated into the other through movement of people and trades.
Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post. ^ ^
I understand that you could find Buddhist evangelists in the agora of Athens during the later Hellenic and Roman Republic periods; hard to say whether they might have passed through Palestine on their way, but all signs point towards the various Jewish communities being *very* infertile ground for the Buddhist gospel.
I don’t know an awful lot about Pure Land, so I’m not sure of the details of that particular sect’s approach to the subject, but the whole aspect of nirvanic Grace for the magical girls seems somewhat outside of the classic Buddhist frame – the bodhisattva who delivers the hopelessly fallen sinner into nirvana with a single stroke. Of course, the magical girl does not need to accept Madoka into her life in order to achieve grace – all that is required is the eventual fall into despair. In that sense, it is a very mechanistic sort of predestination. All those magical girls who don’t die before their fall will see Madoka, and then achieve nothingness. The ones who were killed get to make one more go ’round the wheel of fate, I suppose.
The six realms construct of Buddhist cosmology with its devas and asuras and hungry ghosts and so on always struck me as so very… gnostic and unnecessary. It’s strange that a fundamentally atheistic religion felt the need for such an array of mythological beings. I suppose it’s easier to conquer neighboring superstitions by acknowledging their delusions & re-contextualizing their myths. Christianity itself did so, at first by defining opposing pantheons as demonic play-actors, and then in later centuries, drafting the more benign minor gods & goddesses, like Brigit, into the cause as saints and the like.
Oh I did not know that about Buddhist Evangelists in the Hellenic/ Roman Republic Periods. It always amazes me how people and ideas could travel such distances in the old days with limited mobility.
You touched on a very fascinating and key point about both Buddhism and religion. It’s interesting to note that some of Bodhisattva’s modern role and the six realms can actually both be considered outside the key doctrines of Buddhism. Just as Pure Land may have evolved out of a desire for a paradise type after life -nirvana (nothingness) after all is not all that appealing compared to eternal bliss – the merciful Bodhisattva are given roles to introduce salvation into the religion. Bodhisattva in the earlier schools are only used to describe those with enlightenment in his/her essence. And likewise, the mythology surrounding the six realms attempts to introduce moral consequences into an otherwise atheistic world view. It warns people against evil deeds lest they end up in the hungry ghost realm.
And this is where so many world religions overlap, and why the Madoka’s savior role can fit so many different interpretations.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting. ^ ^
This is such a joy to read I love your symbolism. En route I’ve related Madoka to Nirvana too, but not as deep as this, because I don’t know anything about Buddhism other than there’s a fat and thin Buddha ^^”. My interpretation is more of Nirvana-like in Freud-Lacan Death Drive, hmm maybe I should write one too 🙂
Haha fat and thin Buddha. Anyway, glad you found this post interesting. ^ ^
“My interpretation is more of Nirvana-like in Freud-Lacan Death Drive”
Ooh a psycho-sexual take on Madoka. That sounds extremely fascinating!!
Just give me a little time to gather my thoughts. Expect a super comment and a super post to follow. 😀
Looking forward to it. ^ ^
This story is based on the bible.
Madoka starts as Jesus. She died (by accepting the contract) for your sins (magical girl becoming witches). This is similar to the temptation of Christ by the devil (QB).
She goes to hell, and defeats the devil (that earth sized witch), then the resurrection.
In the process she creates the world, nobody remembers her except a few. The few then preach the good news of her to the world (we do not remember Modoka’s existence).
See how well Madoka Magica explains the concept of the trinity? She is Jesus (pre contract), God (post contract), and the holy spirit (eg: the light that magical girl sees before they are exhausted).
Urobuchi, you blasphemer, LOL.
I disagree that this story is based on the Bible. There are biblical elements in the anime (i.e. the Faustian references in the earlier episodes as well as visuals inserted here and there). But the story overall – especially the last two episodes – and the different timelines / changes in Madoka’s existence didn’t feel too much like a Biblical story. I personally think a world view that embraces rebirths, accumulation of cause and effect over different times, and the limited omnipotence of Madoka, as well as her being a force outside the universe are more in line with Buddhism. But that’s my personal take.
Anyway, thanks for reading and the comment!
I thought it was fairly obvious that Madoka became synonymous with a world-supporting buddha, especially resembling the Japanese Dainichi Nyorai. It’s sad to see so many people have been brainwashed by the Christian story that they can’t think of any other possible narrative. But I’m glad you made this post to outline some of the various connections. For me watching Episode 12 was basically checking off the list of requirements. It made Madoka’s triumph that much better.
Agreed. To me, Madoka Magica screams Buddhism, but I guess some people prefer a Christian angle (perhaps because of a lack of understanding of Buddhism or simply because they’re more comfortable with that interpretation).
As for the Dainichi Nyorai, it’s a great thought. I’m not sure if Madoka necessarily symbolizes that specific Buddha, but her final existence definitely feels nirvana-ish.
You (avery) are being unfair to half the globe. Sorry if we poor fools were raised the Christian way so that we apply different canons regarding spiritual matters.
As a matter of fact many topics about the biggest religions are so damn similar one to another. Guess why?
There’s so little difference between labelling Madoka both similar to Jesus, and similar to that Bodywhatever of Mercy that stopped her ascension for the sake of helping people, cause both are embodiment of the very same symbol of salvation.
“There’s so little difference between labelling Madoka both similar to Jesus, and similar to that Bodywhatever of Mercy that stopped her ascension for the sake of helping people, cause both are embodiment of the very same symbol of salvation.”
While Bodhisattva and Jesus are very similar, the Abrahamic world views and concepts of God is very different from those of Dharmic religions. In this case, I think Madoka’s story as a whole (different timelines/ non-omnipotent final existence/ one with the universe… etc.) fits Buddhism’s ideas about rebirth, karma, and nirvana much better.
Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t elements that also parallels with elements within the Christian doctrine.
Really excellent post that demonstrates what happens when people put on their Westernized lenses and kinda forget that other religions exist beyond the Abrahamic ones.
As a non-religious person, I found the info you put here to be really neat and insightful, matching the circumstances of the series really well. I wonder though what degree of knowledge about Buddhism is needed to appreciate the ending since I’ve seen a lot of criticisms about the ending being a bit of a cop-out. Not that I enjoyed it any less since the ending was bittersweet yet satisfying!
I’ve seen quite a few people who prefer a Christian angle to watching Madoka; Madoka’s sacrifices herself for magical girls’ sins and is resurrected… etc. Personally, I find this view a bit forced, and it doesn’t really address the different timelines.
“I wonder though what degree of knowledge about Buddhism is needed to appreciate the ending ”
That’s a good question. I think even without seeing the parallels to Buddhism, it’s still a very emotional ending. It made me cry. I could see how some would find the ending to be a cop-out though.
Terrific post! Waited to read and comment until had watched the final episodes. Actually watched the series anew from the first episode after having stalled halfway, quite remarkable to see it again from the start knowing some key revelations,. What a terrific anime full of surprises and great depth., very glad I watched it. It was epic.
Love the analysis you made here of the series and it offers a lot of depth. Take for instance how Kyubee (or QB, Incubator) is despised by the characters and the viewers but as he/she explains it, are we humans so different about what we see as lesser species that can serve us, like for instance cattle?
While it was a very much present plot point (especially for Sayaka) did feel in the end the plot of the puella’s disconnection of the soul and human body as well as the rooting of the human soul in scientific terms a
Though being a sucker for happy endings, Homura (and Madoka?) did get a raw deal of not ending up together. They could have pulled a Kannazuki No Miko ending though that of course would have destroyed most of the meaning behind Madoka’s ascension.
Pressed Enter key too fast, sorry. >_<
While it was a very much present plot point (especially for Sayaka) did feel in the end the plot of the puella’s disconnection of the soul and human body as well as the rooting of the human soul in scientific terms as such was fascinating. But have always loved such similar plots, like "Ghost In The Shell" delves into quite deeply, what is the human condition, what is the soul, is our human body vital for it or just a mere shell?
Loved seeing that in Madoka and how the difference between how Kyubee's species and the human race view the soul and the value of one's body was jarring. In that, the symbolism of Kyubee eating his/her destroyed body is quite potent too.
Wouldn't surprise me if when re-watching this series later on, one would discover even more layers and symbols within it.
Agreed about the great depth the anime offers. I’m going to have to rewatch this sometime, and try to pick up on all the things I may have missed.
Great point about Kyubey. That’s why I hesitate to call Kyubey evil. Rather, he’s more amoral, which I don’t know if that’s better or worse than being evil.
I’m also very sad that we didn’t get a yuri ending. A Kannazuki type ending would totally satisfy my yuri cravings, but I guess it couldn’t happen, not with the kind of deadend loop the story has come to.
That’s another really good point about the human body and soul. Kyubey manages to put magical girls’ souls into gems, but what exactly is in there? Personality, emotions, consciousness, or something else entirely?
I also really love the contrast too between a total utilitarian being and girls who are so driven by emotions and passions. All great things to think about!
Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful comment!!
I shall and always will stand by my belief that Madoka was an anime with a simple story and ordinary characters (except Kyubey). But what’s really nice about it is that they take and ordinary literature concept (hope) and otherwise boring characters and throw them in a world that is well-thought out and meticulously built while putting hope to the ultimate test.
No offense, but I think any parallels and shout-outs were simply speculation fuel and/or elaborate decorations to the plot. Maybe they aren’t even intentional, just like that black cat in the OP. It was something random that SHAFT put in the OP to get some more speculation and/or for trolling, but in the Drama CD, they actually put a purpose to that cat.
Now, about the post itself: I’m not very knowledgeable about Buddhism, or any other religion, even Christianity, but I must say that while your explanations all made sense for me and my limited knowledge of religion, I think that this is a little overboard.
Still, this is a very interesting post and I had a lot of fun reading it as I like to learn outside of school rather than in it.
And if you don’t mind a little shameless promotion, I am doing a translation of the Madoka Magica Drama CD. It covers the details of the first timeline and makes even more sense out of an already sensible show.
I disagree that Madoka Magica is a simple anime with a simple story and ordinary characters. Hope is hardly a simple concept, nor is time, god, and all the things that the anime touches on. In fact, even in the last episode, Ryan A. was able to make a really insightful point on a minor scene. That, to me, is anything but a simple anime. I also didn’t find the characters boring at all. Homura’ drive and Madoka’s kindness are more than extraordinary.
Anyway, I highly doubt this is speculation and any parallels wasn’t intentional. Even in the language, Kyubey hints strongly of a Dharmic influence on the story (karma, seeds… etc.). I think it’s a bit dismissive to claim that Madoka’s eventual existence, the recurring timelines, and Kyubey’s “law of karma” are all mere coincidences and draws no influence from Buddhism, especially considering Buddhism’s role in Japan. I’d like to give them a little more credit than that. Of course, there’s no way to know without asking the Urobuchi or Shinbo.
But to each his own. There are different ways of watching an anime after all, and sometimes it’s easier and more fun to just accept the plot as all there is. ^ ^
“I think that this is a little overboard.”
How so? I actually felt that the explanations didn’t go in depth enough to really address all the complexities of the Buddhist religion, world view, and philosophies. Scholars over centuries have spent countless hours and words to try to interpret these ideas. I would never be able to fully relate all these things in a single post.
Anyway, thanks for reading and for the comment.
“And if you don’t mind a little shameless promotion, I am doing a translation of the Madoka Magica Drama CD.”
Haha, I guess not. ^ ^
Is it bad for me to think that Shaft just picked up various references from non-related concepts (many more than the one cited here) and created a rational (as they are well placed) collage of them into the series just to troll us into finding more meaning that actually there is? 😛
Of course it’s not bad. ^ ^
There is indeed a collage of different religious references, but I found the main plot to be very uniquely Buddhist. The recurrent timelines (rebirth), spiritual ascension (Bodhisattva/ nirvana), and the eventual existence as a part of the universe but outside of it are all concepts core to Buddhism. Anyway, personally, I don’t want to dismiss a series as a troll, especially since it gave so many of the audience such a fun time thinking and dissecting its themes. ^ ^
Finally I could read this essay. I can’t speak about Buddhism, cause I know very little about it. Of course being a Christian myself I see parallelism to the figure of Jesus. It’s not weird at all cause different religions show quite similar explanations to similar situations like that of Madoka. After all self-sacrifice for the sake of others is a key topic in many religions. Of course the objective of the authors was probably to draw such parallelism in the first place.
But, since I’m the Kuroneko of the situation, I got to say something about the very first part where you made the parallelism between the karma wheel and magical girls. Well, I can understand how karma reminded us of a cause-effect situations, so that what you do now will have consequences later on. But if you do good you’re reasonably half way not to get any trouble out of it. The situation is very different from that of Madoka’s magical girl. It’s said that any action will have nothing other that bad consequences. Using magic will ‘dirty’ their gems, that is to say good or evil actions are both a sin that demands an equal payment of sorrow. And there’s no escape. Moreover the girls themselves are to use their powers for their only sake and whim. Of course they must fight witches, which implies some kind of higher good, but, after all they’re free to decide. Look at the different behaviour of the 4 girls. Homura just used her powers for her sake and Madoka’s. Kyouko leaves familiar to evolve by feeding off people before they’re useful to hers. Those girl’s attitude is certainly not what you’d define good at all. Let’s not speak of Sayaka. Sure she’s the one that better depict that Asura’s deeds: Good intentions gone bad. (The road to hell is paved with good intentions). After all magical girls fate is even worse than what Karma should imply. They’re bound to hell anyway. That rises new topics about what is power, where does it came from and what to do with it. But I guess this is off topic here.
I read the comments right after writing mine and noticed someone raised the same problem I’m pointing out here about the karma that the magic girls always produce disasters.
The answer given about Karma being amoral is fine, but on the scriptures quote in the post I noticed there’s actually some kind of substantial morality there too.
The sentence “Doer of good will gather good, Doer of evil, evil reaps, …” means there’s some preferential and logical consequentiality. The asura birth too goes accordingly to that, being entities from good that gave wrong results.
But at the very least one should expect to gain good from doing good, that is not exactly the magic girls’ fate. As a matter of fact they just gain pain and hell from their good deeds, and this can’t be good according any karmic law whatsoever. The classical physical academical reasoning we had in the other topics about physics seemed to me more spot on regarding this peculiar subject.
Nothing to say about the nirvana stuff. I take it as it is. I’d rather complain about deus ex machina and Evengelion-esque finales if it was in topic here. As a matter of fact the finale could be saved only by a big turn like that they actually did, having any other logical shortuct being cut off already. The finale is enough satisfactory as it is, but still not the best conceivable in my own humble opinion. Wasn’t really other way to save them without either sacrificing the lead char and making up a change of rules?
“But, since I’m the Kuroneko of the situation, I got to say something about the very first part where you made the parallelism between the karma wheel and magical girls. ”
Haha, you know, you don’t always have to keep trying to find fault with everything.
With that said, let’s talk more about karma. True, calling karma amoral is not exactly the best use of the term. It does have a moral slant, as karma is the subset of cause and effect that deals with intentions and results of volitional actions.
There’s a few things that needs specific note. 1. Intentions are taken into account. Selfish desires and such are part of karmic causes that may bear different fruits than one would expect. 2. Moral is very subjective, and hard to define. 3. Actions should also be considered separately from intentions. For example, the Asura of the Asura realms are born into that realm often because their “good” intentions were not followed up by “good” actions.
Lastly, the most relevant part to this discussion:
The general results encompasses additional causes outside of karmic causes. Karmic causes may have karmic results, but does not solely determine the outcome. In other words, the consequences expected by the law of karma encompass more or less than than the observed natural or physical results.
So yes, while the magical girls may have “good” (which is also subjective) intentions, other causes may come into play to have the sort of consequence we see.
Considering all of this, I’m inclined to call karma amoral in that good intentions and actions don’t necessarily bring about good results and vice versa.
Very good point your raised, and yea, I should’ve addressed this much better.
As for the scripture quotation, I actually debated on whether to use that for a long while. I really wanted something that addresses “seeds” and “fruits” specifically, but I do realize how much it simplifies things. Well, good thing I got a chance to further explain this. Thanks!
I liked the ending, sad as it is, but that’s probably a discussion much better left for a future review post.
Very well. That clears the karma dynamics, or so I suppose, so that intention, actions can have some certain outcome. That would be the natural flow.
But what about the magical girls fate is always so dark? Whatever good or evil deed they end up in hell no matter what. There’s something that forces karma to flow in the ‘bad’ way.
And what is that then? Call it fate, call it original sin, ubut there’s most likely another force at work.
And more, what about the role of magic in such a world? Could it be the embodiment of that evil force instead?
I know I’m obnoxious n3rdy boy here, but since we’re debating, let’s go to the core and break it!
There are also general causes that are outside of karma (which deals only with the moral sphere). Karma does not determine the final outcome of everything, but only contributes to a part of it.
“There’s something that forces karma to flow in the ‘bad’ way.”
There’s nothing that forces karma to flow in the “bad” way. But there is something else affecting the outcome.
In the final timeline/ rebirth, there has been enough “good” karma accumulated over several timelines by Homura and the other girls to outweigh any general causes that have thus far forced a bad end. Hope that makes sense.
“Call it fate, call it original sin, ubut there’s most likely another force at work.”
I hate the idea of original sin, but that’s probably a discussion best left for a debate on religion itself (and best left off the internet…)
Anyway, it could be “fate.” Perhaps because Buddhism is not deterministic, Homura is able to overcome it.
I’d like to think that all these things: magic, “fate,” … etc. are simply different causes in this world, and not necessarily embodiments of anything. They’re like the laws of Madoka universe. And so to change it fundamentally, Madoka needed to be both a part of and outside the universe.
Ryan A. above talks about Godel’s theorem, which is a very interesting take on this idea.
But I think I’m getting a bit off topic.
I don’t think it’s off topic. After all it’s not me who started some kind of theological debate here 😉
I also think you evaded my question a little bit. I’m fine with karma laws being amoral and similar to causality law per se, but I’m suggesting there’s something more in Madoka verse that causes evil.
My suggestion comes from the citation of Faust in the anime itself. Now I think it’s very interesting to point out dharmic religion parallelisms, but there’s something about Christian morality as well. And it’s about the concept there is something absolutely good or evil. Take it like models that can apply to people beyond their own behaviour and objects beyond their use. The concept of original sin, though relates to this: something or someone may be absolutely evil. In Madokaverse magic is evil cause it comes from something that bends natural laws. So anything that comes out of it can’t be but trouble.
Here Madoka’s role is so very close to Jesus indeed. She shoulders all of that evil and take it to the other world. This is also a parallelism that can’t be denied.
And what’s more, an explanation like this is enough good as any other one regarding religion. It’s just we pick that we’re most at ease with 😉
I see. Those are all great thoughts on a Christian application to the Madoka ending. I don’t have much more to add.
p.s. The off-topic comment is referring to Ryan A’s thoughts.
Well you could add some thoughts about some kind of law that comes into account together with karmic law to influence destiny or something like this. (if technically possible of course)
As a matter of fact remember what we did when we debated about physics. We said magic accounts X in our calculations so that they add to the physical laws this way, and we made up great speculations. Of course we were dealing with fantasy, and we always knew that.
Now, is it possible to do something similar with this religious set of rules to take in account fantasy?
Christian’s way to solve it could be taking into account of magic as a force that defies nature, so that to say, God’s law. That’s why it is evil. Everithing against God’slaws is indeed the Devil’s mishief. And that is why my reasoning applied before.
Incidentally this would be an actual issue if we were back in Middle ages. Only talking matters like this would’ve taken us directly to the fire. (lol)
“some kind of law that comes into account together with karmic law to influence destiny or something like this. (if technically possible of course)”
I think free will is the key to influencing destiny in most religions that seem to be fatalistic: Dharmic karma or Abrahamic divine will.
In Buddhism, there’s an idea called “dependent arising” that is used to describe how dukka (suffering) is inevitable. But the way out is through enlightenment by breaking the conditions of dependent arising. Free will comes into play here. It gets into some pretty philosophical ideas that are pretty hard to explain (hence I’ve avoided it in the post).
On the other hand, I think you’ve explained the Christian viewpoint on this pretty well, so I’ll leave it at that.
As for magic’s role… I personally interpret it as just another part of the Madoka universe. It’s like gravity, or time, or the natural force that Madoka becomes. It has no inherent morality, but just a law of that fantasy world.
But I can see how in applying Christian parallels to the story, one would see magic as the evil force that is against God’s laws. Again, I thought you’ve explained it pretty thoroughly, so I’m not going to try to intentionally challenge it.
“Only talking matters like this would’ve taken us directly to the fire. (lol)”
Haha, certainly. There are a lot of things that we would’ve been burned for in this post. And even more things on this blog in general for which I would’ve been persecuted to no end. Times sure have changed. ^ ^
This is a great post, very helpful in highlighting the Buddhist elements. I think it’s easy for English viewers to pick up on Christian-themed religious signifiers in Japanese animation, but oftentimes a lot of the Buddhist and Shinto allegories fly right by if you aren’t familiar with them.
Also, somewhat agreed that for English/ western viewers, Christian themes are often more apparent. I’m kind of glad that Madoka gave me a chance to talk about some Dharmic religion ideas.
Anyway, thanks for the compliment! And thanks for reading. ^ ^
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Another interesting thing about Samsara is that some buddhists aim to break away from the cycle, to leave the endless cycle of Samsara. Which could of course, be linked to Homura’s constant attempts at freeing them from the inevitable.
Great post. Loved it.
Yep yep, enlightenment and nirvana and ending suffering through escaping the cycles of rebirth (Samsara) are the ultimate goals, just like Homura’s ultimate goal of ending suffering and escaping from her reiterating timelines.
I like how you explained the basics of Buddhist ideas and related it to this anime. Although I haven’t seen this anime (yet), I enjoyed the thought you put behind your examination. It’s about time someone showed people the anime genre is much deeper than big robots fighting each other.
This and the article on racism in Gosick has made me add your blog to my fledgling anime blog’s blogroll.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be hesitant to write my own “over thoughts” about anime.
I’d highly recommend checking out the anime. It’s not bad both in its storytelling and its animation.
“It’s about time someone showed people the anime genre is much deeper than big robots fighting each other.”
Haha, I wish I could do so much, but I’d guess the people who come to this blog and read its posts are usually already deep into anime.
Anyway, I personally don’t think I overthought the parallels this time (not like the whole eye racism thing before), but I may have (check out some criticisms – Swordwind’s comment). In any case, glad you enjoyed the post!
p.s. I’ve added your blog to my blogroll too. ^ ^
I love Madoka, and its like wow, where did u came up with this post, its awesome. Comparison to Buddhism is really good, and i see kinda resemblance, thou my knowledge over Buddhism is really slim, so i have no right to make good judgement. Thou most religion are very similar, the difference is mostly idea of eden, For Buddhism we have Nirvana, for Christians we have heaven, for Jews, hmm they are waiting for savior, and propably they hope to get back to eden, thou i might doubt that, Muslims hmm they have idea of heaven thou its much different from Christian, i won’t say more cos i would end up as racist^^, thou i had rode Koran. For Madoka change she become more like Christian God, i will argument that with power over laws. I’m Christian so i can make it from my point of view. In Christianity God creates world, but what does it mean. Creating world mean setting laws for the world first, without laws world can’t exist obviously, then creating mattery that previously set laws will affect, lets go farther, Human have feeling so it mean god had create them, and question is does feeling affect God, or are they just layer over created world, previously created. It’s kinda like we human can only imagine in 3 dimension world, for us is imposible to think in greater amount of dimensions. Gah i went astray^^, lets go back to Madoka i want YURI DOUJINS~!@. Kinda happy i managed to watch final episodes, and this post is just awesome.^^
I made huge mistake, by saying that God needs to create laws and matery to create world, it actually is god could create world on different axioms.
Heaven in the Christianity and Islam is that of a paradise where the soul resides, and the blessed are granted eternal life close to God. In Judaism, the concept is a little more unclear; it’s a sort of resurrection and immortality of a new world. In Buddhism, there is no heaven (although there is a sort of Pureland for those close to achieving nirvana depending on which branch of Buddhism you believe in). Nirvana, as a concept, is nothing like paradise. It is closer to an extinguishing of one’s existence, essentially removing one from the universe (but still being one with it). This is why I thought Madoka’s ascension is closer to that of reaching nirvana.
As for the god issue – which is one of the most important part of this comparison – I disagree with Madoka being a sort of Christian God. She is still bound by certain laws of the old and new world. Further, while she may have changed one law, she is still limited in her power. And, in the grand scheme of things (considering both the pre-Godoka and post-Godoka), Madoka has not changed the world too much. She merely becomes a part of the universe to counterbalance another force in the universe. These are major reasons I hesitate to make the comparison to a Christian God. This is a bit different from the Abrahamic monotheistic God who is a supreme omnipotent mover that shapes everything.
This is of course based on my interpretation of the ending. And I do see your points. Thanks for contributing! ^ ^ (p.s. I think Solaris above has a pretty good Jesus/ original sin comparison that’s pretty interesting.)
“lets go back to Madoka i want YURI DOUJINS~!@.”
p.s. Thanks for the compliment. ^ ^
Wow, you’ve outdone yourself this time Yi-san. Look at all the deep thoughts and discussions up there. Would love to contribute, but I got nothing. I feel bad for myself… 😦
I did manage to finish watching the anime though, and I gotta say, it’s been a blast. I still can’t get Mami’s limp body outta my head. So cruel, so sad… And after she made a promise with Madoka too… 😥
I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks so much for reading! I really spent a lot of time on it, so it makes me happy if people found it nice.
Anyway, I totally enjoyed the anime. And poor Mami… I really like her. 😦
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I think Madoka takes not only from Buddhism, but all religions. They all have the same core values and beliefs, just taken from a different point of view. Considering Madoka draws heavily from holy texts, I’m not surprised that there are numerous similarities between the series and religion.
I also think the correlation with religious texts is also what made Madoka a great series. As my English teacher once said, holy books contain collections of some of the greatest works of literature in human history. When you consider how everlasting those stories are, it’s hard not to believe him.
I’d agree with that at the level of references. On the level of story development though, I think it leans more toward a Dharmic portrayal. (I’m mostly referring to the recurrent timelines and Madoka’s non-omnipotent “ascension,” which is less in line with Abrahamic view of life and the afterlife. Of course, there are themes that cross over to all religions; self-sacrifice and hope are major ideas in a lot of religions.
You’re absolutely right about religious texts. In fact, the Bible may just be the most studied and read book in the whole world… ever. It’s certainly the best selling book ever, and by a far margin.
I hardly read long blog posts. In fact, I tend to skip most parts or simply don’t read them at all. This blog post, however, is so interesting and well written, that it made me read it to the very end (even all the way down to the last comment). Well done!
Anyway, I can’t put into words how I immensely love this anime. All I can say is, it’s the best magical anime I’ve ever seen.
Thank you so so much for reading!! It really makes me super happy to know that my post is not only read in its entirety, but appreciated. Your comment totally made my day!!
Anyway, I totally love Madoka Magica too. It’s quite the magical anime.
i’m new to this blog but so far i love what i have read…lots of details…..keep it up…
Aw thanks! I’ll try my best. ^ ^
You’re amazing Yi! XD
I am also Buddhist actually, but I never realise the references to Buddhist before.
Even that elephant, I thought it was because the carnival theme of the witch.
Btw… now, I think I feel the ending might actually be a bit better than my original impression, by considering Madoka enlightenment.
I think the elephant might have been kind of a stretch, but the “seed” certainly don’t seem to be.
Anyway, I enjoyed the ending quite a lot. I thought it is a really good way of wrapping everything up neatly.
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I am not sure if these has been point out. Miracle is comparable to Good Karma. In Buddhism, everyone accumulate good and bad karma as life goes on. Good Karma is often used to offset the Bad Karma or provide happiness to oneself. Making a miracle is comparable to using up all your Good Karma, and what is left now is all Bad Karma which often led to misery and despair. That is like what Sayaka noticed.
Second, Bodhisattva is someone who aspire to be a Buddha. They are people who tries to reach Buddhahood through aeon of sacrifices and efforts, but they are not someone who has attained enlightenment. Yi has mentioned about this wrongly about they attaining enlightenment in Theravada context, unless you are using the Mahayana scriptures which has some minor difference in this aspect.
Througout this whole anime, I noticed that Mami is like representing loneliness and pride. Sayaka is love and despair. Kyouko is misundestanding and self-searching. Homura is obsession and hopelessness. Madoka is sacrifice and salvation.
Mami’s story is a story of having sense of pride in what she do and the joy of finally found friends who look up to her and willing to befriend her. Unfortunate for her demise before everything she wish come into place.
Though I find that I pity and kinda like Sayaka more than the rest, is due to her story is similar to what many go through. A much realistic aspect of life. Love that does not return and despair from love. Depression for unable to live up to expectation like Mami and being compared all the time. Lost of all principles in life due to emotion breakdown and not knowing what is she fighting for after losing faith. A situation many would go through and many suffered to quite some degree (except you don’t turn to witch. If you can, perhaps you have more than millions of witches in this world.)
Kyouko is like a innocent girl who fight for other just to lose faith and chose to fight for herself, rather than to suffer something similar again. People misunderstood her way but she finally found ways to express herself. Lastly, found her way in life where she think she is able to be true to herself.
Homura is the tale of friendship turned obssession. and also despair which came with it.
Madoka is well, already explained by many. But I think the Bodhisattva is best to describe her than Buddha since Buddha is more of someone who already knew the truth and can guide one on the path of right living. Madoka is more of trying to help where the solution she gave was never a correct one, just a sacrifice. shucks… I dont know how to explain this.
I want to note a few things. Bodhisattva has gone through a lot of different evolutions throughout the history of Buddhism. To take into account of the different branches, I am taking what I (and many Buddhist studies scholars) consider to be the core ideas. Bodhisattva at its earliest meaning is deviod of the salvation/ sacrifice aspects, and merely means one who has either reached enlightenment or is close to reaching enlightenment. The dual meaning allows various interpretations, and is a nice fit to the Madoka story. Note also that enlightenment and entering nirvana, while the two go hand in hand, may not necessarily be the same things.
Another note, my post describes Madoka both as a Bodhisattva and a Buddha. I think she went through different stages over the course of the anime. The Buddha has been described as a Bodhisattva in various scriptures before ascension. I find that to fit Madoka’s various forms. And yes, I do think Madoka, at the very end, does act as a guide for magical girls in that she leads them to nothingness (nirvana) instead of witchhood.
Anyway, I love what you said about the individual characters. They all have a defining theme around them. Nice analysis!
Thanks for visiting and the comment!
I haven’t researched Buddhism, or many other religions for that matter, so I feel at a disadvantage even trying to talk about them. I don’t even know what branch of Christianity I am, but somehow even that doesn’t seem important. The core message of Christianity seems overcomplicated at times when people try to explain it, but the religion’s message to me is easy. God loves you, and having a relationship with God will place you in heaven. This message is so simple that one can find ties with Christianity and most anything in everyday life. I’m sure people could go on for a full page about its ties with Madoka; I know I could.
“Westernized lenses,” is what I’m saying this next part through regarding Buddhism so please do not take any offense. Buddhism, through my eyes is a religion that places importance of reaching nirvana through oneself, and through many acts (sorry if I’m over simplifying this) reaches nirvana? There is a cycle for those who do not obtain nirvana, and they are reincarnated into different things depending on their actions in their most recent life?
Having shown my ineptitude at grasping Buddhism after 15 minutes on Wikipedia; I have just also finished Madoka, and am still deeply touched after finishing this profound anime. The parallels to Buddhism you made are great, and I especially like how you commented about Madoka reaching nirvana because it fits what happened in the show. I think that Buddhism, from what I’ve gathered in your blog post, is much closer to the story of Madoka than Christianity. Is there perhaps some religion that surpasses both Christianity and Buddhism in parallelism to Madoka!?
I’ve found what you wrote extremely interesting, and though-provoking. I think your writing style is exceptional, and look forward to reading more of it. Regarding the questions I’ve asked in the second paragraph, I truly want to hear your answers because the topic of religion is fascinating to me at 3:00 AM in the morning. Thank you for making my brain tick at such an early hour.
Your idea of Christianity’s message matches with what I hear from my Christian friends. It’s a powerful and universal message– a superior, omniscient, omnipresent being loves us–that could be applied to Madoka indeed.
The gist of what you said about Buddhism is right, I think.
As for my post on Buddhism, I think it’s important to separate the religious message with the mythology of a religion. In the case of Buddhism, it’s both a religion and a world view. The world view is basically the stuff about where ourselves head after we die, and how things in this world works. This is where I find a lot of motifs in Buddhism to match those of Madoka. As for the religious aspect of Buddhism, it’s also a pretty universal message involving salvation and sacrifice. In this sense, Buddhism is similar to Christianity, which both can apply to Madoka.
“Is there perhaps some religion that surpasses both Christianity and Buddhism in parallelism to Madoka!?”
Probably. There are so many angles to attack the show with, and I’m sure not everyone covered everything. It’s also pretty clear that Madoka draws influences from many different schools of thoughts, so maybe not one religion can claim monopoly on all its themes and motiffs. Of course, there’s also the issue that most religions overlap in some ideas, so yea…
Anyway, thank you so so so much for reading and for leaving this insightful comment! Please do visit again. ^ ^
p.s. Your comment made me smile~
I feel that you’re over-extending the metaphor; I think you are on the mark on several points and I’m delighted by your remarks concerning the Asura nature of the magical girls. However, I have to disagree with some of your points.
First, I don’t agree that Madoka achieves Nirvana in a Buddhist sense. Buddhism in its classical, Theravada incarnation is life-negating, the core precepts of the religion stress that life is suffering and the goal of the religion is to achieve liberation from the suffering associated with the wheel of death and rebirth through escaping the wheel of death and rebirth.
The subject of Nirvana is actually debated, as far as I understand. Nirvana can be understood as annihilation, but at the very least it consists of the extinguishing of the individual self, perhaps as a merger into the Universal Mind.
Madoka, insofar as she still exists as a singular entity, hence, has not achieved Nirvana, nor is it written into the plot that she has achieved something akin to Nirvana. The Gods, the Devas of Buddhism, after all, do not exist in a state of Nirvana but in a state of transcendent bliss. With regard to her state at the end of the series, she’s become a natural law instead of unifying with such a thing as a Universal Mind.
Here, I think I can continue on to the notion of Bodhisattva-hood. What prevents Bodhisattvas from achieving Nirvana themselves is their nature of desire; that they seek to reduce or remove the suffering of others is precisely why they cannot achieve Buddhahood themselves. I agree here that Madoka is now a Bodhisattva, and she’s closer to a Bodhisattva figure than a Christ-figure. Bodhisattvas tend to devote their Bodhisattva-hood to a specific sphere of existence; there are Bodhisattvas that exist in the various Buddhist hells and other damned realms seeking to aid the various damned souls on their path to enlightenment. The Christian Son, on the other hand, is a universal figure.
The sole caveat with the Bodhisattva interpretation is that Madoka has no potential for enlightenment in the Buddhist sense. She is not delaying her own enlightenment on the basis of her refusal to abandon her desire to aid magical girls; while her power is like that of a God’s; if she were to abandon that final desire animating her heart she would not obtain enlightenment in the Buddhist sense.
One way around it would be the Chan (Zen) doctrine of instant enlightenment, where sudden violence or inexplicable insight suddenly transforms the nature of consciousness. I refer to the story of Juzhi Yizhi’s (Gutei) Finger; where on chopping off a boy’s finger after he imitated the finger gesture of Juzhi the boy achieved enlightenment.
In the same way, having become transformed into a witch, destroying one’s own witch of the future, and becoming a goddess, Madoka might have obtained the radical (and inexplicable) transformation of consciousness needed to obtain enlightenment, and would be backed off true Buddha-hood based on her desire to aid all magical girls.
The concept cannot be considered rationally, however. Instant enlightenment by its definition is inexplicable, so we cannot say whether or not her world-destroying wish determined her enlightenment on the basis of its violence.
Another matter I’m taking issue with is the matter of Karma. I don’t see a direct analogue with the Soul Gems / Grief Seeds matter. Soul Gems turn to Grief Seeds when the weight of suffering on the girls becomes too much, but it is not the result of evil action. Soul Gems themselves form on the usually positive wishes of magical girls; in almost every instance we’ve seen it as the result of a sense of altruism; Kyouko wants to aid her father’s lot, Sayaka wishes to restore the health of her love interest, Homura wants to save Madoka from her terrible fate. As good actions these should not accrue negative karma, but should accrue positive karma. Yet instead we see the magical girls impaled on the spokes of the Wheel of Death and Rebirth. The justification of it is that the magical girls contravene natural law and consequently they must suffer the consequences. It’s Buddhist in the notion of causation, true, but I don’t think it’s strictly analogous to the notion of Karma.
I think that’s the bulk of my criticism. The rest of this comment will be on more minor nitpicks and some things to add.
First, I don’t think the Asuras map clearly to the magical girls. As far as creatures possessed by their passions and suffering, the Witches map most closely to the Asuras; they are mad, and they are possessed by their passions. Sayaka’s torn by her grief over losing Kyousuke, and the barrier aligns to her isolated world of grief. The Witches are in fact fascinating for that reason; each of them represent a complete and isolated psychology with symbolic elements representing the factors of their despair.
Considering the opposition between the Asuras and Devas, the magical girls can map to Devas. Remember, in Buddhism, the Devas are not immortal gods, but they too are transient beings. The angelic figuration of most magical girls also suggests their Devahood. As far as passions and vices go, I’m sorry to have to refer to Wikipedia, but:
“Buddhist devas are not morally perfect. The devas of the worlds of the Rūpadhātu do lack human passions and desires, but some of them are capable of ignorance, arrogance and pride. The devas of the lower worlds of the Kāmadhātu experience the same kind of passions that humans do, including (in the lowest of these worlds), lust, jealousy, and anger. It is, indeed, their imperfections in the mental and moral realms that cause them to be reborn in these worlds.”
So even Kyouko’s arrogance is allowed among the Devas.
Actually, at this point, I have to reconsider my criticism of your Karma suggestion, but I would have to change it to a different formulation. Soul Gems are created by the positive karma incurred by the altruistic wishes of magical girls. It’s replenished and sustained by the destruction of evil actors, but evil thoughts in magical girls deplete it. When the positive karma from the altruism and good of magical girls runs out, as it must eventually do (an aside: Mahayana Buddhism believes strongly in Instant Enlightenment because it believes that Enlightenment as the result of good deeds is not true enlightenment as it is only the result of positive karma, when the positive karma has run its course, Buddha-hood ends. One of the aspects of a doctrine of Instant Enlightenment, instead, is that neither good deeds nor bad deeds should be sought; since both increase karma and increase one’s ties to Samsara, and instead one should focus on purposeless action, Wu-wei in the Daoist sense, since according to the scriptures, action without mind incurs no karma, which is something that’s given me a lot of grief, heh, heh, heh), Deva-hood ends, and as the creation of magical girls from normal humans is an unnatural act created by Kyuubey, they descend into Asuradom.
Lastly, among the realm mapping, I would have to say that Kyuubey, contrary to popular opinion, is actually a Bodhisattva, akin to Madoka, but inferior in status. Remember, there are many different Bodhisattvas, and their realm of responsibility differs. While Madoka has tasked herself with the salvation of magical girls, Kyuubey, and the Incubators at large, have taken the universe as their charge. They reverse entropy through the murder of human girls.
How can this be, considering that their fundamental task is based on the ruining of lives and the infliction of suffering? My aside towards Mahayana Buddhism’s embrace of the notion of Wu-wei comes into play here. The Incubators, as a race, have no passion. They have minimal desires, except when it comes to the reversal of entropy. They exist in an animal aspect, and in such a way, they envince the principle of action without mind. In this way, their existence is so distant from human existences that they cannot accrue karma through their misdeeds.
And remember, even then, their action is not purely sadistic and without benevolence. They, after all, treat the human girls they destroy as sentient beings, and take consent, however deceptively taken. And they can control Karma, that is to say, they can take human girls to the world of Devahood to which the karma accumulated in past lives should not allow; their birth as human girls should preclude that. It is salvation, of a sort, but of lesser compassion than Madoka’s Bodhisattva-dom. Remember, Mami took a wish to save her own life after such a brutal car accident, Sayaka managed to fix her beloved’s life, Kyouko gave her father success, Homura was able to precipitate events that eventually allowed Madoka to break the cycle of suffering, and Madoka would not have been able to end the fate of Witches without Kyuubey’s intervention.
Besides, the notion of sadistic and bizarre Bodhisattva is not without precedent. If you look at the Tale of Genji, the protagonist is described as a Bodhisattva, but he’s a philanderer and a pedophile. He inflicts great suffering, but at the same time, his victims trend towards enlightenment.
A final note:
The most obvious Buddhist aspect of the show is the ending theme. The opening is cheery and bright, but the final theme has an Indian flavor and is not in a major key, or even a diatonic scale. It references Japanese traditional music, but in doing so it’s closer to Buddhist chants than Japanese folk songs. While I’m not a Japanophone, the music without the lyrics speak of suffering and more than anything else evoke the notion of Samsara. And the ending scene, with Madoka walking through a place of shadows, suggests a world of Maya, or illusion/delusion.
I’m surprised no one else has picked that up.
It’s late and I’ve possibly forgotten a few comments I wanted to make regarding this animation. I’ll add them if I somehow remember them.
I’ve been known to overreach in a lot of my posts, and it’s likely I did do that with parts of the post. With that said, you’ll understand if I do try to defend my points a bit, I hope.
I think our interpretation of Nirvana is similar. I take it more as an annihilation of the individual, but not existence in the broadest sense. Where I think we disagree, however, is on what Madoka is at the end. By the end of the anime, I do not think she exists as a singular entity. Rather, she has snuffed out her individuality to become a natural law. And in becoming a natural law of the universe, she is indeed “merging with the Universal Mind.”
In fact, I cannot think of another way something can be more integrated into the universe than become a law written into it. After all, our universe is defined and described by a series of laws (e.g. gravity, time, cause and effect). Madoka, at the end of the series, has essentially become an additional definition of how the universe is. Thus, the conclusion that Madoka has attained Nirvana. (Her appearance before Homura is but a last momentary presence before she is extinguished and integrated into the new world.)
As an aside, I explain in the end notes that my use of “God” throughout the post is all completely rhetorical. Madoka, at the end, is not a Goddess in the classical or Abrahamic sense in that she is no longer an individual being.
On the subject of the Bodhisattva, it’s good to see that we agree. I think this is where my post was a bit weaker. I should have probably noted that I think Madoka goes through all these different stages in her transition at the very end of the anime. Her role as the Bodhisattva (or a Christ-figure as many others have argued) is the one that many bloggers most readily pick up on, so I kind of just glossed through it without fully explaining all my interpretations on this. And that has… caused a lot of heat in the comments above haha.
I think where the most debate and disagreements come from is that I don’t believe the Bodhisattva has no potential for enlightenment. This differs from most modern schools of thought, where the Bodhisattva has since gained its own status. But in the very original sense of the word and the idea, the Bodhisattva is simply one who has either reached enlightenment or is close to it. And when the salvation aspect of Buddhism as a religion is introduced, Bodhisattva started becoming this other existence, but in the core world view, I believe the two are not incompatible.
I have actually not heard of the Juzhi story. Very interesting. It does also seem to parallel the story of Madoka very well. Thanks for that!
“The concept cannot be considered rationally, however. Instant enlightenment by its definition is inexplicable, so we cannot say whether or not her world-destroying wish determined her enlightenment on the basis of its violence.”
Another aside. Most religions are bunches of inexplicable inconsistencies, and almost all have some sort of internal conflict. Buddhism is certainly not exempt from that. ^ ^
And likewise, my post on Madoka is probably full of holes. I’ve also definitely changed my stance here and there since writing the posts, reading the comments—comments like yours that point out certain things, and forcing me to re-evaluate parts—and combing through my Study of Buddhism notes over the last months.
Agree with you on that the story of magical girls is not strictly analogous to the notion of Karma. I’ve included it in primarily for the language and imagery. I do have one caveat with what you said about the gems though: I don’t agree that they stem from altruism. (We could probably further argue whether altruism exists… but that’s another whole philosophical debate.) Anyway, with the case of Sayaka, especially, it’s arguable that she became a magical girl for selfish reasons. With that said, I do agree mostly that karma and soul gem/grief seed is not a perfect fit.
Thanks for the criticism and the feedbacks. It’s comments like these that keeps me blogging. ^ ^
Fascinating point on the six paths. That does sound like a better mapping with witches to Asura, and magical girls to Devas. And the follow up to soul gems is really truly insightful. It addresses the altruism thing perfectly, and yea… Not much to add. Well said! ^ ^
Kyubey as a Bodhisattva. That’s something I haven’t heard of before, but it works! I’d like to add one more thing. As a collective, they are also a force/law in the universe much like Madoka is at the end of the series, except that they have individuality. A Bodhisattva who is close to ascension but not quite there. Excellent point!
I think one of the very interesting things about Buddhism is that as a worldview, it lacks a black/white moral beings. There isn’t someone like the Christian God who is all benevolent and can do no wrong. Morals are relative, and karma takes into account intention. I totally agree, thus, that Kyubey does fit the role of Bodhisattva very well.
The ending theme does have a very distinct flavor. It could almost pass for a darker variation of chants and songs one would often hear in temples. Good spot!
Finally, thanks so much for the comment!! It’s so incredibly well thought-out!!
I think I remember now.
The lich nature of the magical girls can also be taken as evidence of their Devahood. Their bodies are no longer those of human beings and are sustained solely by their spiritual power. Like Devas, they no longer need to eat or drink; the core of their sustenance comes from their Soul Gem.
I can also reference Mishima’s The Decay of the Angel (read Deva), which is an indirect source.
“The Abhidharma-mahavibhasa-sastra describes the five greater signs and the five lesser signs The five lesser signs are first.
“As an angel soars and pirouettes it usually gives forth music so beautiful that no musician, no orchestra or chorus can imitate it; but as death approaches the music fades and the voice becomes tense and thin.
“In normal times, day and night, there floods from within an angel a light that permits of no shadows; but as death approaches the light dwindles sharply and the body is wrapped in thin shadows.
“The skin of an angel is smooth and well anointed, and even if it immerses itself in a lake of ambrosia it throws off the liquid as does the leaf of a lotus; but as death approaches, water clings and will not leave.
“At most times an angel, like a spinning wheel of fire, neither stops nor is apprehensible in one place, it is there when it is here, it dodges and moves and throws itself free; but when death approaches, it lingers in one spot and cannot break free.
“An angel exudes unblinking strength, but as death approaches the strength departs and blinking becomes incessant.”
“Here are the five greater signs: the once-immaculate robes are soiled, the flowers in the flowery crown fade and fall, sweat pours from the armpits, a fetid stench envelops the body, the angel is no longer happy in its proper place.”
Any of this sound familiar to you? Well, I suppose the quote of the last aspect looks like Texas Sharpshooting, but failure of light, unblinking strength, discontentment with their lot, that seems to have hit the target.
“Any of this sound familiar to you? “
Yes definitely!! Some beautiful descriptions. Thanks. ^ ^
I feel like between this write-up and the comments, I have learned a lot. This is a fascinating dialogue. I just started studdying Buddhism several months ago so it’s nice to start to see these patterns and such.
Thanks Yi and all who commented. I love reading stuff like this. 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it! The comments really are something incredible, aren’t they?
Thanks for reading, hun! ^ ^
This was very insightful! Thank you for sharing!
I’ve noticed Buddhist elements in Madoka Magica, but I always interpreted it through a Christian standpoint, probably because I don’t know as much about Buddhism. The visual symbols also alludes to Christianity very often. Therefore, even though I am completely convinced by your argument of the Buddhist interpretation, I do think that the Christian element also plays into Madoka’s transformation.
First of all, the reason she has the most potential of everyone to become a goddess is because of the love she received from others. This love has prevented her from becoming a magical girl, and thus lose the chance to make wishes. Her ribbons that her mother gave her shows this motif especially. One of the doctrines of Christianity is that “God is love,” and thus, Madoka Magica shows the receiving and concentration of love on one human, causing that person to become able to give infinite amounts of love to the world.
Next, in Christianity, the Old Testament portrays God as just and punishing crimes (which goes along with the Buddhist idea of karma, as well). Jesus, however, loved the world and forgave their sins. This Christ-figure is portrayed by Madoka as she voluntarily takes away the despair, or their potential sins, from the soul gems upon herself. She becomes, like Jesus, the embodiment of hope and mercy.
Also, the religious symbolism in Mami and Kyouko’s pasts are undeniable because of obvious visual and audio allusions. Mami’s theme song, “Believing in Justice,” sounds like a church hymn, portraying her as a God-like figure. In many ways, she is just like Madoka at the end. However, she falls due to ignorance to the realities of the world (which you have pointed out). She parallels religious figures in the Old Testament. Unlike Madoka, she is not as forgiving and believes only in justice. Her fall makes way for the new savior to come.
Kyouko’s past is defined by her faith and her falling out of faith. However, as her eventual fate shows, her hope for love and mercy have not died. Her soul gem and hairclip combination at the end looks like her father’s religious symbol, and her praying symbolizes reciting the rosary. Her disillusionment does not make her a symbol of ignorant naivete as Mami is, and validates her fate as the result of hope.
I cannot cite specific biblical evidence, because my familiarity with Christianity is also somewhat limited. However, I do think that it can be interpreted this way, and I’m sure someone with greater knowledge than I can make a more convincing argument. I think that the theme of Madoka Magica is universal, as shown through the many different magical girls through many different places and time, and there is not just one interpretation through one belief institution. As you have pointed out, many religions are quite similar. Buddhism may have had more of an affect, as this was made in Japan. But because Japanese culture is very receptive to both eastern and western ideals, and the allusions to both cultures are rather obvious in the anime visually and plot-wise, I believe that the creator intended it to be a mixture of cultures, illustrating the similarities in all of us, rather than the retelling of the theology of any one religion.
Agreed that there can certainly be a Christian interpretation of the Madoka story. Both in my post, my comments, and others’ comments above, different viewpoints have been raised that span across various religions. There are also plenty of wonderful posts around that focuses on the Christian elements.
Perhaps it is really because most religions have so much overlap in their underlying message–self-sacrifice, love, and hope are all themes central to Christianity, Buddhism, and many others. Thus, a story about this becomes easily accessible and adaptable to different religious perspectives. For example, as you mentioned, “God is love.” Indeed, God is. As is the Bodhisattva, who embodies mercy. These motifs pop up very often. Also, agreed very much with the sacrifice idea. The Christ-figure, in a sense, is again similar to the Bodhisattva. Thus, we see that there is multiple ways to slice this.
Anyway, you make wonderful points, and I love your Christian takes on Madoka. I didn’t even notice Mami’s theme song and its tie-ins to church hymn. And I also love what you said about Kyouko. There’s a lot of good food for thought here! Thanks!
“I believe that the creator intended it to be a mixture of cultures, illustrating the similarities in all of us, rather than the retelling of the theology of any one religion.
Ooh yes. This is a great point. Madoka does feel like a big mash up of influences.
Thanks for visiting and the insight, tinychristina!! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. ^ ^
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I thought this was a very interesting post and I’d agree that karma does parallel well with the cycle between hope and despair that magical girls are burdened with.
However, I don’t agree with the point that madoka is able to escape karma because she has acheived enlightenment. I would think that madoka’s wish was what broke the cycle and that the whole karma concept is what madoka was trying to deconstruct in the place.
Oh and my apologies for being a year late.
Interesting thought. I wonder what your thoughts are on the difference between “escaping” karma and “deconstructing” karma. I’m inclined to agree that Madoka didn’t “escape” karma per se. Rather, she is free of it, as an existence outside of karmic bounds, having reached nirvana.
However, I don’t think she has abolished karma as a concept. (After all, cause and effect still exist in the world, which is the loosest definition of karma.) She does change the nature of the karma surrounding magical girls though, and does break the previous cycle. But she has not abolished karma as a concept.
p.s. No worries. This post still regularly gets comments. Never too late to have a lovely chat. ^ ^
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Wow. Excelent post. Madoka, for me, is a symbol of something over the illumination. The path of karma is a infinite cycle, karmayoga is a false way. Madoka brokes the laws of karma. I’m buddhist, but I think the Christ shows a different (and better) approach to karma: “embrace God/dharma, forget the karma”. This is not theory, but my own experience, since my childhood. Excuse me for my bad english, I don’t speak very weel, but can read. Cheers!
Thanks for the comment Juca. I think if one takes a Christian perspective in interpreting Madoka, that’s entirely reasonable too. Madoka could be seen as a self sacrificing child of the workings of the universe. She sacrifices herself for the sins of others and at the end of it, transcends to something beyond.
Also, your English is great! Cheers, dear. ^ ^
Well, talk about necro’ing…
If/when you get a chance to see the updated Madoka Rebellion movie…I need to see how that updates your theological implications. That’s all I can say…
I have not yet seen the updated movie, but now I’m looking forward to making time for it.
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Thanks so much for the insight, I thought I knew a lot about Buddhism before but the philosophies are a lot clearer now that you’ve compared it to a story I now well.
Are you going to add a section to the rebellion story as well? I’m not sure if this constitutes as spoilers or not but that movie is often noted to have comparisons to Mara dicieving Buddha with illusions, though I could actually find a lot more comparisons to Gnosticism myself (especially the comparison of Madoka to Sophia) but this is probably because I was studying it in school not long after seeing the Rebellion Movie while most of what I know of Buddhism comes from internet posts like this.
I have yet to see Rebellion yet. If it does indeed take inspiration from Buddhism or Gnosticism, I might do another post on it. Thanks for reading!
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