We are thrilled to have designer, filmmaker, and comic book artist Sachi Ediriweera on our blog with an exclusive essay. He talks about his upcoming graphic novel, Enlightened and the inspiration behind it.
Finding the Human in the Divine
By: Sachi Ediriweera
The original Pali texts describe the Buddha's life and teachings with spellbinding details. His life begins as a prince who was blessed with every luxury. Yet, after marrying and becoming a father, he decides to abandon it all and become a monk. Prince Siddhartha's search for enlightenment has him overcoming one challenge after the other. And as he transcends and becomes the Buddha, the stories which include his return to his home city and subsequent travels continue to be intriguing.
One particular story is about the Buddha calming down an angry Elephant which was sent to kill him with the power of kind thoughts. And of course, sometimes the stories are mixed with teachings such as the Buddha using mustard seeds to teach the impermanent nature of life to a grieving mother who lost her son. As I sat in Sunday School as a child, where I first encountered the Buddha's teachings, I couldn't help thinking--who was the Buddha? A man? A God? Someone much more?
While the Buddha is largely depicted as a divine figure, what had always fascinated me the most was his life as a son, husband and father and his search for a higher truth. It was this desire for a grounded character study that led me to create Enlightened. There was a trove of source material I could draw upon as thousands of authors have reinterpreted these Buddhist texts through centuries. However, as a storyteller the challenge for me was finding character moments which bridged anecdotal elements to the original mythos. This approach extended in the visual depiction of the Buddha as well. Buddha statues in South Asia tend to depict him as an all-knowing monk and those in Southeast Asia often include a makuta--a crown adorned with gems reserved for kings. For my own interpretation, I decided to forgo his elongated earlobes which were a sculpted shorthand that signified his former life as a royal. And instead of depicting his stature as above average, I chose to depict him as a regular man.
In a way, Enlightened became my own way of understand the Buddha and his teachings more. It gave me the opportunity to uncover and interpret a grounded human story which paved way to the mythos which is widely known today. While readers enjoy this character study of the Buddha through Enlightened, I do hope it allows them to discover and be inspired by the divine aspect which fascinated me as a child too.
More about the book:
A spirited young prince longing to learn more about the world grows into a man on a quest to find the cause of human suffering in this first-of-its-kind graphic novel retelling of the life of Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism.
Prince Siddhartha lives in a beautiful palace in the heart of Kapilavastu. His father, the king, ensures that he has the best of everything—he just can’t go outside. He is locked up away from the city, away from anything that might cause him pain. He knows nothing of illness, aging, sorrow, or death, yet Siddhartha feels the pain regardless, and it instills a burning curiosity to understand the world outside—and the nature of human suffering.
Based on the life of the real man who was known first as a prince, then as a monk, and now as the Gautama Buddha, Enlightened is about one boy’s quest to learn the truth that underpins our endless struggle against suffering—and in understanding, break the cyclic existence that perpetuates it.
Sachi Ediriweera is an accomplished designer, filmmaker, and comic book artist. He is the writer and artist of the graphic novels Lionborn, which was the first English language graphic novel produced in Sri Lanka, and Enlightened. Apart from his design and illustration work, he has also built a career in filmmaking as a writer, producer, and director of acclaimed short films that have screened in numerous film festivals around the world. When he’s not drawing or writing his third-act plot twist, Sachi enjoys reading art books and comics, eating pizza, and overthinking cosplay ideas for comic cons. He divides his time between Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Dubai.