Naruto is one of most popular Shonen anime, and for good reason. It has nail-biting thrills, amazing fights, heart-wrenching side-stories, and more, skillfully woven into an epic series. The overall theme of Naruto is loneliness, importance of friends and the longing for others to acknowledge and recognize you. Towards the end of the story, through the difference in opinion between the protagonist and antagonist and the dialogues between them, the anime also seeks to present a philosophical view on the sorrow and suffering in this world. An analysis of this philosophy of Naruto becomes even more interesting when we compare and contrast it with the view of Vedanta (or other established philosophies) on the same subject.
***ALERT: NARUTO SPOILERS AHEAD***
***If you plan on watching/reading the series, come back after you do***
The main antagonists in Naruto are ninja who have lost their loved ones, who are pained by the suffering in this world, and set out to address it in their own unique way. Having an ability to put others under illusion, they want to impose an eternal benign illusion on the whole world. Unlike reality, there will be no loss, no sorrow in this illusion, and all will be happy. Or so they believe. Naruto and almost every other ninja in the world are fighting to foil their plan. In this war, they lose many of their friends, but even in the face of this loss, they prefer the true memory of their real friends to an illusion in which they would be exactly as they want them to be.
This philosophy can be broken down to some basic points which are accepted by both sides.
- There is suffering in this world and it can never be fully removed (if there is light, there is shadow; if there are winners, there are losers, say the villains)
- The world we are in is real
- The illusion proposed by the villains is not
- There need not be any suffering in the illusion.
The difference in their opinion is mainly on the question of which is better – the real world with its mix of joys and sorrows, or the illusionary world where everything goes as planned.
- (a) Shun this sorrowful reality and embrace the illusion of happiness
- (b) Live on in this reality, enjoying its joys and learning its pains, forming bonds with others and valuing those bonds
Naruto’s (and likely the author’s) view is that the illusionary world is not worth anything because it is not real. The friends that I find in that illusion have no value because they are not even related to my real friends who are still with me or the ones I have lost. This is almost like, I would prefer that you tell me you don’t love me than pretend that you do. I may be happier if you pretend that you love me, and I may die a happier man if I die under that impression. But Naruto, like most others in that anime and like many people in this world, don’t want to be fooled into happiness. So they struggle to hold on to the harsh reality. From what they say, they would cling on to this reality even if it ceases to have any joy to offer, for the memory of those “real” joys that they once had is still more valuable than an illusionary joy. Perhaps, it is because of the possibility of suffering that the joys of this world are really valuable. But the reason given by Naruto and his friends is that the quality of being “real” is what makes it valuable.
This is where it is interesting to consider the philosophy of Vedanta. Without going into a rigorous definitions or expositions, the essence of the philosophy would be as follows:
- There is suffering in this world
- The world is not real
- Pure consciousness/awareness/existence is real
- There is no sorrow in that absolute reality.
- Shun this illusionary world of suffering and embrace blissful reality
Note that the first axiom is similar to the one in the philosophy of Naruto outlined earlier, and the others are similar – may be like a mirror image.
Here reality is valuable on two counts. First, that it is real, and the second that it offers eternal blissful existence (not sure which of it is more important or whether they’re really different). Since the one that’s a sham is also the one with suffering, it is easier to shun it (in principle). In separating these two qualities (“being real” and “being free of suffering”) and assigning them to two different worlds, the philosophies in Naruto essentially differ in which of these two qualities of Vedantic reality are more important.
The illusion that we talk about in Naruto is much like the illusion that we are all under (as per Vedantic view) – an illusion so strong that we will assume it to be real. So, if they are put under such an illusion (which they’d then consider reality), Naruto and friends would fight just as fiercely to remain in than illusion and not come out of it as they are shown fighting to prevent their valuable reality from coming to an end. So, how do they know which of these two realities is real? How do we know? And what exactly is this quality of being real that they value so much?
Maybe these are questions to ponder in another post, after I hear your thoughts on the subject.