9 Divine Aspects of Dragon Ball Z

Goku with Angel Wings and Halo

Goku with Angel Wings and Halo

Have you noticed divine aspects in Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z or GT?  How about similarities between Goku and a certain spiritual teacher?  Or perhaps the way in which good always triumphs over evil?

If you did notice these it’s because they’re in there!  If you didn’t, then read this to learn more.

Here are 9 specific ways in which the divine shows up in Dragon Ball:

1.   Mythically Buddhist Origin’s

Loosely based on Journey to the West, a Chinese tale of pilgrims on a holy quest for the Buddhist sutra’s of India, Dragon Ball is rife with spiritual references of an East Asian perspective.  Sun Wukong (Japanese: Son Goku), The Handsome Monkey King, is the character that Goku is based on, and Sun Wukong himself is most likely based on Hanuman, the Indian deity and warrior.

King Enma, lord of the afterlife, is based on a Chinese and Japanese deity that weighs the amount of virtue and karma on a person’s soul to determine where they should be sent, Heaven or Hell, and we find that same character in Dragon Ball.

There are a multitude of other examples and references to the Buddhist stories that Japanese children like Akira Toriyama (the creator of Dragon Ball) would have been taught while growing up.

2. Heaven and the Afterlife

Heaven plays a big part in Dragon Ball Z as Goku spends a lot of his time up there!

After sacrificing himself to save his son’s life (and the planet itself) Goku is sent to the afterlife where his soul is judged by King Enma.  The King determines that he is pure hearted enough to ascend up to Heaven, but Kami requests a special favor of the King and asks for Goku to be trained by North Kaio, Lord of the Northern Galaxy.  King Enma agrees and allows Goku to keep his physical body, now tricked out with a super spiffy halo.

3.  Pilgrimage

The Z Warriors, with Goku in particular, travel around the world (and even other star systems) in search of the dragonballs.  They embark on a pilgrimage to find holy relics that contain the power to alter the known world, reverse life and death, grant immortality, provide untold fortune, wealth, or fulfill almost any human desire.

While on this quest they meet many new people, face and overcome countless difficulties and improve themselves with every step.  But after they achieve their goal and summon the dragon, for the most part they do completely unselfish things with them.  The underlying message is that the quest is not about finding the relics… it’s about finding your true self.

4.  Shugyo and Spiritual Ascension

Shugyo is the Japanese word for ‘training,’ but its original usage refers to ‘spiritual training,’ most notably by monks or martial artists on a path of enlightenment.

The concept found in battle manga like Dragon Ball of fight-lose-train-fight-win is endemic to the spiritual path itself, with innumerable failures experienced before success.

The act of shugyo is to physically and spiritually train oneself to overcome an external or internal demon.  You’ve only completed the training when you’ve reached a high enough level to do so, and often times the true battle comes from within, in an ever constant attempt to defeat the self, revealing the true self deeper within.

5. Good Vs. Evil

Good and evil play an important role in many Shonen battle manga, and Dragon Ball is a perfect example.  Demon’s and the warriors to fight them always seem to spring up out of nowhere, and the dichotomy of good and evil will invariably result with good as the victor; Perhaps not in the short term, but always in the long term.

But these are not absolute values, as previously demonic characters can learn to shed their wicked notions, attachments and behaviors to become a force of good, with plenty of gray area in-between.  Lessons such as right and wrong and that it is wiser to follow a path of righteousness are as clear as day.

6.  Redemption

Redemption is a key principle in Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z.  Goku’s opponents are sometimes (though not always) able to find the error of their ways, correct their behavior and go on to lead a better life.

Piccolo is an excellent example.  By interacting with Goku and his family across a period of decades his previously demonic heart becomes soft and compassionate.  The breadth of his compassion expands so far that he ends up saving the earth and is forgiven for his crimes and allowed to ascend into Heaven.

7. Immortals

Immortals and the quest for immortality are seen a couple of different times in Dragon Ball.  Spiritually enhanced long life has often been a sign of divine beings on earth.

Goku’s first master, Muten Roshi, is an immortal who is already over 300 years old the first time we meet him.  His life force never diminishes even though he becomes outclassed by all of his students.  His spirit, like his love of the ladies, stays ever potent.

8. Spiritual Warriors

Almost the entire warrior cast of Dragon Ball is a spiritual warrior.  As practitioners of the martial arts, the hero’s such as Goku, Krillin, and Gohan, as well as the villains such as Vegeta, Piccolo, and Frieza employ some type of higher power in achieving their goals.  Whether that’s virtue, karma, sin, or what have you, they use a force that goes beyond normal, and by combining their mind and body with their supernormal factors they become spiritual warriors.  How far they progress on this path is limited only by their own determination and spiritual potential.

9. God / Kami

God is the guy’s name! Kami (the Japanese word for God, or Divine) is the title of the guardian of earth, and he watches over the planet and makes sure things stay balanced.

Much like the clockmaker analogy of the Judeo-Christian God, he doesn’t really do too much active work, sort of just keeping an eye on things, but he is always willing to lend a celestial hand when necessary, or call out to higher powers when things escalate beyond his control.

Bonus!: Supernormal Powers

Supernormal powers are so commonplace in DBZ that the term almost loses all meaning.  Flying through the air, shooting energy beams out of the body and having enough power to destroy entire planets… All par for the course when it comes to the DBZ universe.

The Spirit Bomb (Japanese: Genki Dama) is a great example that comes to mind, where Goku summons a bit of spiritual life force from all beings within his realm of influence and combines it into a gigantic ball of virtue.  He then throws the ball at his intended target and the pure white energy works its magic.

It’s only when the everyday people of society catch witness to these powers that we are reminded that they are anything but normal.

There are several more examples that come to mind.

Have you noticed any other divine aspects that weren’t listed here?  Leave a comment with your thoughts and suggestions!

26 responses to “9 Divine Aspects of Dragon Ball Z”

  1. Emmanuel Ra bey says:

    How Hell is in Truth No horrid destination but in truth a opportunity to learn more.. a sort of a cosmic time out to reevaluate our self and life choice. Seeing that there is always a way out of our own hell by seeking a path more righteous then the one previous which caused us to be confined.

    Coming from a strong Christian dogma Son Goku Journey and Return from Hell along the path of Snake way helped me to expand myself beyond those means of bounds within a limited view point.

    Also the Metaphor of Snake Way and the Awakening of the Kundalini. A life long journey that consist of rebirth, restructuring and realigning one self within the higher application of the True Highest self.

    • Derek Padula says:

      So when you watched the episode where Goku entered and escaped from Hell it expanded your understanding of consciousness? Or of what, exactly?

      Others have also mentioned to me that Snake Way is a metaphor for Kundalini. Toriyama never commented on this issue, so it’s open to interpretation. Though I don’t know very much about Kundalini Yoga, since I never practiced it.

      • Emmanuel Ra bey says:

        i would say you phrased that right

        I never practiced Kundalini yoga either.. but i had a unbalanced awakening a few years ago out of the wood work.

    • Edgar says:

      Odd about this. Never related Kundalini to snakes. Well at least from what I have been reading of the reptoid conspiracy theory… not sure. Also how there are snakes on that symbol used on doctors and medicine, on how it mirrors the DNA structure. Snakes again. Snake queen did tried to tempt Goku, but she failed as Goku is asexual and has other interests. Can’t blame him, she was way too extravagant for my tastest. Some of her maids were cuter though. Also it is interesting that one of them died while doing russian roulette, when I understood they were already dead. ‘Till later, the ancient Supreme Kai died already in the after life, yet besides the halo, almost nothing happened to him. But as far as I remember, that snake girl never appeared again.

      And kinda of a side note. Did Yamcha and the rest of the guys also fell prey to her? Or they just ignored the castle and moved on? Some think the Ginyu Force might had also at least seen the castle, but from what I understood, King Kai asked Enmasama to make them appear directly in his planet once they died at Namek.

  2. jose luis says:

    goku tiene cuatro transformaciones …. esto lo que realmente representa los cuatros estados de conciencia para alcanzar la iluminacion
    1. ser conciente de todos los movimientos
    2. ser conciente de los pensamientos
    3. ser conciente de las emociones
    4. ser conciente de la propia conciencia

    en la transformacion no. 4 de goku se ve claramente la conciencia de goku representada en el mismo pero siendo niño .. y la pequeña luz en su ojo derecho cuando ve el planeta tierra .. esta luz representa la iluminacion el encuentro con dios ..

    creo que por eso la saga termina en la cuarta tranformacion de goku.

  3. Edgar Omar says:

    OK let me translate:

    "Goku has four transformations… these represent the four states of conscience to reach illumination/enlightment.

    1.- Be aware of all movements
    2.- Be aware of all toughts
    3.- Be aware of emotions
    4.- Be aware of self-conscience

    In Goku’s fourth transformation, it can clearly be seen Goku’s conscience represented as himself but being a child… and that small light in his right eye when he seens planet Earth… that light representls enlightment, the encounter with god…

    I believe that the saga ends with Goku’s fourth transformation."

  4. Meeeeee says:


  5. Topher9000 says:

    Something I noted as a was watching DBZ last night. Derek, you and I both practice Chinese martial arts that have the roots in Shaolin. That art there being seen as less of a fighting system and more of a ‘Zen meditation’. With Goku and other characters we can see this same idea. Goku trains to be strong, he does not fight to hurt rather to seek out places for improvement in his own development. This idea can also tie into the idea that his race, the Saiyans, grow stronger after loosing a battle. It can be seen as the Buddhist idea of coming to grips with a truth of the universe. The more you except the truth the closer to enlightenment you become. He looses a battle realizes his weakness and grows stronger from it. Goku’s training and fighting are a kind of meditation for him and later for others, Piccolo later learns compassion (one of the most important Buddhist ideas) for other living people while training Gohan.

    • DerekPadula says:

      Good insights Topher9000.

      The Dao of Dragon Ball book is going to talk a lot about these concepts. It will show how Chan (Zen) Buddhist thought influenced Daoism and vice versa, Especially through the martial arts as a path of self cultivation and gradual enlightenment. And then how it’s displayed in Dragon Ball.

  6. Harry says:

    You forgot to list points on astral travel. When goku uses instant transmission, he puts fingers on his “third eye” and thinks about where he wants to go, just as in the astral realm. The telepathy used in dbz is also used in atral travel or by enlightened people. Yellow auras are the natural auras of all peoples physical body and auras change with emotion just as in dbz.

  7. Goku says:

    I think the 7 dragon balls, and the dragon are Kundalini and the seven chakras. Once you unlock all chakras you unlock the God within yourself.

  8. ssj says:

    you ‘re right . in any case ; NEVER FORGET THAT THE SERIES ARE FROM AN ASIAN COUNTRY(so its different from our culture) . If you know very well shinto and buddhist religions, you will understand Dbz ……(if not , don’t try to match you point of views on this before reading or watching serious books) . DBZ is ,beyond the apparences , a very deep anime……….

  9. Julio says:

    7 balls are the chakras and the dragon that comes out of them is the kundalini, which is able to bring life to death and also has as much power as his creator

  10. biffin says:

    there is also a deity of afterlife in hindu mythology.. his name is Yama sounds much like Enma

    also he has horn on his head.

  11. Julian says:

    I believe GOKU represents the (Sun)
    First off his favorite dragon ball is the number 4 given to him by his grandfather which is attributed to the heart, and to the sun also the heart is the 4th chakra, GOKU has 4 super saiyan transformations b4 becoming a GOD, and The 4 star dragon specifically uses the power of the sun to charge himself when battling goku in GT and the dragon resembles an African person who are known as children of the sun because of there charred skin. So you can see how #4 is related to the sun, the heart and GOKU, also GOKU comes from a character named SUN, who when you read his powers is describing the attributes of the sun and its creations on earth, also hanuman is a mythological character they are based off, which means man with prominent jaw(like black people) or monkey man( like ss4 GOKU) , these are not meant to be derogatory I am simply stating the facts, between the sun and all attributed to it.

    • Julian says:

      Also 10 end of base numbers is summed up at 4 so all you need is the 4 to reach the 10 all you need is the heart to reach God. 1+2+3+4=10

  12. Dominik Sobolewski says:

    Yeah man. If you remember me I told you to do a youtube channel. I suggest you go ahead with that.

  13. Spockjett47 says:

    Goku’s destiny to take down freizas is very similar to Jesus.

  14. Ricky Damper says:

    When goku first turned into a super saiyan against frieza on Namek. To me the transformation symbolizes our true untapped potential coming out in times of Crisis when you just cant take the way things are.

    You put your foot down and do something about it

  15. Dragon Ball fan says:

    I knew all along that the second version of Buddhism plays a huge role in the franchise of Dragon Ball, which explains all the powers of that creations superhuman fighters.

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