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.
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.
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.
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!