A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 1

 

By Richmond Lee
With additional help from Andy Lee

All Entries:
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 1 – Buddhist Cyborgs and the story of the Asura
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 2 – The Bishop’s Staff and Hungry Ghosts
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 3 – The Mighty Vajra!

Hello. My name is Richmond Lee Chaisiri. I am a professional game artist who grew up in a Buddhist household in Thailand, the most Buddhist nation on earth. I will be your tour guide through the wild, wonderful and very very well researched world of Asura’s Wrath. So what’s Buddhist about Asura’s Wrath?

Everything!

The Characters, the environments, the ultra violence, the cosmic scope, the super powers, the anime hair … All of it! Let’s begin the tour!

art-eater, asura's wrath, Buddhist God of War, Buddhism art, violence

Illustration by my good buddy Weigy, http://blog.weigy.com/

Exhibit 1 – The Story
Asura’s Wrath tells the tale of a bellicose god who is betrayed by his fellow deities, stripped of his powers and cast down from the heaven and swears bloody revenge. Does this sound like the plot of God of War 2? Sure! But it’s also the age old story of the Asura (also commonly spelled “Ashura”). According to Buddhist tradition, Asuras once lived alongside the Devas (their more benevolent cousins) in a city called Trayastrimsa on the peak of Sumeru, a holy mountain at the center of the universe where the earth joins with the heavens.

asura's wrath, Ashura, statue, Buddhist art, 阿修羅, Capcom, CyberConnect2, Mt Sumeru

The Asuras were quarrelsome beings who loved to pick fights. They finally crossed the line when they went on a drunken rampage after drinking a forbidden supernatural liquor called gandapāna, which Sakra (known in Hinduism as Indra), leader of the heavens, warned them not to imbibe.

st ides gandapana asura's wrath buddhist legendary alcohol

The closest human approximation to Gandapana.

This angered Sakra so much that once the Asuras passed out from their bender, he gathered them up and threw them off of the edge of Trayastrimsa (which you will recall is the highest point in the world). Upon waking at the foot of Mt Sumeru, the Asuras realised their sudden eviction and vowed revenge. Thus the Asuras took up arms and began their war with the Devas that would last thousands of years.

Exhibit 2 – Our Hero Asura Asura's Wrath, Ashura, Buddhist Art, Cyberconnect2, Capcom, Kofuku-ji, lacquer statue In Buddhism, ‘Asura’ (阿修羅) does not denote a specific god, it’s the name of a race of warlike beings that embody wrath, pride and a thirst for power. Asuras first appeared in the ancient Indian epic The Rigveda which lead to their incorporation into Hinduism and later Buddhism. Asuras are often called the Asian god of war (which is what this game is often referred to as haha), but that’s something of a misnomer. Asuras epitomize the warlike state of mind, but they are not patron gods of war. It’s important to note that Asuras are not necessarily evil, they just tend to care about material gain over spiritual gain. Just like people, they have a capacity for good or evil and everything in between. Although they’re more powerful than humans, it’s considered unfortunate to be reborn as an Asura as they live in constant strife.

Exhibit 2.1 – Six Arms: asura's wrath, Ashura, statue, Buddhist art, lacquer, 阿修羅, Capcom, CyberConnect2  Asuras are almost always classically depicted as young men with 6 arms and 3 faces (never any more). asura's wrath, Ashura, statue, Buddhist art, lacquer, 阿修羅, Capcom, CyberConnect2  In Asura’s Wrath, our hero starts with a regular number of limbs, but sprouts extra arms when his anger reaches a boiling point.  Extra heads and appendages are common in Buddhist and Hindu art and have great symbolic value.  Multiple faces represent heightened consciousness (the ability to see in multiple directions at once) and multiple arms represent heightened power and reach. asura's wrath, Ashura, statue, Buddhist art, lacquer, 阿修羅, Kinkeshi, キン消し, Kinnikuman, M.U.S.C.L.E., In general, more appendages denote more power.  Asuras are fairly low ranking in the cosmic scheme so they’re never depicted with more than 3 pairs of arms.  In comparison, Kannon (観音) the goddess of mercy is often depicted with 1000 arms (symbolic of her ability to reach out and relieve the suffering of any living thing in the universe).

1000 armed kannon Buddhist art Asura's Wrath

More arms mean more power.

Exhibit 2.2 – Orange complexion
Long before the first member of Jersey Shore or ganguro donned the first spray tan, Asuras have been sporting a healthy orange glow. The most famous example of this is the Asura at Kofuku-ji temple in Nara, Japan’s first capital. Like the Kofuku-ji Asura, our protagonist has orange skin.

asura's wrath, hero has orange skin just like the kofuku-ji Buddhist temple Ashura lacquer statue
Left to Right: The original Kofuku-ji Asura, our hero, a modern recreation of the Kofuku-ji Asura.  Notice that Asura’s skin color is almost identical to the original faded statue (more on this ahead).

The designers of Asura’s Wrath take many cues from the Kofuku-ji Asura. How do I figure? It’s easily the most famous depiction of an Asura in art history; it’s a protected national treasure of Japan; plus they totally used its silhouette for the production company’s logo.

asuras wrath Ashura Buddhist art Kohfuku-ji temple lacquer statue

Exhibit 2.3 – Manga Face and Dragonball Hair
Although Asura sports a very modern manga face that looks like Guts (from Berserk) gone Super Saiyan, this isn’t really anachronistic as Asuras are typically depicted as handsome young men. Besides, spikey glowing Super Saiyan hair has long been a characteristic of Buddhist Deities.

asura's wrath Buddhist statue Ashura dragonball z super saiyan spiky hair

In her fantastic book, Reading Buddhist Art, Meher McArthur describes Asuras as “wrathful beings with wild spiky hair.” It's worth noting that in Dragonball, in order for a character to go 'Super Saiyan' they must first experience a state of supreme rage.

Exhibit 2.4 – Laquer Skin
The characters in Asura’s Wrath have a unique look fashioned after Buddhist statuary. As they take damage, their skin begins to peel away in layers like a lacquer statue.  The amount of thought, research and effort that went into conveying this process makes me smile from ear to ear.

When Asura’s at full capacity, he has the beautiful clean sheen of a gilt (gold covered) lacquer statue. art eater asura's wrath Ashura gilt lacquer buddhist statue Shippaku 漆箔

As he takes damage the gold chips away in a manner that recalls gold leaf (which is often ritually affixed to statues in Buddhist traditions around the world).
art-eater, Asura's Wrath, faded gold leaf on Buddhist Ashura statue

When Asura is seriously wounded, he cracks and peels just like a real centuries old Buddhist statue that has endured the test of time.

art-eater, asura's wrath, Kohfukuji Ashura hollow dry lacquer buddhist statue wear down god of war

脱活乾漆

A master artist hollowing out the clay from a Dakkatsu Kanshitsu (Hollow Dry Lacquer) statue

It’s a very cool way to imbue the characters with a sense of mythology and high technology, making them feel like Buddhist cyborgs.  It’s simply awesome.

art-eater, asura's wrath hollow dry lacquer buddhist statue For more information on Buddhist lacquer sculptures, here’s a fantastic video that gives an in depth look at the creation of a traditional Japanese Buddhist lacquer statue:

Exhibit 3 – Flaming Auras, Halos and Mandorlas

asura's wrath halo aura mandorla areole

Augus (Asura’s mentor, to the right) sports a plain and regal style of halo that was popular during the Kamakura Period (1185–1333) in Japan, a time of great strife where Buddhism flourished. It compliments his weapon of choice, the Kitana, a specifically Japanese weapon that’s not traditionally used by Buddhist deities.

As the characters in Asura’s Wrath engage in battle, they emit so much power that their auras flare up like flames.  This is a staple of Japanese fighting comics, but it’s also a convention in Buddhist art that’s trickled down into both modern media and traditional religious imagery the world over.

asura's wrath buddhist art vajrapani and super saiyan goku auras halos mandorlas aureoles

left: A Tibetan painting of Vajrapani, right: Goku goes Super Saiyan

Halos have been employed in Buddhist art for thousands of years.  Typically a circular pattern around the head denotes enlightenment, while a flame pattern around the upper body or entire body denotes power.  These conventions also exist in Christian art in the form of aureoles (radiant burst of light emitted from a holy figure) and mandorlas (the shape of 2 overlapping circles named after the Italian word for “almond”–but it sounds quite a bit like “mandala” doesn’t it?).

Exhibit 4 – Super Powered Kung Fu Fighting
Asura’s Wrath draws easy comparisons to Dragonball and other Anime–and for good reason, many contemporary conventions in anime, comics and games have deep roots in Buddhism.  Buddhist and Hindu lore is full of violent clashes between super powered beings powering up and utilizing secret special moves.

art-eater, asura's wrath hindu warrior art asian dragon scroll painting art-eater Asura's Wrath

The crazy over the top fighting in Asura’s Wrath is perfectly in line with Buddhist tradition.  If that sounds strange to you just remember: BUDDHISTS INVENTED KUNG FU!

asura's wrath, art eater, buddhism, buddhists invented kung fu That’s all for today.  Join in next week as we explore the rest of the cast of Asura’s Wrath and where they fit into the Buddhist pantheon!

For more information and updates, follow me on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Art-Eater/130135027031682

And Twitter: Follow @Richmond_Lee

If you enjoyed this article, you should check out some of my other posts:

A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 2 – The Bishop’s Staff and Hungry Ghosts

Terra's Black Marker

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Cheers!

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About Richmond

I am a professional game artist who wants everyone to love art as much as I do!
This entry was posted in Art History, Asura's Wrath, Buddhism, capcom, video games. Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 1

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  4. vigrx Usa says:

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  5. Senju says:

    Wonderful article. You misspelled “katana” referring to the character Augus’ weapon.

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  7. LucaZ says:

    Adorei , voçe explica detalhadamente como acontece tudo , a historia , tema de ANIME *¬* voçe tem meu respeito T-T , eu não tenho o jogo , mais vi video e adorei , a historia é perfeita , eu até estou fazendo um personagem no jogo de tabuleiro D&D (rpg) seguir a divinidade (Asura) OBRIGADOOOOOOOO

  8. Pingback: An ASURA’S WRATH non-review. | Blog of the North Star

  9. nivram says:

    OMG, i was looking for more substance for this great game. can’t get enough of asura’s wrath. thank you soo much very much enlightened now. lol

  10. MagPagan says:

    i had a dream about skyrim so I went out and bought a ps3 and the game to see how it would end. Played it for a bit and then started having dreams where I was in the game playing killing and living dead in under ground bases all the time on and on over and over again all the same shit. After a few nights of this decided to stop playing video games and sold my ps3 and game. I don’t need to know how it ends now. Its how you play the game with ethics trying to help others, Even if they are only characters. But some players didn’t use ethics and they finished all the story-lines and nothing happens they go buy another game and play that through to the end.

    • reader says:

      Ok just read your post and it bugs me, sorry.
      1) What does you having dreams about Skyrim, buying it getting bored and selling it has to do with this article or game?
      2) There isn’t really anyway to apply personal ethics or appropriately thought of ones to this game, it is a linear action game where you don’t have the freedom to choose your own ways of dealing with what happens.
      3) You don’t help anybody by playing a video game with ethics in anyways because the characters ARE NOT REAL. i get that it adds to the depth of the game if you can play it as if it WERE real but everyone is different and some people don’t care to.
      4) after you finish reading a book do you stop reading books? after you you watch a movie do you stop watching them? no. and that is why people continue to buy video games.

  11. Pingback: Guestblog: David Brothers on Asura’s Wrath and “Cultural Tourism” | Project: Ballad

  12. Pingback: GamezGeneration | GzG presents “M&M Weekly” #004 – Lieblingscharaktere

  13. Hey there, You’ve done a fantastic job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally recommend to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this site.

  14. Devin says:

    @TheTonyNostra жанр Хэви Рейн, интерактивное кино а жанр Асура Среф слэшер . Хэви Рейн оправдало свое название, а Асура как я понял нет. 0Was this answer heulfpl?

  15. Erik says:

    Thank you for the article. It’s interesting how small details we normally ignore (at least I do -_-) have such meaning and importance. I recently finished playing Asura’s Wrath and for some reason I feel somewhat confused.
    I mean, the game is incredibly EPIC, shocking graphics, innovative gameplay and a wonderful, tearful story (reason why Capcom for me far surpasses many other game brands ^^). But what got me so confused was the kind of message that the game is trying to give to it’s players. I want to try to explain it in words but I just can’t find how…ugh makes me feel so stupid :(
    What I want to ask is that, is there some kind of connection between the cultures used for the making of this game and the message the game is trying to imply?
    If not, can someone please help me understand?

    • Psyborg says:

      With the aid of magic mushrooms, ” I ” was able to scan some valuable and very deep messages in the game..
      But it started with a trip that was going a bit wrong:
      I was exploading in rage.. because I faced a person (from my family) who did something terrible a few days ago, and I just couldn’t forgive that person back then. As soon as I saw him (already high), the Anger started to take control over my mind, even though i tried to ignore my problem with that person so I can enjoy the psychedelic trip. But it was just impossible to control the Anger…
      it was so strong, that even all my inner organs felt really uncomfortable… it felt like it destroyed me from inside.. After an hour of suffering, i thought of
      Asura’s Wrath, and compared myself with Asura. I then realised what this “demon”-form stands for, which Asura transforms into when the girl gets killed by Olga’s fleet.
      If you noticed, Viltra also appears in this “demon”-form and looks exactly the same as Asura did. As Yasha said: “It looks like you when it gets angry”.
      While I finally got distracted from the anger, i took a shower (still high) and started to think of the “Words of Wisdom”-episode, where Augus tells Asura to >enjoy every moment< and the other at first confusing, but wise words:
      " I am you, You are me ". Suddenly I realised that i was again completely illusioned by the ego, and that every person is exactly the same.
      As soon as understood the words " I am you and you are me",
      i got enlightened. A truly divine state of mind, that made me feel like a god… completely purified.. and my trip continued with the most amazing 3hours of my Life..

      • Psyborg says:

        sorry.. it’s very hard to describe such an experience

        • Erik says:

          o_o lol interesting story, although I’m still confused. I mean, I understand there is a certain kinship between Asura and his master since both enjoy fighting. The problem is understanding what makes Asura different from Augus. I mean, what do you call the feeling of wanting to protect someone important to you? To protect someone, must we use violence to do so? What is the difference between Asura consumed by anger and Asura when going against Vlitra? (what could be the opposite of anger but equally related to the use of violence?)
          That is what I just can’t figure out :/ (thanks to your story I was able to figure out a way to write it)

          As for the will of the planet and the purpose of the spider those will probably be answered in the sequel of the game.

          • Psyborg says:

            Well.. as it’s written in this guide:
            ” ‘Asura’ does not denote a specific god, it’s the name of a race of warlike beings that embody wrath, pride and a thirst for power. Asuras epitomize the warlike state of mind, but they are not patron gods of war. It’s important to note that Asuras are not necessarily evil, they just tend to care about material gain over spiritual gain. ”
            So Asuras are just like humans because they also have this..feeling of wanting to protect somebody/something, which we call ‘love’, but that’s actually just… how should I say…
            something like “beeing materialistic”…
            That’s why asuras only have a maximum of 6 arms..
            Unfortunately I coulnd’t figure out what Viltra/The will of the planet exactly stands for, could be many things…
            And yeah what the golden spider stands for will be revealed in the episodes 19-22

            • Ikro says:

              OMG drug make people really dumb … If the most amazing 3 hours of your life come from drugs then your “true” life must be eally pathetic

      • Ikro says:

        “Suddenly I realised that i was again completely illusioned by the ego, and that every person is exactly the same” … What a loser state of mind. There’s a freaking huge difference between a wolf and a sheep, between a winner and a loser. It seems your a sheep but don’t be scared 98% of the human population are sheeps. You’re not alone in your mediocrity.

  16. Pingback: A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 3 – Weapons – The Vajra | Art-Eater

  17. Ezequiel says:

    Great article, the game sounds awesome. Just one thing:

    Buddhists did not invent kung fu or martial arts. There’s evidence of fighting styles from China which pre date the introduction of physical cultivation to the Shaolin temple (and in consequence Shaolin Kung Fu).

    That said, just read part II and loved it. Keep up the good work!

    • Dang says:

      I think he was trying to say buddhist intived Shaolin Kung Fu and other martial arts that branched off Shaolin

  18. DeepSleepr says:

    Amazing and enlightening article! My friend was very interested with the concept of Asura’s Wrath, incorporating Buddhism, Hinduism, and of course anime elements, and this will definitely help my friend! My friend kept asking me about myth of Asura, six arms, and engulfed flame etc because I lived at S. Korea and studied Asian mythology and philosophy, but this article have facts that even I would’ve never mentioned.

    Cheers to you!~

  19. Pingback: A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 2 – Weapons – The Bishop’s Staff and Hungry Ghosts | Art-Eater

  20. chris says:

    Where’s part 2 I enjoyed this one? I had no idea the influences of buddhism on Japanese anime

  21. Daranikor says:

    The building in the second picture seem like Ankor Wat also his name Asura like Cambodia Asura angle .

    • Richmond says:

      Yes! I think the developers must have looked at Ankor Wat for inspiration. I dream of visiting Ankor Wat myself one day. I wrote a school report about Ankor Wat when I was in 6th grade and I’ve wanted to go there ever since.

  22. bob says:

    another awesome entry

  23. Warren says:

    this article was awsome. thanks

  24. Woptacrometer says:

    This is a fascinating article- I have found Asura’s Wrath to be visually appealing,
    particularly to my tastes, from the earliest images, and it is nice to see some of the mythical background to this explained.

    You are very knowledgeable about depictions of Buddhist concepts in art, so I was
    wondering if you could help with something that has puzzled me for a while: Do you know the name and significance of the floating ribbon/material that surrounds many Buddhist figures, e.g:

    http://www.noe-v.com/images/articles/nio_gouki02.jpg

    I have seen it in depictions of nio, and a number of other places. Does it have the same
    function as a halo, or a distinct meaning? I would be very grateful if you could provide me with any information on this.

  25. Zaki says:

    Oh wow, thanks for replying!!

    I should’ve added earlier that yes, Buddhists invented kung-fu.

    But more than anything, it’s the INDIANS that first founded both Buddhism and martial arts, as well as invented the number 0. You should check out the recent Tamil sci-fi movie called 7am Arivu which is about the founder of Kung-Fu, the Bodhidharma.

    Back to Zoroastrianism, why is there such a flip-side? Why is the Devas considered evil in that religion, and vice-versa on the Hindu side? Same goes to the Ahura or Asuras.

    So far, I came across the only explanation why this happens on this website:
    http://19000years.blogspot.com/2009/10/zoroasters-conflict-with-indian-gods.html

    There are hints of conflicts between the Persians & the Indians that actually happened before the events of the Mahabharata. That the Deva-Asura wars, known as the Devasur Sangram, may actually be a real event.

    The Deva-Asura conflicts also rumored to inspire other mythologies like the Titan-Olympian wars in Greek myths, the Aesir(huh, sounds familiar ;) )-Vanir wars in Norse myth, and also, quite possibly, the war between Angels & Devils (?) in Abrahamic holy books ala Paradise Lost. Notice the pattern?

    Hope you can address this issue next the post.

    • Richmond says:

      Thanks for the info! It seems that most of the major religions in the world (“Eastern” and “Western”) can trace their roots back to India. I’m covering that in the next post (which I’ve been writing all week!–thanks for your patience!).

  26. Lateef says:

    Awesome. You already know how much I enjoyed reading this. I’m so glad that other people are learning as well! Good work!

  27. Zaki says:

    What about Zoroastrianism? That religion sorta flip moral alignments with the Devas (Daevas) being the bad guy while Asura (Ahura Mazda) being the good guy.

  28. Chaodhack Tom says:

    Please, post the part 2 soon !! This one was pure gold and teached me a lot… I really hope the next will feed even more my thirst for knowledge !!

    • Richmond says:

      Merci beaucoup! Part two should be done next week. In the meantime please check out my other posts and let me know what you think. Stay thirsty my friend!

    • Jordana says:

      afglionheart@liam110885 i like u guys realy.. unlike many muismls christians n jews buddhists etc u guys think n not just following ur parents blindly wich is very good..but the sad part is that u think all religions r the same n not very often u give a chance to muismls to explain islam. i think its not fair what many people do they hear only form one side specially media 24/7 talking against islam n muismls..we should at least hear from both sides n then we could judge

  29. Oğuz says:

    This reminds me Muramasa especially last bosses. But also makes me understand the background of this particular character. But it’s so obvious you must figure it out already :)

    http://www.fightersgeneration.com/characters3/shenwoo-burst.gif
    http://www.fightersgeneration.com/characters3/shenwoo-break.gif

  30. WEIGY says:

    Very glad to see your article reach the masses. I can’t wait to see more people learning more about the roots and influences of Buddhist art that has long been in various visual industries but never really recognized nor understood.

    Again, was a pleasure to provide the cover to such a great article.

    • Richmond says:

      Yeah, exciting times bro! Both Capcom and CyberConnect2 posted this article on their website and Facebook, I’m so super stoked! Thanks for providing such an awesome illustration on such short notice too!

      Note to readers: Weigy drew the intro illustration to this article. He banged it out in like two hours! If you like my writing (or the stuff I write about) you’ll love his art:
      http://blog.weigy.com/

  31. Kevin says:

    Very interesting, thanks

  32. Jose M says:

    well written article! can’t wait for the next entry and the game’s release

  33. Pingback: Asura’s Wrath’s Roots Are Deeper Than You Might Think « Fan Art « Vanilla Citrus

  34. Stepfan says:

    This seems like the old “Capcom.” The Capcom that cared about their product and not out to make a quick buck cough cough Street Fighter 4 and cough cough again Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition. Very informative article. I’m downloading the demo as we speak. Should be a cult hit like God Hand was.

  35. Karasu says:

    I enjoyed your article so much that it made me re-download the demo and play through it again, with more of an eye for the details of the design, and I’ve got to say that my opinion is turning about this game! Thanks for writing this and inspiring me to delve a little deeper!

    I noticed a few things here and there that I thought were worth noting– when you’re giving a QTE button prompt, when you succeed at it, the button icon is ringed by a chakra pattern. To my eye, shape-wise it appears to be the Vishuddha or throat chakra, which is associated with purification, but try as I might, I couldn’t make it out for sure, and the color appears to change depending on your level of success (good, great, excellent). Prior to reading your article, I had assumed it was just a convenient motif, but given the attention to detail elsewhere, I’m not so sure anymore! Anyway, I thought the idea at least was pretty interesting.

    • Richmond says:

      Hehe I’m glad I could convince you to take another look at the game. Great catch on the Chakras! I totally missed that! I’ll have to incorporate that into the next post. Thanks!

  36. GPA says:

    Awesome article! Definitely looking forward to next week’s! Now if only the game wasn’t as bad as I heard…(still going to buy it though, most likely)

    • Richmond says:

      Thanks GPA! I personally had fun with the Asura’s Wrath demo. Was it mostly QTEs? Yup! But, did I have fun? HELL YEAH.

      BTW are you the author of Gremlin World? If so, bravo! Great comic!

  37. Toxico says:

    Cool as usual, also referencing the Ashura Buster gains immediate approval from me.

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