Last night I watched a video about Kiyoshi and the creation of the Dai Li and made a rambling post about the parallels to twentieth-century Chinese history. Tonight I look at Yangchen and Mahayana Buddhism.
It’s fairly obvious that the Air Nomads live a Buddhist (or as close as you can get to Buddhist in this fantasy world) lifestyle: their clothes, their architecture, their temples, their vegetarianism, so on. I saw another post with the above screenshot relating Yangchen to Jesus, and while this can definitely be argued as parallel as well (and this leads into another discussion of similarities in religion that I would love to have but will spare you tonight) I would like to say that this is, also, the wisdom of a bodhisattva.
A bodhisattva can be defined in two ways: either as one merely on the path to Buddhahood, or, in Mahayana Buddhism, one who has achieved enlightenment and returned to Samsara, the human world of suffering, to share their wisdom among those who have yet to achieve the desired enlightenment. An important notion that Mahayana Buddhism sects stress is that of the wisdom and compassion of a bodhisattva. They are essential.
We saw the Guru instruct Aang in the importance of letting go of earthly attachment. This is a core tenet of any kind of Buddhism. Mahayana also warns of the danger of becoming too attached to the idea of letting go of attachment, so the way to handle this is to remain in the human world with compassion for others. In order to break attachment to Nirvana, one must let go and identify with suffering beings in the world.
Yangchen’s advice to Aang is a little more moral and direct, but the basis is the same: to be enlightened, one must be compassionate; to be compassionate, one must understand the sufferings of the human world by living among it. This is why the Avatar is born as a human.
(But though I think the Avatar is supposed to be more like a bodhisattva, I do see the Jesus parallel. I love theology so much and the Christian-Buddhism relationship is something I would really love to study and discuss further. But I digress.)