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Fire, Greed and Buddhism: so I have more Aang thoughts 

So I’ve been reading “The Buddha’s Way to Human Liberation” by Nalin Swaris and it’s really helping me understand Buddhism better in the context of social justice, and it’s also helped me love and appreciate Aang even more than I thought possible. I talked in my Aang meta about how he’s a Buddhist figure, and that the principles of the Air Nomads are those of Buddhism. In Swaris’ book, he talks about Brahmin fire-sacrifices in the Buddha’s time as ceremonies that venerated excessive consumption while also using religion to justify an unjust social order.

"The greed of the fire-priests, particularly for gold, was inflamed as new sources of wealth became available. Again and the again the Brahmin rituals eulogize the gift of golf, declaring "Gold is immortality. The greed of the fire-priests was personified in the greedy fire-god Agni" - (Swaris, 104)

The Brahmin fire-priests orchestrated lavish sacrifices and were compensated in gold and other luxuries. They preached a doctrine of hierarchy and caste whereby the unequal distribution of wealth was not only justified, but venerated as divine law. The Buddha interceded in these discourses by pointing out the wasteful greed of the rich and urging people to reject doctrines that justified suffering in the name of a god. The origin of Fire Sacrifice is described in the Mahabharatha:

"Krishna and Arjuna were seated in a secluded spot on the banks of the Yamuna, when the Agni the fire-god appeared before them in the form of a Brahmin. Agni demanded ‘Give me food!’. The heroes inquired how they could satisfy this divine hunger. The fire-god pointed to the Khandava forest and told them: ‘I would like to eat this forest’. Arjuna and Krishna mounted their war chariots, and raced around the forest, setting fire to it in a wide circle…As the forest burned, animals and humans rushed helter-skelter, screaming in panic. Some died calmly, without fleeing, unwilling to leave their children behind; others wailed, as the forest rivers began to boil and the burning verdure roasted the fish and tortoises. Birds began to fly to safety…The noise of the burning forest was like the divine churning of the ocean…The flight continued - wolves, bears, bruised elephants, lions, deer, buffalo and hundreds of birds...Agni burned the forest for a full fortnight…and feasted happily on rivers of blood and marrow” (Swaris 105)

Now look at these screenshots of Ozai burning the Earth Kingdom:



When i read that passage i IMMEDIATELY thought of these scenes from Sozin’s Comet; I mean the likeness is uncanny, and ofcourse you have Ozai himself, who’s determined to consume the whole world in his insatiable quest for power:


Aang’s intercession here, his role as the Avatar, and his ethics of peace and justice, symbolize the Buddha’s attempt to intervene in an unjust society where injustice was sacralized by the Brahmins. He preached that humanity would only know peace if the greed of the wealthy and the powerful was extinguished.

"In Sri Lanka, as it was in the Buddha’s day, hungry children beg on the streets for a morsel of food to still their hunger, pleading 'Aney, pin sindhu venna, mokak hari denna bada ginna nivanna’. - ‘Have pity and to gain merit, give something to put out the fire in the stomach' Ginna is dervied from ‘agni’; ‘nivanna' - to 'put out' has the same meaning as the Goal of the Buddha's Way: Nibbana, extinction of the Fire of Craving. 'The World is Ablaze! All the senses are Ablaze! Ablaze with the Fire of Craving (Tanha)!' the Buddha declared in his Fire Sermon. For those millions the world over, who daily suffer the pangs of hunger, the agni (fire) in the stomach can be put out only if the tanha (greed) of those who have much and want ever more is extinguished.” (Swaris 109 -110)

Aang as the Avatar restores balance by stripping Ozai of his firebending and by transforming the meaning of Fire from ‘violence’ to ‘life and energy’ (along with Zuko and the Dragons), just as the Buddha argued for a balance of our sensory consumption and the rejection of greed so that everyone can have enough to sustain themselves.


By invoking one of the most legendary scenes of fire-sacrifice in Asian religious mythology (the fire-sacrifice also symbolized the ritual ethnic-cleansing of forest dwelling adivasi people by the wealthy monarchs), AtLA establishes itself as a parable of Buddhist dhamma in Aang’s character, who understand the enormous responsibility of power and refuses to exploit it, who like the Buddha, insisted on breaking from the path of violence and greed in order to restore balance. The Buddha sought a balance of human society where the rich did not exploit and consume the poor, just as Aang the Avatar seeks to restore balance to the Four Nations by removing the tyranny of Fire.

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