Logic tells us that we cannot be a Superman or a Thor. For starters, as human beings, we are all mortal; also, most of you reading this article (I assume) are from Earth. So, there is that, too. However, Doctor Strange was not born with his powers. He was awoken to the world around him and shown a way to maximize the power of human potential.

The mystic arts Doctor Strange learned to use were the result of a horrible accident. That accident forced Dr. Stephen Strange to seek guidance that he may have otherwise never sought. The spiritual journey he went on was a unique one, to say the least.

Speaking of journeys, I would like to take you on a bit of journey as well. Open up your mind, if you will, to a not so ‘strange’ concept — the concept of how elements of Buddhism clearly define who Doctor Strange is, not just as a superhero, but as a man. Some may argue that Buddhism as a religion denotes any acts of aggression, even in self-defense, as wrong.

In fact, in one article I came across it is stated that “Tibetan master Shantideva advised gratitude towards abusers, stating that karma obligates Buddhists to take responsibility for their own behavior.”

“Those who hurt me are impelled by my actions…. It is I alone who harm them, and they are my benefactors. Oh wicked mind, why do you misconstrue this and become angry?” – Shantideva

DOCTOR STRANGE: BUDDHISM
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Four Sublime States

Doctor Strange’s path in the 2016 DOCTOR STRANGE film does bear a striking resemblance to The Four Sublime States one must achieve to become enlightened. Here are the Four States and how each relates to the Doctor Strange mythos (credit to the ACCESS TO INSIGHT organization):

LOVING-KINDNESS (aka Metta)

Loving-kindness meditation: the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, and imagine what you wish for your life. Formulate your desires into three or four phrases.

We see examples of ‘loving-kindness’ early on in the film when Doctor Strange is beginning his lessons; he is shown how to close his eyes to the world around him. This is essential to his learning process. Doctor Strange would ultimately be nothing without his mental advantage over every opponent he faces. As a world class surgeon, he was focused on helping his patients. As an individual, however, he was arrogant, self-serving, and only cared about the attention his fame brought him.

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Before his “awakening” Dr. Stephen Strange routinely turned down potential patients if they did not have a condition “worth his time” or something that would get him in the headlines. Dr. Stephen Strange could have been satisfied with merely regaining the use of his hands.

Instead, as Doctor Strange, he chose to become one with the world and fight alongside its protectors for the greater good. Case and point were at the end of the film when Doctor Strange chose to enter himself into a time loop using the Eye of Agamatto until Dormammu took his minions with him and left Earth realm. Doctor Strange was willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

COMPASSION (aka Karuna)

Any action taken to diminish the suffering of others is essentially “compassionate action.” Individuals experiencing enlightenment believe all beings essentially exist as one.

When Doctor Strange started training with the Ancient One, he learned the Ancient One’s longtime enemy Mordo was a significant threat to Earth’s realm as well. Because of this revelation, Doctor Strange vowed to be selfless and join in on the Ancient One’s crusade against Mordo and any evil forces that may try to harm Earth’s realm. This was the first time in a long time that Doctor Strange thought of anyone other than himself.

In the film, shortly after Doctor Strange began discovering the almost endless amount of potential his powers possessed, he was forced to defend Earth’s realm in place of the Ancient One. Kaecilus was once the star pupil; he eventually became responsible for the death of the Ancient One, thus leaving Earth’s realm without a Sorcerer Supreme. Without giving any thought to his own safety or well-being, Doctor Strange leaped into to action. He battled Kaecilus and his minions and was able to hold them off long enough to recover; eventually becoming the powerful sorcerer.

SYMPATHETIC JOY (aka Mudita)

Mudita is a feeling of Sympathetic or Vicarious joy. A pure joy, unadulterated by self-interest. It involves being happy for others as you would yourself. Being able to feel happy for the joys other people feel. This is a state completely opposite of envy or lust.

There was a point at which Doctor Strange thought Earth’s realm was sealed and completely protected from harm. When this proved to be false, he chose to become a medical consultant briefly. Those are selfless duties he once thought were beneath him. As Stephen Strange, that may have been true at one time. However, as Doctor Strange, being selfless is just a way life.

In the film, Christine Palmer had written to Doctor Strange shortly after an argument they had in which he reminded her how useless he felt without his hands. This was all before his transformation. At the time, she was trying to help Stephen Strange realize how special he was despite his handicap.

Unfortunately, he could not see the importance in those sentiments at the time. It took time, healing, and a spiritual awakening thanks to the Ancient One for Stephen Strange to finally live up to his ideal potential. Ultimately, we saw Doctor Strange do what Stephen Strange could not do: he apologized to Christine, and he let her know how much she truly meant to him.

EQUANIMITY (aka Upekkha)

Equanimity is one of the Brahma Vihara (meditative states), and is a pure mental state cultivated on the Buddhist path to Nirvāna.

When Doctor Strange completed his training and seemingly shed his ego, he focused on reimagining his own sense of self. He focused on rebuilding past relationships and strengthening his relationship with the world around him. He ultimately attained a state of total Nirvana when he was able to control his mind and keep his thoughts in tune with the world around him.

Doctor Strange’s sense of inner peace and ability to be in tune with the universe as a whole make him stronger than any amount of muscle could. With his heart and mind in constant sync with the universe, Doctor Strange is always prepared for whatever challenges are set before him. When Doctor Strange first meets the Ancient One, he experiences traveling outside of his physical realm. By doing this, he sees how vast the universe around him truly is.

LISTEN: Check out our underrated characters in comics podcast featuring DOCTOR STRANGE

He sheds his inner ego and is willing to sit outside the monastery of the Ancient One for days after being thrown out when he failed his initial test. Opening himself up to the universe, opening his mind’s eye and allowing himself to be humbled after a perceived failure — takes heart and understanding. Something Stephen Strange was not capable of before.

Doctor Strange’s Path to Enlightenment

When accepting the origin story of Doctor Strange as one that leads down a path towards enlightenment, it is easier to understand the hows and whys behind everything he does. When he meets the Ancient One, he is a self-indulgent man, concerned only with himself. Once he completes his training and becomes Doctor Strange, he is much more concerned with the world around him.

LISTEN: Check out our underrated characters in comics podcast featuring DOCTOR STRANGE

Doctor Strange achieves a sense of oneness with the universe. The teachings of the Ancient One do not discriminate; everyone must follow the same path by use of the same teachings. An essential element to the identity of Doctor Strange as an enlightened individual is his ability to put the needs of those around him before his own. He is always willing to sacrifice himself in the name of the greater good.

Final Thoughts

An argument could be made that the mere concept of a superhero has its ties linked to certain Buddhist principles. The act of ‘self-sacrifice’ without thought of monetary gain is something that all of our favorite superheroes adhere to. In Buddhism, this is also known as achieving a sense of ‘higher duality.’

The difference between Batman or Iron-Man and Doctor Strange is simple: Batman and Iron-Man had certain events in their lives lead them down a path towards redemption. They used money and resources to build suits and gadgets to help them fight for the greater good.

Doctor Strange, however,  was able to unlock the abilities we all potentially have. Those abilities within himself that only an enlightened individual following a particular path could achieve. That makes Doctor Strange a true Buddhist Superhero and one of the more extraordinarily complex characters in the history of the Marvel Universe.

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