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In the game Cyberpunk 2077, you can encounter a character labelled only as "Zen Master", who offers your player character the opportunity to engage in meditations with him. However, the content of the meditations he offers doesn't seem to be based off of actual Buddhism from my understanding of it, though I am not a Buddhist or an expert on Buddhist philosophy or practice. Rather, it seems much more like Western New Age philosophy.

Here's a video someone made compiling the player's interactions with him:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=In8etjG6LMQ

Does this character present an accurate representation of Buddhist philosophy and/or practice (especially Zen Buddhism, given his name), or is the portrayal as bad as I think it might be? If it is bad, is it to the point of being offensive?

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  • First time ever I saw Cyberpunk 2077 and Buddhism in the same sentence hehe. – user19910 Jan 4 at 15:45
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Buddhism does not have meditations on the Spirit of Water, Spirit of Air and Spirit of Fire.

Real Buddhist monks do not accept money for teachings.

The teachings of Cyberpunk 2077's Zen Master appear to be New Age.

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He is wearing sunglasses and a red robe. It's really funny to me.

The meditations are not buddhist (souls, gods of elements, ...). But the dialogs are similar to buddhism and what awakened people say. It makes sense to me that he is called "zen master" though I would take it as slang, not as a literal zen master.

Let's just hope this character makes people interested in buddhism or yoga or similar stuff.

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The thing that stuck out the most, for me, was the meditations talking about a "soul", as a given. Generally, "soul" tends to be roughly synonymous to something that Buddhists refer to as atman, and that they reject (via anatta/anatman, i.e. no-self). Thus, the game makes it seem like the bhikkhu accepts something that Buddhists actually do not. Had the game portrayed a more realistic image of Buddhism, the meditations would have steered you towards the realization of no-self (or no-soul, if you will), rather than ending them with a thank you to the "Spirit of the Sun with our mind, body, and soul".

I'm sure there were other peculiarities as well, but this sticks out like a sore thumb because the concept of no-self is such a central part of actual Buddhism.

I doubt many Buddhists will be offended, though, as that would imply attachment to needless externalities. Still, I'm kind of disappointed. Because the actual no-self idea has so much potential to be properly explored in a Cyberpunk setting – where people put so much emphasis on some imagined "self" even to the point of wanting "it" to be immortalized – yet it remains a missed opportunity. I had high hopes after seeing the bhikkhu in the early game footage, but here we are.

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  • I think it is just a figure of speech. Most people that play the game will have no clear idea about Buddhism. Heck I for a long time thought that Buddhism includes the believe in a soul because of a wrong understanding of rebirth. Teaching people the principle of anatta in 4 clips of only a few minutes is too much. In the end a game is just another form of art. – user19838 Jan 5 at 11:26
  • Yeah, it's not that big of a deal. Still, the figure of speech is one that conveys wrong information about Buddhism – which is unfortunate if players believe otherwise. Had the developers been better informed, they could have done one of two things: either [1] keep the missions largely as they are (ie., episodes of shallow meditation), but just don't mention "soul" at all; or [2] put some more work into a proper questline where ideas like anatta would have been properly explored in the sci-fi setting. Personally, I think the latter would have been very interesting (and perhaps still could be). – Axlite Jan 5 at 14:25
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This game plays in an alternative war-ridden future. I don't recall the Sutta mentioning it, but if I remember correctly Buddha fortold his teachings to be watered down and eventually fade away before the awakening of the next Buddha. Even in our present many of the things I have seen in Buddhist temples in Japan are mere superstition in my eyes.

I think in a world that for most people seems broken and where the majority of the population surviving by disregarding the principles laid down in the Precepts, like it is portrayed by Cyberpunk 2077, it is fair to assume that not much is left. Therefore I think the Zen Master as shown in the game is just an expression of art. At the end he just disappears like a ghost and so on. Don't take it to seriously.

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