Master Banana or the way of the Haha Buddha

- through Henry Oudin

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Portrait of an unclassifiable draftsman and “undisciplined disciple” of Zen Soto.

Pont-sur-Yonne, a gray and rainy Thursday in April. A bad gag to start my meeting with a master of laughter. Christian “Kokon” Gaudin, alias Maître Banane, welcomes me to his stronghold in Pontois, an old millstone building that once belonged to a notary. Inside, a mini winter garden and an altar adorned with Buddha statues. It is in the office of the public official that the draftsman installed his pencils and his brushes. In bulk. Three zafus, an electric guitar, walls covered with comic book covers and fanzines, Freak Brothers galore, shaggy reels and vibrant colors for a flashback to the psychedelic years, a drawing of a cat and a portrait of Dôgen... A joyful mess that testifies to a multitude of lives, lived with your feet to the floor, your nose on the boards, and of the agitated mental past of an artist who, for several years, has been cleaning up. By spirituality, not the broom.

An underground designer who is looking for himself

It all starts for him with the world of humorous and satirical comics. A fan of cartoons, comix (American underground comics) and not very zen fanzines such as Hara-Kiri, the architecture student dropped out of his studies for Decorative Arts and became in turn a graphic designer, illustrator and then comic book publisher. The man teases transgression; in 1989, he bought with partners the Humanoids Associates (specialized in science fiction and parallel universes) then launched his own publishing house, La Sirène. Maître Banane then publishes the great masters of comics, the Moebius, Druillet, Manara, Jodorowsky etc., gradually creating a corrosive work. His favorite subjects? Sex and Cannabis. A follower of ecology, counter-culture and, in a way, herbal medicine, he campaigned for the legalization of marijuana in the 90s. the apocryphal boards, its bubbles of air.

From Freak Brothers to Zen Cats

At the age of forty, Christian Gaudin discovered Zen Soto Buddhism thanks to a friend. Through him, he met master Roland Yuno Rech, disciple of Taïsen Deshimaru, another crush. Something challenges him in this spirituality which tries neither to impose nor to convince. “I pay great attention to all forms of conditioning, to manifestations that come under magical thought, even if, like many people, I have a need for the marvellous. However, in Buddhism, I was quickly reassured, in particular by this episode of the life of Bodhidharma, who, questioned by the emperor of China “What is the fundamental truth of Buddhism? “, answers him:” An unfathomable emptiness and nothing sacred. » Christian becomes « Kokon » (Root of Awakening), name given by Roland Yuno Rech when he takes his vows of Bodhisattva. The awakening will be spiritual and professional for him: the novice takes out his brushes at the same time. Thus begins the saga of Zen cats. under his pen, felines devote themselves to meditation, Kama Sutra, but also Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Tao, Yoga, and decipher the precepts of Buddhism under their pads. "The cat had two advantages", he explains: "Not only has its perception changed since the end of the Second World War, since it has gone from being an evil, cruel animal, even in the cartoons of Tom & Jerry, to a transactional and cute little animal, which allows for loving and wordless communication, but also because it can be simple to draw. But I needed to loosen up a bit; with seven-eight different positions, you can tell everything! ".

“If my drawings are sometimes impertinent, they are rooted in practice. I translate the teachings of Buddhism with my own words and my humorous touch, in no case by diverting them! »

In his sangha or during retreats at La Gendronnière (1), we look favorably on these hilarious tomcats that illustrate the way of the Buddha. A little irreverence for banana smiles. At the time of the controversy over the caricatures of prophets, did the cartoonist regret certain drawings? " Never ! Unlike Japan (2), where the practice is strict and austere and the forms polished over the centuries, in France, we enjoy more freedom. If my drawings are sometimes impertinent, they are rooted in practice”, says the one who considers himself, sitting on his three zafu, as the “louse of Zen”, but who does zazen twenty minutes a day. “I translate the teachings of Buddhism with my own words and my humorous touch, in no case by diverting them! “, he justifies himself.

When Darth Vader and Yoda do zazen!

Preaching without preaching, by decoding the "metalanguage of Buddhism", such is the credo of this artist out of box. For the past few years, he has been running a Zen stand at Japan Expo, the meeting place for fans of manga and Japanese, pop and traditional culture. His idea ? "Regenerating the Buddhist aesthetic" by addressing the younger generations with their own language. Thus, on this Butsu Zen Zone, it is possible to come across geeks in zazen disguised as Darth Vader, Yoda or Pikachu. Zen trend kawaii (3), with a lot of self-mockery. Another example: “During the Japan Expo Sud in Marseille, we did zazen in the TGV. So we broke the world speed record for sitting meditation! (laugh), before offering meditation sessions in the bar car. In one of his last works, Zen Tweets, his character Shakyamini Booba, an urban Buddha who speaks Verlan, translates "Zen teaching into the slang of the youth of our suburbs, moving, flowery and multicultural". And to add: “My job is to tell stories, so it is my responsibility to use the right tools to convey the message of the Buddha. Humor is one. »

He who presents himself as "an undisciplined disciple" becomes more serious when he evokes the answers that Buddhism can bring to current issues, to this society "mercantile and cut off from nature": "There are obvious solutions in the field of ecology, but in my eyes, the most important thing concerns self-knowledge, this ability to work on his own fears to make the world a better place. This management of suffering is one of the great teachings of the Buddha: you cannot avoid suffering, but you can go through samsara more easily if accepted. As the Awakened said, if you don't want to suffer, you mustn't love. » Love for others and humor, the diet of Master Banane

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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