[holiday special] How to teach your kids to help others and happiness? A requiem to Buddhism through a simple Nintendo video game.
How this video game taught me the principles to which I owe mindset and success… without realizing it, and how I will definitely make my kids play this game for that very reason.
In this blog post, we will be looking at how Nintendo has hidden one of the most important Buddhist principles in the most powerful weapon the Nintendo company has given in-game to its most valuable users… and how this influenced me so much in my life and career — even though at the first glimpse I didn’t really like that game.
The in-game context and story
The fierce deity’s mask is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the Zelda universe. But it is also the most enigmatic. Maybe the biggest lesson, the message of the Zelda series is hidden behind the meaning of its most powerful weapon.
When you are a player of Zelda, you know that weapons like a light arrow, the bow of light, the master sword, and others are used to repeal evil. That is what kids do in Zelda: kill monsters, repeal evil. However and surprisingly enough, the Mask of Fierce Deity seems to embrace evil, transforming Link into a towering, warrior… with the required power to save the world.
In the game, Link has 3 days in to save the world — the plains of Termina — Majora’s Mask uses Skullkid like a puppet, and its power tears the moon from the sky, to crash on Termina, and the world come to an end. That is unless Link uses the sound of time to reset these 3 days, beginning again on the dawn of the first day, 3 days away from the apocalypse.
Using this time loop, Link is able to rescue the 4 giants from the 4 corners of Termina, and these great giants are able to stop the moon's descent, catching it before it crashes. But the intervention of the giants is not enough, Majora shed itself of Skullkid and forces the moon downwards. With no other options, Link enters the moon to face the end of the world alone.
Inside the moon is a weird place. In contrast to the cataclysm appearing in the outside world, Link finds himself with a central tree, on a hill. Around this tree, 4 children play; each child wearing one of the 4 masks of the game’s bosses, and a fifth child sits alone, wearing Majora’s mask. Talking to the child under the tree will initiate the final showdown against Majora; which takes place in a psychedelic chamber. But if Link first hands in all the other masks in the game, specifically the main 3 transformations masks (Goron, Zora, Kokiri), the 5th child will present him the most powerful mask in the game: the Fierce Deity’s Mask. But what is it?
In a 2015 interview with Gameinformer, game producer Eiji Aonuma explains some details about Majora’s Mask. Regarding the transformation’s masks, he explains that they were created to contain the memories of people who have died.
This makes sense with what we see in the game… The masks materialize after the death of Miko the Zora and Damani, the Gon’s chief.
But Eiji Aonuma also goes on to discuss the Fierce Deity’s Mask…
So in the same way that the Goron’s mask conserves Damani’s memories, the Fierce Deity’s Mask conserves the memories of all the dead people of Termina. This is confirmed by a gossip stone (below) and also by the fact that to obtain the Fierce Deity’s Mask, at the very end of the game, Link needs to first hand over all the other masks he collected to the fifth child in the moon.
During all the game, many masks are being given to Link as rewards after an act of kindness, for helping other people of Termina.
The Happy Mask salesman describes the masks as being filled with happiness, and most of the dialogues with the characters of the game that deliver masks references happiness, and how helping others and doing the right thing make everybody happy.
The Happy Mask salesman will comment on each mask that Link shows him supporting this idea. For example, for the Bomb mask (Photo), he comments that the mask is filled with feelings of gratitude.
So in a way, Link’s masks collection represents the fruits of his labor, they are filled with happiness, memories and it shows just how many people he helped during his journey on Termina and how far he has gone to heal the people in this realm.
The power of the Fierce Deity
So now that the context is clear, what is the Fierce Deity’s mask, what is the connection with Buddhism, and why is the process of healing the people of Termina result in Link becoming a dangerous, powerful warrior god?
In the Japanese version of the game, the child who gives Link the fierce deity’s mask firsts asks if he wants to play “tag”.In Japan, “Tag” is known as “Onigokko”, meaning “pretending to be an ONI”.
“ONI” being demons in Japanese folklore, one player being the ONI and the other players running away from them.
In the Japanese version of the game, the Fierce Deity’s mask is called the “Kishin Mask”, literally translating to “ONI GOD”
But “Kishin” are more than just monsters… “Kishin” is the term used to refer to Buddhism’s wrathful, fierce deities, which are forms taken by enlightened Buddhists to protect or help vulnerable sentient beings.
Fierce Deities are terrifying powerful beings who use their strengths to destroy obstacles to enlightenment. They are formidable because they represent the indomitable energy of compassion that destroys anything preventing from wisdom and liberation.
Now looking back at these 5 kids playing under the tree… In Japanese Buddhism, 5 fierce deities, known as the Wisdom Kings, make up the 3rd layer of the Pantheon.
Wisdom Kings are the emanations of the Buddhist, and 4 of the watch over the 4 directions, North South East West, the 5th, chief among them, is “Fudō Myō-ō”, the warrior god who wields a sword referred throughout Japan.
Fudō Myō-ō is a deliberately frightening figure, he carries a sword in his right hand to cut through ignorance and temptation and a rope in his left hand to reign in evil. He is believed to protect Buddhism and its followers.
Fudō Myō-ō and the wrathful deities in general obviously inspired LINK’s Fierce Deity in some ways. LINK can take on a powerful, god-like, form which while dangerous and terrifying, ultimately fights against evil.
The other 4 Wisdom Kings, warning every cardinal direction also likely inspired Majora’s Mask 4 giants. 4 powerful gods who protect each corner of Termina. The 4 giants were sealed inside each of the masks of the game 4 bosses, most likely by Skullkid and Majora’s Mask; and when they are set free, they appear gigantic powerful humanoids.
But if the Fierce Deity’s Mask contains the spirit of what is essentially the 5th giant, a wrathful terrifying god who destroys evil, then why does it look like LINK?
The in-game representation of Samsara and Nirvana
Buddhism revolves around the central idea of SAMSARA, the eternal cycle of incarnation, with no beginning and no end, everyone is eternally reincarnated into different material bodies based on their karmas. So the body into which each one is reincarnated is the result of their actions in the previous life.
Escaping this cycle is known as NIRVANA, where one becomes enlightened, quenching the fires of greed, hate, and delusion.
In Majora’s Mask, LINK literally escapes an endless time-loop. Playing the Song of Time and repeating the same three days over and over if necessary because without it, the moon will fall and the world will end.
By saving the people of Termina and freeing the 4 giants, LINK escapes this cycle — Thematically achieving Nirvana, his enlightenment.
With this in mind, it is possible that the strange events inside the moon aren’t real. They are instead representative of Link’s enlightenment.
The 4 children playing wear the masks of Goht, Odolwa, Gyord, and Twinmold, the 4 bosses of the game — the 4 cardinal wrathful gods — while the 5th wears Majora’s Mask. But all of them strangely resemble the happy mask salesman.
LINK’s first task, after arriving in Termina is given to him by this character — return the stolen Majora’s Mask, and here, in a dream-like field, LINK hands in his mask to beings resembling this Salesman, though in the form of children like LINK himself.
By handing in the happy masks he collected throughout his adventure, LINK achieves a sort of enlightenment — he has escaped the endless cycle of the same 3 days and has brought happiness and peace to the people of Termina, This parallels the story of the first historical Buddha, who achieved enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi Tree, though isn’t the result of something as simple as just helping others.
Buddhism’s Wrathful Deities are manifestations of enlightened Buddhas, called “Bodhisattvas” — those on the path of enlightenment… The Fierce Deity’s Mask looks like LINK because it is LINK. By healing Termina and thematically achieving enlightenment, he is able to take on the form of a wrathful god to fight evil.
Achieving Nirvana through the quests of the game, with the memories of all the people of Termina within him through the masks he acquired, LINK takes on an ultimate form to defend them with this last Fierce Deity’s Mask… he becomes a representation SUDO MYO, the 5th wrathful god himself.
Majora’s Mask is probably the largest ever played, in-game representation of Buddhism’s philosophy, with the most players understanding its meaning of Fudō Myō-ō, Samsara, Nirvana, and without actually realizing its origins. I find this incredible, and this is why after discovering all this, this 20-year-old Nintendo game is definitely my most favorite game of all time.
Helping others is a very important part of every religion, and through entrepreneurship, it is also something startup gurus talk a lot about. On my side, helping others first is the mindset that defined my humble beginnings, when I organized tech events, started my company from scratch, met many different people, and tried to always ask them “how can I help you”.
The result of these questions been often led to “not much” but sometimes led to a new real-life side quest, a new place I would get invited otherwise, receiving favors from people, getting clients, money, or even meeting very influential people I would have never imagined to reach without having to ask this question at first.
I’m born in a Christian family, which also value helping others “help your neighbor”, I have been every Wednesdays for one year to catechism when I was 6 years old, studying the bible and drawing Jesus Christ, but I have to admit that I only realized the importance of “help your neighbor” while playing this game when I was 12 years old. A pretty good output for a video game isn’t it? Hence I want to recommend everyone with kids to give this game a shot and tell me their thoughts.