I have watched a number of film adaptations of the Buddha’s life, and most of them disappoint to be frank, focusing mainly on the drama of his decision to go forth and ending with his Awakening, which for many of us is just where the real story begins.
This series of films from Vietnam is way out ahead of the rest, in that it intersects the Buddha’s story with that of his disciples, and the Awakening happens with the first hour, after which we move on to the Dhamma teaching and further episodes.
The films have been made by the Hoang Phap Mopnastery in Ho Chi Minh City, in cooperation with the Nghiep Thang Studios, and the only complaint I have is with the subtitles, which are very poor in places.
The first film covers the story of Sāriputra and Maudgalyayana, two young men seeking the truth in various teachers and teachings, who find what they are seeking in the Buddha and his Dhamra.
A sub story is of Kaśyapa and Bhaddā, who are a married, but celibate couple. They give away all they own, and Kaśyapa becomes a wandering ascetic.
The Bodhisatta’s own story is then covered when he is seen practising extreme austerities along with the group-of-five. He eventually realises that this is not the way, and taking solid food, first strengthens his body, before heading for the Bodhi Tree.
There he fights off Mara and his cohorts and becomes the Buddha. Afterwards he is requested by Brahma to teach for the benefit of mankind, and he joins his former companions, now at Rsipatana and gives his first teaching.
He then moves to Gaya, where he meets with Uruvilva Kaśyapa and his fire worshippers, who are here portrayed as follows of Zoroastrianism (they were Brahminical Fire worshippers), who also convert.
Afterwards we see him arrive in Rajagrha and meet up again with King Bimbisāra and receive his first monastery the Bamboo Grove. The film closes with outside ascetics getting increasingly neglected and plotting the Buddha’s downfall.
As you can see from the plot, there are many interwoven stories, most of it based on the early texts, and quite accurately portrayed. I will show the remaining parts in subsequent weeks.