PBS – The Buddha

Under-the-TreeThis 2-hour retelling of the Buddha Story by acclaimed film-maker David Grubin was made for PBS with the help of prominent American Buddhists who tell the story, which is then illustrated with location shots, Buddhist artworks, old and new, and with the help of specially commissioned animation sequences.

The film has a decidedly American outlook, the story being mainly told through the eyes of American Buddhists, who display an uncertain grasp of the tradition and seem to have no problem reinterpreting it to suit their own outlook.

This is something, of course, which has always been happening throughout the transmission of the story through the ages, somehow though the coarse misunderstandings are a little difficult to accept at times.

The-WheelWe are told for instance that (contrary to every tradition): the Awakened Buddha doesn’t look any different from anybody else – he is ordinary (Jane Hirshfield); the eightfold path is described as: the cultivation of moral discipline, mindfulness and wisdom (narrator), although the traditions are unanimous that it is moral discipline, concentration and wisdom; the brahmins were the highest caste with the nobles second (narrator), although Buddhism has always disputed this hierarchy, which was told by the brahmins themselves, and states that the nobles were the highest caste.

The above examples are culled from a section of around 10 minutes in the middle of the film and could be multiplied ad naseum.

However, like the BBC equivalent, which retells the story from a British perspective 🙂 the story is positive and appealing, and certainly does more good than harm, and we can trust that distorted perspectives that arise will be corrected if the viewer pursues them even a little farther.

The story is narrated by Richard Gere, one of the more famous of the American celebrity converts, and features interviews with such luminaries as W.S. Merwin, Jane Hirshfield, Robert Thurman, Kevin Trainor, Dr. Max Moerman and Mark Epstein; as well as several Asian monastics like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Venerable Metteyya and Venerable Bhaddamanika.

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