April 07, 2010

'The Buddha' on PBS

PBS's Buddha biopic premieres tonight, a day before the Buddha's birthday in Japan (or one of them anyway.) You can watch the trailer here. David Grubin directs the documentary and Richard Gere narrates. The two-hour show will cover the Buddha's life and some fundamental points of his teachings.

On the PBS site you can buy a DVD of the show, and play mahjong.

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Martha's picture

Such an excellent film, very well done. In my opinion, it provided a wonderful general survey of Buddhism.

Another Buddhism- related film I've recently enjoyed is the documentary "Meditate & Destroy". It tells the story of Noah Levine, a seminal figure in the Buddhist/Punk scene. The website is here:


Stacy's picture

I had a mixed response to this show. First, the decision to use animation to tell the story became grating after a while. Second, the story was fairly simple, and became repetitive and a bit dull. The narrative was extremely simple. This could have been remedied by including more topics, more detail on the topics presented (e.g. how about controversies, any disagreements on facts etc.) or adding speakers from different traditions. The way the Buddha's word has spread around the globe has birthed multiple traditions that weren't even discussed.

In summary, I liked the subject matter, but would have enjoyed less "Ken Burns does Asia," and more substance.

Joe's picture

The movie was well-done.

However, here's my critique, FWIW. First, there was too much of Jane Hirschfield -- nothing against her, however I felt her view of the dharma was a bit watered-down. There was too much emphasis of the Buddha being like the guy next door: nobody special, just another dude you could hang out with and not even know there was anything special or different about him. This approach is indicative of the dumbing-down of Buddhism that's so pravalent in America. "Nothing to do, nowhere to go" is the mantra we like so much, rather than focusing on the truly transformative and challenging teachings. There could've been a better cross-section of scholars (two "poets" had the most air-time!) and monks.

I felt the director was trying to make Buddha appealing to a wide audience rather than accurately reprsenting his quite radical views.

Overall, though, a nice movie, entertaining, and a postive contribution.

Rebecca's picture

I watched this two-hour special program last night. I thought it was a good general introduction, but I really didn't learn anything new. I thought the animated sequences were quite delightful. I kept thinking "what if this approach was taken with the life of Jesus?" Wouldn't it be obvious to many viewers that a great deal of what they think of as biography is actually myth? I also thought of the contrast between the approach of Buddha and Jesus. Buddha steered away from questions of the afterlife and the creation of the Universe, while Jesus was quite explicit. Jesus demanded unquestioning faith, while Buddha invited the curious to try his methods and see if they worked.