review: The Buddha: A Film by David Grubin (on PBS)

This film appeared on PBS last night:

It was 2 hours long, and I don’t want to be dismissive – there was a lot of content in there.  But my overall impression was that, although presented as a documentary on the life of Siddhartha Gautama, it was, rather, a hodgepodge – that’s the best term I can bring.

Here are the two things I liked (my mom, my therapist, Oprah, always say to start with the things you liked…):

1) Actual practicing Yogis talking about the Yoga Sutra as a means to deeper meditation; NOT a means to physical improvement.  This is always important in Amerika, to curb the yoga-as-gym-class trend.

2) The main message of the Buddha: just be yourself.  All this other shit – punishing the body to free the mind, hours of searching for the true path – all that was a waste of his time!  that was his point.  The truth is right here, and available to everybody.  You just have to wake up!!

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism).

The thing about the Buddha is this: just like Jesus of Nazareth, the bulk of what we know and what is discussed is legend, hearsay, popular belief, and, plainly, just a lot of misguided, unfounded, unscholarly, opinion. I am not advocating a deep scientific investigation into the the historical foundation of Buddhism or Christianity – in fact, I believe that many people are missing the deeper spiritual meaning, and its benefits to life, that Buddha intended. Indeed, part of the “story” of Buddha was that, after his enlightenment, he was reluctant to go out and preach, because he was afraid his message would get lost and distorted.  How ’bout that!

So this documentary is a collection, a la Bill Moiers, of mostly Western, academics and poets, talking about what (little) they know about Buddhism. this might be ok, if you, the viewer, know that bullshit abounds, and that the truth requires a knife with a sharp blade.  But that’s not who is watching this?

What does Jane Hirshfeld ( know of the Buddha? She’s a poet, so maybe she knows everything!?!? Or, W.S. Merwin, another poet, and one whom I have sort of worshiped my whole life.  But is connection to Buddhism is that he has “studied” with Robert Aitken in Hawaii.

These two poets appear a lot in this film.

Then, there a real scholars( Robert Tenzin Thurman) – who has translated the texts and who is absolutely reliable in terms of the most difficult of all aspects of understanding Buddhism: that the original text, including the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, are impossible to translate, but essential to the understanding to the Buddha.

I amnot saying these people don’t have the right to their opinions – that old saw!  Have your fucking opinion!  Just don’t broadcast yourself as someone who knows anything!  Remember to add IHMO to all your sentences!

Then, there are a few appearences by, oh yeah, the His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  The, like 3, things he says throught the 2 hours film are profound.  He says that desire can NOT be a bad thing – you must have a fiery desire!  How else would you explain the motivation for enlightenment, for example.  But the desire to kill and destroy.  “That is bad.”


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