Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Buddha on PBS

Playing in the background: Some weird bird that sounds like it has an upset stomach

Last Wednesday, PBS ran an interesting two-hour special called The Buddha. Being as this is a Buddhist blog and all that, it occurred to me I might want to make some commentary about this show. First of all, though, I'll make a plug here and let you know that you can watch the program for the low low price of absolutely free at this web site. You can also buy a copy on Blu-Ray or DVD if you want one, or become a fan on Facebook or just hang around and read all the stuff people have posted about the show. And of course any purchases you might make support public broadcasting and all that. Happy? Good.

This program made a great Buddhism 101 for anybody who's unfamiliar with the whole thing. It began with the Buddha's life and ended with his death, but in the meantime it went all over the place, talking to ordinary folks who followed the teachings of the Buddha as well as the Dalai Lama and some monks and nuns. (Thank you, David Grubin, for including some nuns; things are changing, but women still tend to be invisible in Buddhism the same way they are in the other major faiths.) The inclusion of the ordinary folks made what could have been a pedantic little Afterschool Special into a nice little movie.

In case you did not know this, what we know of Buddha's life is about half folklore and half actual fact (rather like that of another religious figure I could mention). The movie made that distinction by putting a lot of Buddha's life into a sort of watercolor animation thingy (I don't know the technical term) that not only indicated "Hey, this is probably folklore" but was also really cool to look at. Interspersed with the animation were real-world footage from sacred sites around India, and discussions of real-world problems that can be viewed, if not actually solved, from a Buddhist perspective.

The Buddha is well-done and informative and is recommended by, uh, me. Richard Gere narrates, just incidentally, but that's the last reason you should check it out.

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