Tonight, April 7, is the showing of "The
Buddha" on PBS. This article is an introduction to
Buddhism for those who have no familiarity with it, and also for anyone who
wants to see Buddhism through fresh eyes. The article is from
Ellen Gray: 'Buddha' explores religion & a monk has advice for
By Ellen Gray
Philadelphia Daily News
Daily News TV Critic
THE BUDDHA. 9 tonight, Channel 12.
IF ALL YOU know about Buddhism is that Tiger Woods and Richard Gere both
belong and that the Dalai Lama appears to be one of the world's more jovial
religious leaders, then tonight's PBS documentary, "The Buddha," might be a step
on a path to further enlightenment.
At the very least, it's a two-hour respite from the sound-bite culture that
in January brought us Brit Hume, on Fox News, advising golfer Woods to look to
Christianity for redemption and forgiveness because Buddhism didn't offer
Filmmaker David Grubin's "The Buddha" isn't trying to win hearts or minds
or stake out a position on either Tiger or Tibet. Instead, it's going back 2,500
years to tell the story of Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who made himself a
pauper while searching for meaning and whose teachings formed the basis of a
religion practiced by hundreds of millions worldwide.
Narrated by actor Gere and by actress Blair Brown, "The Buddha" at times
plays like a fairy tale - or a Bible story - with a mother's prophetic dream, a
father's efforts to control his son's destiny and the son's flight, all leading
to a revelation under a fig tree.
"We try to set his life in its historical context, but it's so long ago
that we don't know what he really did," Grubin told reporters in January during
a PBS press conference in Pasadena, Calif. "But what I realized is what he
really did doesn't really matter. What matters is the story and the meaning of
that story and the message of hope that the story carries."
The filmmaker, who directed and produced "The Jewish Americans" for PBS in
2008, isn't a Buddhist, and though he'd read Herman Hesse's "Siddhartha" many
years ago, "I really forgot most of it," he said.
"I've always been interested in psychology in my films. I think that's
probably one thing that you can see, from 'The Secret Life of the Brain' to
'LBJ' to 'Napoleon,' " he said.
"The Buddha, you know, was really the first psychologist. He really thought
about the human mind, the way . . . our thoughts buzz and buzz and buzz and what
that all means and what to do about finding a way to be more in touch with our
lives and ourselves. He was searching for a kind of serenity.
"As [poet] W.S. Merwin said, he was trying to understand suffering in the
world. And he came up with some ideas about that, which I wanted to explore and
. . . I think I'm reaching the age where I'm looking for maybe a deeper kind of
wisdom than you could find in the film about LBJ."
So what kind of wisdom might a non-Buddhist take away from "The
"Well, Freud used to say, you know, that the best he could do for someone
was to take them from a state of neurotic misery and return them to one of
common unhappiness. And the Buddha taught that common unhappiness was actually
workable," Dr. Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist and Buddhist and one of the experts
quoted in Grubin's film, told reporters.
"Buddha, like Freud, was a realist. He was intent on observing experience
just for what it was and not adding or subtracting anything from it. So in order
to cultivate that ability to be with things just as they are, he encouraged
certain qualities of mind, similarly, actually, to the way that Freud taught
psychoanalysts to pay attention.
"Freud's words were, 'You should give impartial attention to everything
there is to observe. Suspend judgment, and give impartial attention to
everything there is to observe.' And the Buddha, in different words, taught the
same thing. He taught people how not to push away experience that they didn't
like with aversion and how not to hold on to experience that they did like out
of pleasure. So he taught what became known as balance of mind or equanimity,
which we would also call patience."
As for that tomcat Tiger, the Venerable Metteyya Sakyaputta, a young monk
from Nepal who is in the film and who in January was visiting the United States
for the first time, was inclined to cut Hume a break.
"I think . . . he was trying to help," he said. "His intention is to help
Tiger Woods to become a better person. But . . . if we would ask the same
question to Buddha, what would he say?"
Buddha, the monk said, had always advised those attracted to his teachings
to first look to their own traditions for answers.
"We are all human beings. We're trying to develop ourself, grow up. We're
not perfected, and Tiger Woods is not an exception as well. And I think first
what he should do is probably he could look deeper. Even in Buddhist tradition,
we have different ways to deal with it. Definitely there is no redemption, but
the Buddhist point of view is that forgiveness is not the answer."
A person who's forgiven, he said, might feel, " 'Oh, I'm free of this
burden because God' - or [a] certain entity - 'has given me forgiveness.' But he
has not really dealt with those mental patterns, his mental habits, addictions
that brought him to there. So Buddhist wisdom is to deal with that. And if he
grows out of that, he'll be definitely a changed person." *