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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2010 29 It will be the largest American audience ever for a serious—and positive—presentation of Buddhism. David Grubin’s two-hour documentary The Buddha—billed as a biography but much more—will air on the evening of April 7 across the PBS net- work. Structured around the story of the Buddha’s life as told in the Pali canon, it taps leading voices of contemporary Buddhism to explore Buddhism as an effective response to human suffering and the Buddha’s spiritual journey as a model for our lives today. The film and its website (www.pbs.org/ thebuddha/) will also be the centerpiece of an exten- sive educational initiative, cosponsored by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation and the Center for Con- templative Mind in Society, including a webinar for members of the 50,000-strong PBS teachers network on the life of the Buddha and introducing mindfulness into schools. I spoke to the film’s director, David Grubin, about intro- ducing Buddhism and the Buddha to millions of Americans. —M ELVIN MCLEOD You’ve produced a wide variety of documentaries, but none specifi- cally on a spiritual subject. What was your inspiration for doing a film on the life of the Buddha? I’m not a Buddhist, but I find the Buddha’s story inspiring and enlightening. It’s an archetypal story, one that has a lot to teach, and I feel close to it. I think of myself as a spiritual person rather than, let’s say, a religious person. I’m especially interested in psy- chology, and the Buddha was really the first psychologist. Poetry also connects me to this subject. Poets honor the moment, and many great poems touch the miraculous notion of being alive at a particular moment in time. That’s what the Buddha taught, too. Films of this nature are long processes that require deep immersion in their subject matter. What was your personal journey in making this film? As I said, it isn’t that I’ve become a religious Buddhist, but by the end of this journey I have a deeper appreciation of the mysteries of being alive, of how to live in the moment and how miraculous that is. I’ve also begun a small meditation practice of my own, you know, ten minutes a day, and I also sit with a group. It was Jon Kabat-Zinn who first introduced me to the whole idea of meditation when I made the Healing of the Mind series, which has a kind of spiritual nature to it. So it isn’t like I came to this with no knowl- edge. It’s rather that I like to think of myself as ignorant when I begin a project and then see what I find. Over the four years of making this film, I talked with many experts on Buddhism. I had the chance to flounder and be confused and not quite know where I was going. That’s the way I like to work. What is the basic message that you are trying to communicate in the film? I’m not trying to offer answers in the film. I’m really trying to stay within the questions. That’s how I like to approach it. I screened the film for some students recently and I asked them what they thought the message of the film was. They each had a different message. They were all right, of course, but none of them was what I think is the basic message. Which is? For me, it comes out strongly at the end when the poet W.S. Mer- win says, “If you’re not the Buddha, you have no reason to be interested in the Buddha.” Mark Epstein says that the real work is to become the Buddha, and the Dalai Lama talks about our buddhanature. That to me is the message: that you have within you the potential to change, to grow, to lead a richer and more meaningful life, and the Buddha is your guide and model for that, and a very realistic model, too. As poet Jane Hirshfield says at the very beginning of the film, what the Buddha found, we can find too. That’s what I would like people to feel at the end of the film—that they can use the Buddhist teachings, use the model of the Buddha, to live fuller lives. QA The Buddha on PBS DAVID GRUBIN more—will air on the evening of April 7 across the PBS net- templative Mind in Society, including a webinar for members of the 50,000-strong PBS teachers network on idea of meditation when I made the Mind to it. So it isn’t like I came to this with no knowl- PHOTOBYJAKELANDIS/PBS.IMAGEBYASTERISKANIMATION.