Monday, May 14, 2012

Return of the Buddha

Financial Express, Sun, 6 May 2012
Diana Ningthoujam
Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 0206 hrs IST
India’s first-ever festival on Buddhism, The Inner Path, which screened around 12 feature films and ten documentaries, gave viewers a glimpse into the rich Buddhist heritage from across the world
The green mountains stand unmoving as the clouds keep rolling by. While they live in secrecy of the wood, in retirement beyond the world silently enjoying isolation of the Zhongnan Mountains, the world beyond remains enraptured in dusty snares. Home to China’s Buddhist hermit monks, these mountains have for long hidden the lives of the forgotten Zen Buddhist hermit tradition. Until the film Amongst White Clouds, few have been privy to the lives of these elusive practitioners. The 86-minute long documentary by Edward A Burger allows us to experience the hermits’ thoughtful conversations sprinkled with scenes of daily life in the mountains.
Burger’s quest into this lost tradition began in India, when he picked up Bill Porter’s Road To Heaven: Encounters With Chinese Hermits, while studying Buddhism in Bodh Gaya. One could say that it was only befitting that he brought his film here. Featured in India’s first-ever festival on Buddhism, Amongst White Clouds was one of the many films screened during the five-day long celebration of Buddha’s teachings titled The Inner Path.
The brainchild of Aruna Vasudev of NETPAC (The Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) and Suresh Jindal of the Devki Foundation, The Inner Path screened around 12 feature films and ten documentaries, which gave viewers a glimpse into the rich Buddhist heritage from across the world From the story of the Tsoknyi Nangchen nuns of Tibet as narrated by Richard Gere to a moving account of the life of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of Tibet’s most revered 20th-century Buddhist teachers, the films sought to throw light on those parts of the religion hidden from mainstream consciousness. Different films such as one on understanding Christianity through the eyes of Buddhism and another about a young American Buddhist monk’s efforts to come to terms with his destiny thrust upon him by the people of Kalmykia, a remote Buddhist republic in southern Russia, made an attempt to create a better understanding of the Buddhist way of life to Indians who may or may not have been familiar with its edicts. Says Suresh Jindal, “In India, there has been a lot of curiosity about Buddhism. The teachings are such that those who wish to question life through logic and reasoning are attracted by the doctrines of Buddhism. In fact it is a shame that the land of the Buddha had no such platform to highlight Buddha’s teachings.”
The World premiere of Sri Lankan filmmaker Hector Kumarasiri’s film, Reincarnation—Challenges and complexities of a Buddhist monk: Abinikmana, was one of the major highlights of the festival. The movie touches a pertinent social issue: care of the elderly. The protagonist, a Buddhist monk, essays a poignant role of someone torn between his responsibilities as an ascetic and his familial duties towards his dying parents. “This is a universal theme. Through Abhikmana, I tried to explore a growing trend in South Asian countries where children abandon their parents at old-age homes. It analyses the challenges that a monk who leaves his robes has to go through in the quest to achieve ultimate spiritual contentment,” says Hector Kumarasiri.
Noted filmmaker, art-historian and photographer, Benoy K Behl who has been relentlessly working to bring forth the vast Buddhist heritage to the world, showcased his 12-part documentary series titled The Story of Buddhism. The series provides a comprehensive perspective of the monuments and art heritage of Buddhism in India from the earliest times. “The films trace the story from the time of the birth of Buddha to the development of various Buddhist schools and the spread of Buddhism,” says Behl. His other two other films Ladakh—A Cradle of Buddhism and The Second Buddha were also screened.
Behl’s exhibition of 100 photographs of Buddhist heritage in Myanmar, Thailand, India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Afghanistan and 12 other countries was also part of the festival. The collection will be travelling to London, Washington DC and Tokyo to showcase the birth and development of different schools of Buddhism in India and their spread to other Asian nations.
Buddhism’s journey began 2,600 years ago when Siddhartha Gautama found enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and laid the foundation of a path that went way beyond religion, maybe transcending it. While the doctrines of Buddhism were spreading all across Asia, it experienced a slow demise in its place of inception. Even now, many Buddhist countries feel that in India nothing is being done to promote Buddhism. Perhaps, a festival on Buddhism in India was long overdue.
Says Aruna Vasudev, “In India, the idea of making films on Buddhism has not really caught on. Maybe I could say that we are in a transient phase. Hopefully, this festival will give filmmakers an incentive to explore this subject.”

No comments: