Original classification rating: PG.
This clip chosen to be PG
Dr Rachel Kohn takes us to India where the Buddha sat and meditated under the Bodhi Tree for four weeks, resolving to find the origin of suffering and the means to eliminate it.
Simply and elegantly shot, the sequence clearly lays out some of the basic tenets of Buddhism. For those who know very little about Buddhism, this is a fascinating story about the Buddha, his life and his teachings. One of the ABC’s religious broadcasters, Dr Rachel Kohn, explains Buddhism in terms easily understood by a western audience.
One of the reasons that Compass is consistently rich in themes and well researched, is that the program can draw on the huge knowledge base of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Unit, whose staff have many years of experience as broadcasters and as students of theology and philosophy. This is the secret of the range and depth of the themes tackled by Compass.
This clip shows important Buddhist sites at Bodh Gaya in Eastern India, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. The narrator, Dr Rachel Kohn, and Peter Harvey, an expert on Buddhism from the University of Sunderland in the UK, describe some of the Buddha’s teachings and relate events in his life and in the history of Buddhism. The sites shown include the revered Bodhi tree, descended from the one beneath which the Buddha received enlightenment, a stone representation of the Buddha’s footprints and the Mahabodhi temple. The clip concludes with Buddhist pilgrims moving around the base of a 1,000-year-old large, gilded statue of the Buddha in the temple.
Educational value points
- The Bodhi or 'enlightenment tree’ is venerated as a symbol of the Buddha’s presence and as the tree beneath which he attained enlightenment and insight after years of searching and a long period of meditation. This sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosia) is claimed by devotees to be a direct descendant of the original tree.
- Siddhartha Gautama is said to have meditated under the Bodhi tree and to have achieved enlightenment, or a perfect understanding about the nature of suffering, after which he became known as the Buddha. 'Suffering’ in this context refers to 'dukkha’, which is usually translated as suffering although it is a much broader term encompassing thoughts and feelings such as dissatisfaction and impermanence. 'Dukkha’ is a central concept in Buddhism and is the subject of the Four Noble Truths, which may be summarised as: life means suffering, the origin of suffering is attachment, cessation of suffering is possible, and there is a path to the end of suffering.
- In the clip Peter Harvey provides a political perspective on the Buddha’s teachings. Harvey claims that since the Buddha’s teaching about suffering is universal it was liberating to people in all the social classes that comprised the caste system in Indian society, applying equally to teachers, scholars, priests, princes, merchants, farmers and outcasts; it also applied to women as well as men. The Indian Constitution, adopted in 1950, formally outlawed discrimination based on caste; however, in contemporary Indian society the lower classes, sometimes referred to as 'untouchables’, still experience discrimination.
- The Mahabodhi Temple Complex is one of the most revered and sanctified places in the world and the grandest Buddhist temple from the early period still standing in India. The first temple was built by Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century BCE and the present 50 m high temple, which was built on top of the first temple, dates from the 5th or 6th century CE. UNESCO granted the temple complex World Heritage status in 2002.
- The clip traces something of the history of physical representations of the Buddha at Bodh Gaya, beginning with the earliest representation, the Buddha’s footprints in stone. Although Buddhist scholars are divided over whether the Buddha actually prohibited images of himself being made, they agree that early Buddhist art usually used motifs associated with his life or symbols such as the empty throne, the umbrella, the Bodhi tree and the Wheel of Law. Some scholars see the footprints, or Buddhapada, at Mahabodhi as the exception to the rule. Buddhapada are usually associated with the Wheel of Law and at Mahabodhi the stone footprints are enclosed in a circle.
- Later Buddhist art contains numerous representations of the Buddha and all the statues shown in the clip depict the Buddha in 'mudra’ or positions associated with enlightenment. At least one statue shows the Buddha with all five fingers of the right hand extended to touch the ground and the left held flat in his lap in the position of meditation. This position signals that the Buddha is about to reach enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Other statues show both hands clasped in the lap, indicating the role of meditation in achieving enlightenment.
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