The Light of Asia

Three 20 minute films

For more than 2,000 years Buddhism has been the cultural foundation of most of Asia. Now, it is threatened by modern ideas and the idealogy of Communism.

In Vietnam and Ceylon, Buddhists (at the time of filming) have already taken part in election campaigns and political warfare. But these are only symptoms of an even greater struggle that is being fought out in the minds of people all over Asia.

This series probes beneath immediate politics to the foundations of Buddhist thought and religion and each of the three films deals with one of the most significant streams of Buddhist faith. They analyse how Buddhist doctrines affect average Asians in their daily life - and how these doctrines will have to be modified to face industrialization and Communism.

1. Theravada Buddhism in Thailand

In a village in the north of Thailand a peasant farmer meditates every morning and night. He uses intriguing methods of self-hypnosis to merge his personality into the nothingness of the universe.

The film is about the tendency of Theravada meditation to produce a passive mentality suited to a peasant society. And the problem for Buddhism today is how to reverse this process - how to commit itself to a struggle with Communism in the material life of the cities.

2. Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet and Northern Nepal

The workings of the Tibetan Bodhisattva doctrine are filmed in the Northern valleys of Nepal. Its difficulties are studied amongst Tibetan refugees, and over newsreel film of the 1959 revolt inside Tibet. The Dalai Lama's own words are used to describe the great dilemma caused by having a religious head of state at the time of Communist invasion.

Other sequences of the Dalai Lama in exile and of Tibetan refugees in Katmandu illustrate the violent strains that are appearing within Tibet Buddhism as it tries to adapt to a modern environment.

3. The Soka Gakkai in Japan.

The last film deals with a type of Buddhism that is so modernised that other sects say it is no longer Buddhist.

The Soka Gakkai have organised their 15 million adherents into cells and divisions like the Communist party; they gain 100,000 converts a month, and they are sweeping to power in the elections of Japan. The Soka Gakkai not only have a political machine to match the Communists, but their religion is aimed at the same problems. For the Gakkai claim that faith can solve the economic and material issues of life such as promotions, a good salary and even incurable disease. They believe that when one third of the world is converted, the "magical" power of their faith will produce a material paradise on earth. And in this sense they offer even more than the Communists whom they match in fervour, discipline and political organisation.

The film is shot in Tokyo during the successful election campaign of Soka Gakkai's Komeito party.

This series does not cover Buddhist politics in such countries as Vietnam, Burma or Ceylon at the time. It is focused on the three most significant streams of Buddhism and tries to assess the problems and alternatives that could have arisen in the future of Asia.

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