Monday, 25 November 2013

Doctor Who - the Buddhist Connection

On Saturday the BBC showed the 50th aniverserary edition of Doctor Who, "The Day of the Doctor". Over the years there have been quite a few Buddhist references in Dr Who, regeneration maybe? .............

At times religion has been addressed directly. For example, 1970s producer Barry Letts, a practicing Buddhist, worked ideas from Buddhism into the show's narrative: witness Jon Pertwee sharing a version of the Mumonkan's sixth Zen Koan with companion Jo Grant in the 1972 episode The Time Monster. In this story, the Doctor tells Jo of a Time Lord 'guru' who influenced him as a boy. The story the Doctor tells Jo, about climbing a hillside and his guru pointing to a flower, is based on a story from Buddhist text the Mumonkan, where the Buddha holds up a flower and Mahakasyapa understands Zen in that moment. Buddhist themes are explored again in the Third Doctor's final serial, Planet of the Spiders.

(Mumonkan - Case 6: Buddha Twirls a Flower

When Buddha was in Grdhrakuta mountain he turned a flower in his fingers and held in before his listeners. Every one was silent. Only Maha-Kashapa smiled at this revelation, although he tried to control the lines of his face.

Buddha said: "I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the true aspect of non-form, and the ineffable stride of Dharma. It is not expressed by words, but especially transmitted beyond teaching. This teaching I have given to Maha-Kashapa.'

Mumon's Comment:

Golden-faced Guatama thought he could cheat anyone. He made the good listeners as bad, and sold dog meat under the sign of mutton. And he himself thought it was wonderful. What if all the audience had laughed together? How could he have transmitted the teaching? And again, if Maha-Kashapa had not smiled, how could he have transmitted the teaching? If he says that realization can be transmitted, he is like the city slicker that cheats the country dub, and if he says it cannot be transmitted, why does he approve of Maha-Kashapa?

At the turning of a flower,
The snake (his disguise) shows his tail.
Maha-Kashapa smiles, 
Every monk does not know what to do.)

When Jon Pertwee regenerated into Tom Baker, elements of the episode were set in a Buddhist meditation centre, with a fellow Time Lord clandestinely living as a Buddhist monk in close attendance.

These themes continued in later episodes, for example in Christopher Bailey's Kinda in 1982 and in Snakedance in 1983 where once again the episodes were strongly hinged on Buddhist mythology. Kinda focuses on escaping the Wheel of Time and characters are named after Buddhist concepts such as Anatta (not-self), Anicca (impermanence) and Dukkha (suffering).

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