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Love, peace, pray
Art historian and filmmaker Benoy K Behl spoke to Iknoor Kaur about his recent film on Buddhism and how he found energy in the Ajanta
When Benoy K Behl visited the Phugtal Monastery in Zanskar, he made an unusual, kind friend. There is no motorable road to the monastery and a narrow path on the edge of the mountain had slippery ups and downs. But Behl’s friend, a white horse, gave him an easy ride. “I didn’t know how to ride a horse, but this Zanskari horse was wonderful. I think he made out I was uncomfortable. True to the traditions of those mountains I think he was extremely kind to me. Quite often I felt I will fell off, but thanks to this horse, whom I think of as the bodhisatva, I managed to complete my journey. By the end of the journey we became good friends. I, who didn’t even know how to ride a horse, was enjoying the ride. It was a thrilling experience and there was a sense of freedom. The monastery was beautiful, it was dug out of the mountains and I was enchanted but it is the white horse who remained in my mind,” said Behl, who has shared such experiences in his recent film Indian Roots of Tibetan Buddhism.
He also spoke of a man who was his companion on many occasions. “There was a Lama ji and his name was Konchuk. He had a great sense of humour. Once while crossing a stream he put out his hand to help me get on the other side. He saved my life several times,” he shared.
Behl got interested in Buddhism when he first photographed the paintings of Ajanta. Later, he spent years documenting monasteries over the world. “These great Buddhist paintings from the second century BC to the fifth century AD are the fountainhead of all the Buddhist arcs in the world. They are a body of compassionate art. My journey began with documenting the Ajanta paintings because they reaffirmed all that I believed in — goodness, kindness, compassion and that the purpose of art in India was for us to see the truth. I got a glimpse of this truth while documenting Ajanta. I’ve been interested in ancient art. The Buddhist body I next documented was in the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur and then in Ladakh,” he shared.
Behl began documenting Ladakh 25 years ago and a part of his two and a half decade-long journey is this film. The fact that people believe that Buddhism originated from India was inspiring to him. He explained, “While studying Buddhism and documenting Buddhist monasteries, I realised that the Buddhists I met constantly spoke of Indian masters. They happened to grow their own authenticity of Buddhism based on the fact that it came from a great Indian master. I also came to know that the Tibetan script was entirely designed from the Sanskrit script. So the idea to make this film had been germinating in my mind for long because of the stark and obvious role India played in the whole of Asia. I interviewed the leading Tibetan experts and spoke to Dalai Lama.”
Behl refers to Buddhism as scientific in the film. He said, “Buddhism is a brilliant Indian philosophy and it is not a religion. It is a philosophic path and one can call it scientific as it is the science of the mind. Indians were highly developed scientific people. They were logical and had clarity of thought and expression. Great universities that belong to ancient India reflect this ethos. So when we look at those universities we can imagine how the society then was — out of which this ideology was born. It was a modern society, one of rigour, disciplined thought and dynamic intellect. And all of this is reflected in cities all over Asia. Tibet, especially, inherited this tradition.”
In the film, Dalai Lama speaks about this philosophy and talks about how “India was the guru and Tibet has been a reliable chela. It is Tibet that has continued this Indian thought of Buddhism.” Behl added, “This film is all about exchange and development of ideas that spread from India to Tibet, China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and other places. It is beautiful to see how Indian philosophical culture was embraced with such warmth across Asia. One of the most important chapters in this is how Tibet embraced Indian Buddhism.”
Behl is now working on a film based on yoga. “My friend Rahul Bansal and I are making this film. We have already shot at two most important yoga institutions in the country and we have took about 50 interviews. We have also lined up shootings in other parts of India, Germany, UK and the USA because we feel today people are more open to yoga in the USA than in India. We are interviewing the leading teachers, doctors, neurosurgeons and psychiatrists to put forward the true meaning of yoga. The asanas are only a fraction of what yoga is. In the yoga sutras of Patanjali, the asanas only get a small mention. This film will be completed by September and is scheduled to be screened abroad in October,” he summed up.
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