Engaging subject matter
The connection to Buddhism in some of the places visited is not terribly strong, and makes the film seem a bit out of place in the trilogy.
In this second DVD of the trilogy Journey Into Buddhism by John Bush, the viewer heads to Cambodia, Bali, and Java, to discover the sacred natural world of these places. The actress Sharon Stone functions as narrator and her voice I found very pleasant and soothing to listen to. As she explains, "prajna" is Sanskrit for radiant wisdom. Prajna Earth, in this case, then means the recognition of the earth's radiance and sanctity.
One of the things that is different about this DVD when compared to "Dharma River" is that not every place visited is a majority-Buddhist country. It seems odd to include some of these places if the goal of this trilogy is to explore Buddhist cultures in Asia. It's all fascinating, I think, but it just strikes me as a thematic reach.
The Cambodian section transports the viewer to mystical Angkor Wat. Here we see abandoned ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, some nearly crushed by the elephantine banyan and kapok trees that have taken root alongside them. This portion of the DVD focuses on the temples within this city and the Buddhist monks and nuns who have gathered at one of the ruins for chanting and other activities. A brief recent history of Cambodia is recounted, including the not-to-be-avoided topic of the Khmer Rouge and the way this regime devastated the country. According to the DVD, there is a significant age gap between the old and young monks, suggesting that the country lost nearly an entire generation of men to this murderous regime. When it is mentioned that some of the nuns gathered at the temple were widowed during this violent period, the viewer can't help but feel a somber reverence for the strength of these women, and for all of the Cambodian people.
The film then whisks us away to Bali, where it is time to enjoy a festive atmosphere. Since Bali is a Hindu island, Hindu myths play an important part of Balinese spiritual culture. The viewer is treated, then, to highlights of a performance of the Indian epic the Ramayana, plus other festival footage.
On Java, the viewer is invited to marvel at the elaborate carvings on several of the temples of Prambanan. These temples reveal a mixture of influences from Hinduism and Buddhism, with Hindu gods and goddesses portrayed as Buddhist bodhisattvas often are. One of the most interesting pieces of film on this DVD is the Javanese spirit possession ritual, something I imagine few people have ever seen before. It is fascinating to see how the Javanese hold on to their animistic past even while professing Islam as a formal faith. The monument at Borobudur, a larger-than-life mandala featuring thousands of bas-reliefs of the Buddha's life and other myths, and more than seventy stupas, is an astonishing piece of architecture. It is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists throughout Asia and a source of pride for the Javanese, in spite of their Muslim faith.
There is more footage of the surrounding scenery on this DVD than in "Dharma River". I suppose that makes sense, since this film's focus is the earth. For instance, in this DVD, one sees more forests and mountains, which are gorgeous and make me want to pack my bags and head straight to Southeast Asia. There are cave temples and shrines cut into the sides of mountains, lush rice fields and volcanic lakes. The viewer also is treated to beautiful scenery along the South China Sea, out of which jut several towering limestone islands. It is indeed a feast for the eyes.
I'm not sure why, but this DVD went a bit deeper into the history and culture of the peoples it covered than did "Dharma River". One learns, for instance, briefly about the Khmer origin myth, the history of the Cambodian and Indonesian temples, and about some of the traditions for religious offerings engaged in by the Balinese. It also feels like there is a bit more narration on this disc than on "Dharma River".
One improvement over "Dharma River", in my opinion, is the music. I find the music used in this film much more interesting than that used on the first DVD of this trilogy. The gamelan music of Bali is a hypnotic percussive style that plays pretty much throughout the Bali section. There is also a gorgeous Hindu mantra chant that plays in pieces throughout and at the end of the film, accompanied by a tabla and a harmonium. The DVD is worth playing just to hear this wonderful music. In fact, if you don't desire to hear the narration at all, you can simply select to view the film with only the ambient music as a background.
Overall, this is a gorgeous and fascinating film that will delight anyone with a curiosity about the history and culture of this region of the world.