Buddha Genius of the Ancient World


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Buddha

Historian Bettany Hughes travels to India, Greece and China on the trail of three giants of ancient philosophy. To begin, she investigates the revolutionary ideas of the Buddha.


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Since the dawn of civilisation,

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the forces of nature

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and the whims of gods

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held sway over humanity.

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But 2,500 years ago,

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humankind experienced a profound transformation.

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Suddenly, there were new possibilities.

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This is a time when rationality overrode superstition and belief.

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This is an ethic which does not rely on the gods.

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The world is now explained in terms of natural forces.

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We're now responsible for our own destiny.

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Upheavals across the globe sparked an ambitious vision

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of what humans could achieve -

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spearheaded by three trailblazers.

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Socrates, Confucius and the Buddha.

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Great thinkers from the ancient world,

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whose ideas still shape our own lives.

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Is wealth a good thing?

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How do you create a just society?

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How do I live a good life?

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By daring to think the unthinkable,

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they laid the foundations of our modern world.

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I've always been intrigued by the fact that these men,

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who lived many thousands of miles apart,

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seemed almost spontaneously,

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within 100 years of one another,

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to come up with such radical ways of thinking.

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So, what was going on?

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I want to investigate their revolutionary ideas

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to understand what set them in motion.

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In this episode,

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I'm on the trail of that most enigmatic of philosophers -

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the Buddha.

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The wandering seeker of truth

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who challenged religious orthodoxy.

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Caste was not a barrier.

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Priests were not required.

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Analysing his thoughts and desires

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sparked game-changing insights.

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This is the teaching of Buddha.

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Everything's subject to change.

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Setting the Buddha on his path to enlightenment -

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a whole new way of being

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and an escape from the suffering of life.

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Technologically, the world has progressed immensely -

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but psychologically, I don't think we've moved very far.

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CHEERING

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Around 2,500 years ago,

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a young man made a life-changing decision.

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We're told that in the dead of night, he left home.

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Pausing, just once, to take a last look at his wife and newborn son.

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He then slipped out silently into the darkness.

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It was the start of a journey

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that would take him from the foothills of the Himalayas

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and end here, on the plains of northern India.

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His mission was to make sense of human life.

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For me, it's genuinely exciting

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that what the Buddha discovered 25 centuries ago

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continues to inspire hundreds of millions of people

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across the globe.

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As a religion or belief system, Buddhism has evolved,

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taking diverse forms within different cultures.

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And as a philosophy, its relevance is undiminished by time.

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The fact it's still on the rise

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shows it's a potent way to navigate our modern times.

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Passed down from the ancient world

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that the Buddha inhabited.

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Most of what we know about the Buddha is based on oral accounts

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that were written down a few centuries after his death.

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They tell us he was born

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sometime between the sixth and fifth centuries BC

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in what's now southern Nepal.

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We're told he was a prince,

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Siddhartha Gautama -

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good-looking, skilled in weaponry

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and prophesised to achieve great things.

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But his father, the king, was worried

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because, it was predicted, his son would do one of two things -

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stay in the King's palace, and become an emperor,

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or leave home,

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and become a great religious leader.

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The King, preferring his son to be a more conventional emperor,

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surrounded the Prince with luxury, to attach him to a worldly life.

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The streets were cleared of all unpleasant sights,

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so he was blissfully unaware of the suffering in the world.

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But the plan backfired.

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One day, whilst out in his carriage,

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he unexpectedly saw an old man.

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Later, he saw a sick man...

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..and then a corpse.

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Witnessing the pain and frailty of human existence

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shook him to the core.

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When the Prince saw a holy man,

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he was inspired,

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and his destiny was sealed.

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I have to say this colourful account of the Buddha's early palace life

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does have more than a ring of fable to it.

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It feels like a kind of textbook heroic story -

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but it does also seem to reflect

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a real existential crisis.

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The Buddha observed that our lives

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were permeated by suffering.

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His quest was to find out if there was a way to overcome it.

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He left the remote Himalayan foothills and headed south,

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abandoning everything -

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his privilege, his family,

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his homeland.

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A small tribal state, it was run by a council of prominent men,

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from one clan, called the Sakyas.

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Now, it looks as though his father was probably a clan leader,

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from a prosperous family -

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not the great king that we always hear about.

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As the Buddha headed south,

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he experienced the cultures

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of neighbouring states for the first time.

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Arriving here,

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he'd have seen everything with the eyes of a curious stranger.

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Just like those other ground-breaking philosophers

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of his day, Socrates in Greece and Confucius in China,

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he was the very definition of what it is to be a questioning human.

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He refused to be constrained by convention

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and complacent belief.

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He would follow wherever his enquiry led him.

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One of the first things the Buddha would have encountered

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was the religion of the Brahmans.

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A priestly caste,

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who dominated the cultural landscape of the Indian world.

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THEY CHANT

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They're going to offer rice and flowers to...

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Evoking the gods now.

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Brahmans were responsible for reciting the Vedas,

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an ancient body of divine teachings and hymns,

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in sacred spaces and in people's homes, just as they do today.

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HE CHANTS

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Another key role was to perform sacrifices...

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to persuade the gods to sustain the order of the cosmos

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and deliver prosperity.

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CHANTING

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They memorised all the old scriptures.

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You've seen how the Brahmans here have been just chanting

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one after the other and they can go on, like,

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for three or four hours.

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They memorised all the rituals,

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they knew what vibrations,

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what food,

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how the water should be,

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how the earth should be,

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what space is required -

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they had all the understanding of how to communicate with the gods.

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What kind of ritual were they in charge of?

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If somebody had died and you need to do the last rites,

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it was the Brahman who'd come to do it.

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If there was a drought, you'd get the Brahman to evoke the rain god.

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The whole life depended then on the priest,

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the Brahman, who had the knowledge.

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That must have given them real power?

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They've always dominated the rest

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whether you call it the caste system, or the different levels.

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They had the highest top position,

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then came the warrior community -

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the Rajputs, the fighters, the rulers.

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Then came the business community - which is the Vaishnavs.

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And then came the community that did the service -

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the cobblers, the blacksmith.

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And that was the Brahmanic society.

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CHANTING CONTINUES

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For the Buddha, the rigid hierarchy of the caste system

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and sacrifice to the gods

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relied on blind faith and received wisdom,

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not any kind of rational explanation.

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He passionately thought that there must be a more robust,

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a more credible way, to understand and explain our place in the world.

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The Buddha's journey continued on,

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down to the Ganges plain.

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It was a world in the midst of rapid transformation.

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New cities and prosperous, centralised kingdoms had emerged.

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The Buddha's said to have entered one,

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the kingdom of Magadha,

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and spent time here in the royal capital - Rajagriha.

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Along these rampart walls,

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you can still experience the ancient city

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as the Buddha would have known it.

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The streets of the city here would have been crowded with

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brightly painted carriages

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bringing gold and silver,

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pearls and blue lapis lazuli,

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sandalwood and rich cloths.

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And then, in the distance, you'd have seen great caravans

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carrying in more fabulous goods, from the Bay of Bengal

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and what is modern-day Afghanistan.

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There's a lot of evidence in the literature for this time

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that cities were expanding, but do we get evidence in archaeology, too?

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We get lots of evidence.

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This is the period when

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cities are emerging and expanding

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all over the country.

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These are lovely little belongings, here.

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Did these all come from cities?

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All of them did. You can imagine the people who used them.

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Look at this for instance. This is a razor.

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That's great, I love it. I love it when design doesn't change.

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-That's true!

-That's exactly the same as a razor today.

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That is one heck of a doornail!

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So, that's quite some door that that's holding together!

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And these are lovely, as well.

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Is this...? It looks like very fine dining ware is it?

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It is. This is a very special kind of pottery that must've been

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used only by very rich people for very special occasions.

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So, do you think? I mean, this kind of different

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way of living is affecting how people feel about their lives?

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Yes, absolutely.

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And the city must have been a very exciting

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and also unsettling experience

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for somebody who'd walked into one of these cities from a village -

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because something new is emerging

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but the old ways of life

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and the old kinds of social relationships...

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are dissolving.

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This is a time when you have unprecedented

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and, I think, unparalleled

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level of questioning about

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what it means to live in the world

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and how one should live one's life

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and all kinds of questions that...

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concern us very deeply.

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Cities were a real paradox.

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They did offer dazzling new opportunities,

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but they also cut people loose from everything that they knew -

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from their tribes, from their land,

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from ways of being that hadn't really changed much for millennia.

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So, they were wonderful,

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but they were also actually quite threatening.

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People must have wondered what life was all about,

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and how they should now best live together.

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It was a time of intense questioning.

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Can we control our desires?

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And the Buddha would play a vital role in that debate.

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What is justice?

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By now, deep into his own personal quest,

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he engaged with the most intractable question of all.

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TRANSLATION: What happens to us when we die?

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Inspired by the cycles of renewal in the natural environment,

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people had come to believe we were part of an endless cycle of birth,

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death and rebirth -

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known as samsara.

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Samsara is a powerful idea that was really current in the time of Buddha.

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The idea of a birth followed by rebirth,

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followed by rebirth in the cycle of time.

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But humanity's always been aware of the cycle of life,

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so what made samsara different?

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The cycle of rebirth really means that you go from one life to another

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and you can be manifested in

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a different form in each life.

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You could be manifested as a god

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or you could be manifested as a human being

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or maybe higher or lower caste.

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You can even manifest as an animal or an insect,

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as a cockroach, and so that is really the cycle

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of rebirth from life to life through

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a continuous passage of time.

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So, do you think people felt trapped by this?

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Yeah, you could imagine somebody thinking that,

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at each birth, he has to go through the travails of life,

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of sickness, old age, death

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and then rebirth and the whole cycle goes on.

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And so it's tedious, I mean, it's... It's suffering,

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because the existential reality was not one that they felt was bliss.

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So, did people try to work out a way

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to release themselves from this trap?

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Yes, the great quest of that time was to find ways

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out of that cycle of rebirth and re-death.

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For the Buddha, the rituals of the Brahmans

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weren't the answer to the perennial suffering of life.

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They didn't seem to offer a permanent solution to samsara...

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..but he was convinced that a mechanism

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to completely break free from the cycle altogether

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could be found...

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..and he wasn't alone.

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A wave of truth-seekers had left their families and homes

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to wander the Earth in search of the solution.

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Renouncing everything, some chose to live in forests

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which is where, we're told,

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the Buddha went looking for them.

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For the Buddha, self-discovery came

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from examining your own individual experiences,

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and then drawing logical conclusions from them.

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So, in order to try to evaluate the ideas of these new thinkers,

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he decided to try out their methods first-hand.

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One of these wandering truth-seekers

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was a man called Alara Kalama.

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Now, the solution to the problem of samsara, as he saw it,

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lay in directly experiencing the permanent,

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the eternal part of ourselves,

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the part that survived every rebirth.

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MEDITATIVE CHANTING

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To do this, he meditated...

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to block out the distractions of the temporary external world.

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Freed from physical and mental interference,

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such seekers could focus on their goal...

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to fully merge their eternal soul

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with its cosmic counterpart -

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a kind of universal soul, the highest reality.

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The idea seems to have been that -

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by creating union between the microcosm - the individual self -

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and the macrocosm - this world soul -

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they would achieve liberation.

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Under Alara's tuition,

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we're told the Buddha showed such remarkable ability,

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he could achieve a profound stillness of mind.

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So much so, Alara offered him joint leadership of the group...

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..but he refused.

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He found that once he came out of meditation,

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he was just returned, once again, to the same fundamental problems

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of birth, sickness, old age and death.

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It didn't give him the transformative experience

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that he sought.

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But the Buddha didn't give up.

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It's said, he next experimented

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with the techniques of a different type of renouncer

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who focused on extreme forms of self-denial.

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These type of renouncers also believed that

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the material part of our being is an obstacle to liberation -

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but theirs was a more drastic solution.

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Instead of focusing the mind,

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they put all their efforts into subduing their bodies.

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Some groups believed that all human action

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left a negative dust on our soul...

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weighing us down in this life

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and trapping us in future rebirths.

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Some fasted, some stood stock-still for months on end,

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others endured the heat of the midday sun,

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all to burn off the results of their previous actions.

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Extreme measures to allow space for the permanent soul to expand to the

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size of the universe, eventually liberating them from samsara.

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It seems the Buddha spent six years experimenting with all

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kinds of self-denying, extreme penances.

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He tried a technique of holding his breath for longer

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and longer periods.

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He walked around naked.

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He ate tiny amounts of food...

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Just one grain of rice a day.

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We're told that he almost died.

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His bones were like the rafters of a derelict house.

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He could actually feel his backbone through his stomach.

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But despite all this, he wasn't making any progress.

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The pain was clouding his mind.

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The austerities weren't providing a solution to suffering,

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they were just making him suffer even more.

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So, he abandoned the path of self-denial

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by eating a bowl of rice-porridge,

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disappointing and angering his five fellow renouncers.

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Six years of hardship experimenting with different methods,

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had come to nothing.

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Now, he would go it alone, in his quest to break the cycle of samsara.

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What the Buddha attempted next, was something new.

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A middle way between the extremes of self-indulgence

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and the rigours of self-mortification.

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Moderation would be his radical new approach from now on.

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The Buddha's change of tack would bring greater clarity

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to his examination of the human condition.

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The Buddha believed that all we can know for sure,

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is how we experience the world,

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and that it's our minds that determine what

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kinds of experience we have.

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Using his meditation skills,

0:22:320:22:33

he interrogated the internal workings of his own mind.

0:22:330:22:38

And what the Buddha discovered, contradicted the assumptions

0:22:380:22:42

people held about the permanence of the soul.

0:22:420:22:45

He realised that the external world, as we experienced it,

0:22:490:22:52

was constantly changing,

0:22:520:22:54

and that we were constantly changing, too.

0:22:540:22:57

Our material form, our sensations, our mind, our consciousness,

0:22:570:23:02

our character - all in perpetual flux.

0:23:020:23:06

This realisation exposed a fundamental flaw

0:23:100:23:13

in the Buddha's thinking.

0:23:130:23:15

All efforts to identify a permanent self were futile,

0:23:160:23:21

because a permanent, or independent self, did not exist.

0:23:210:23:28

When the Buddha's looking at how the process of his suffering

0:23:290:23:34

was developing, he started looking at it very much like a doctor

0:23:340:23:37

and he starts looking at a cause.

0:23:370:23:39

He starts realising that everything is fleeting, is changing.

0:23:390:23:42

There's nothing that he can put his finger on as a cause and starts

0:23:420:23:45

realising that, actually, the cause is the identification with an "I".

0:23:450:23:50

There's no such thing, which you can just pinpoint at a certain point

0:23:500:23:54

in time and say, "OK, this is it."

0:23:540:23:56

But, it changes in the next moment, so I think that realisation

0:23:560:23:59

that everything is impermanent, leads to the idea

0:23:590:24:02

of the permanently existing entity of a soul as a concept.

0:24:020:24:06

Just explain to me, cos I can't quite get my head round this.

0:24:060:24:10

What does it mean to have no self? What did he mean by that?

0:24:100:24:14

I'll give you an example. For example, I say,

0:24:140:24:16

"OK, Bethany, when were you born?"

0:24:160:24:18

And you say, "I was born on so and so date and so and so year."

0:24:180:24:20

And I'd say, "Really? Weren't you born nine months before that?"

0:24:200:24:24

You say, "Yes," and I say,

0:24:240:24:26

"Weren't you in your mother and father before that?"

0:24:260:24:28

If I took your mother out of you, you're not Bettany any more!

0:24:280:24:32

Bettany's made of non-Bettany elements.

0:24:320:24:34

Bettany is the sunshine,

0:24:340:24:36

the earth, England,

0:24:360:24:37

and then you suddenly start realising that there was not

0:24:370:24:40

a single point when Bettany came about.

0:24:400:24:43

You know, so, in Buddhism we don't talk about creation,

0:24:430:24:46

we talk about manifestation.

0:24:460:24:47

It's not denying that you exist. You exist.

0:24:490:24:54

It's denying that we have an intrinsically independent entity.

0:24:540:24:58

The Buddha believed the idea of a permanent self

0:25:020:25:05

wasn't part of the solution.

0:25:050:25:07

It was actually at the root of the problem,

0:25:070:25:10

because it made us selfish, self-absorbed.

0:25:100:25:13

It created insatiable craving that enslaved us

0:25:140:25:18

to transient earthly concerns, and kept us trapped in samsara.

0:25:180:25:24

To rid oneself of this deep-seated delusion of self,

0:25:250:25:29

was the way to liberation.

0:25:290:25:32

That realisation allows you the freedom not to get caught

0:25:330:25:37

in the I, me, mine, which is really the fundamental cause of suffering.

0:25:370:25:43

And then he says, "Oh, then there is a way to overcome suffering."

0:25:430:25:49

That's a sort of, "A-ha, wow!"

0:25:490:25:51

So, his teaching was based around rediscovering your nature,

0:25:510:25:56

which is non-self nature.

0:25:560:25:58

The Buddha's self-analysis revealed the answer.

0:26:000:26:04

If we could extinguish the delusion of self,

0:26:040:26:07

we would see things as they truly are and our suffering would end.

0:26:070:26:12

We had the capacity to take control of our lives.

0:26:120:26:17

The Buddha seems to have recognised that there is plasticity

0:26:170:26:21

to our minds and characters.

0:26:210:26:23

Living in the world with the right attitude,

0:26:230:26:26

is fundamentally empowering.

0:26:260:26:29

Basically, know yourself, and the world is yours.

0:26:290:26:33

It's cognitive psychology,

0:26:340:26:36

25 centuries before the phrase is invented.

0:26:360:26:39

The Buddha was ready to throw all his efforts

0:26:450:26:48

into bringing about his self-transformation.

0:26:480:26:50

Arriving on the outskirts of a small village,

0:26:540:26:57

he found a beautiful stretch of countryside,

0:26:570:26:59

with a pleasant grove, nestled on the banks of a sparkling river.

0:26:590:27:03

We're told that one night, aged 35, the Buddha came here to

0:27:070:27:12

Bodh Gaya, and calmly sat underneath the ancestor of this very tree.

0:27:120:27:17

Today, it's a pilgrimage site for many millions, for one key reason.

0:27:170:27:22

Because this is where it all came together.

0:27:230:27:26

The Buddha entered a deep meditative state,

0:27:300:27:34

in which he experienced a vast number of his previous lives.

0:27:340:27:38

He describes a cycle of many life forms and realms of existence.

0:27:420:27:46

From hell-beings and animals,

0:27:480:27:51

to humans, through to more abstract levels of consciousness.

0:27:510:27:55

Yet all these forms were subject to samsara.

0:27:570:28:00

Even a god would eventually die and be reborn.

0:28:000:28:04

But, finally, the Buddha moved beyond these states.

0:28:070:28:11

Searching deep in his humanity,

0:28:110:28:13

he was able to root out and permanently extinguish craving,

0:28:130:28:18

ignorance and delusion.

0:28:180:28:20

He had finally broken free of the cycle of death and rebirth

0:28:200:28:25

and attained, enlightenment - nirvana.

0:28:250:28:29

Unshakeable is the liberation of my mind.

0:28:290:28:33

This is the last birth.

0:28:330:28:35

For me, there is no more renewed existence.

0:28:350:28:38

Later, the Buddha would discourage speculation

0:28:410:28:44

about the nature of nirvana.

0:28:440:28:46

Describing it, was like asking what had happened to a flame

0:28:460:28:49

once it had been blown out.

0:28:490:28:51

And yet, this was no less than a solution to the human condition,

0:28:520:28:57

without the need for heavens or gods or metaphysical knowledge.

0:28:570:29:02

This was a state of pure liberation,

0:29:020:29:06

directly experienced from within.

0:29:060:29:09

The Buddha had harnessed the capabilities of the mind,

0:29:230:29:26

to identify what he believed it fundamentally was to be human.

0:29:260:29:30

Extinguishing desire and hatred and delusion, had allowed him

0:29:310:29:36

to fulfil his full potential.

0:29:360:29:38

Now, he could live with absolute wisdom and compassion.

0:29:390:29:43

The Buddha found he had a new mission -

0:29:460:29:49

to share what he'd experienced.

0:29:490:29:52

He wasn't sure if he could ever communicate it,

0:29:540:29:57

but his profound empathy for others drove him on.

0:29:570:30:00

His starting point, was the five former renouncer friends,

0:30:010:30:05

he had left for his middle way.

0:30:050:30:07

The sources tell us he found them where I'm heading next, the

0:30:070:30:11

outskirts of modern day Varanasi, the site of an ancient deer park.

0:30:110:30:15

At first, his former companions were reluctant to welcome him.

0:30:170:30:22

And then, we're told, they realised that a great

0:30:220:30:25

transformation had taken place.

0:30:250:30:27

They greeted him with respect, and washed his feet.

0:30:270:30:30

And it's now that we get a sense of the compelling charisma of the man.

0:30:300:30:36

Because, what the Buddha had to tell them,

0:30:360:30:38

was mind-blowing in its insight and clarity.

0:30:380:30:42

The Buddha shared his discoveries, known as the Four Noble Truths.

0:30:450:30:50

The first truth was the inevitability

0:30:530:30:56

that all life is suffering.

0:30:560:30:58

But by suffering, the Buddha didn't just mean illness and old age,

0:30:580:31:01

but the persistent disappointments and insecurities of life.

0:31:010:31:05

The second truth was that suffering is caused by craving.

0:31:070:31:11

The third was that, since suffering has an identifiable cause,

0:31:130:31:17

it could have an end.

0:31:170:31:18

But it was the fourth truth that offered the critical,

0:31:210:31:24

practical answer.

0:31:240:31:26

This truth was a path, what he called the Eightfold Path,

0:31:260:31:31

and it offered up an end to all suffering.

0:31:310:31:34

With the Buddha's guidance,

0:31:380:31:39

his small group of disciples made quick progress.

0:31:390:31:42

They gained wisdom, practised ethical conduct

0:31:440:31:47

and achieved mental discipline through meditation.

0:31:470:31:50

Finally, they experienced nirvana for themselves.

0:31:520:31:55

But whilst liberation was, in theory, open to everyone,

0:32:020:32:05

in practice, many couldn't afford the time and effort.

0:32:050:32:09

The Buddha, however, had a message of hope for those who remained

0:32:110:32:14

trapped in the cycle of death and rebirth...

0:32:140:32:17

..by completely reformulating the long established concept of karma.

0:32:190:32:25

Traditionally, karma referred to significant action, which, it was

0:32:250:32:30

believed, could improve the quality of our rebirth in the next life.

0:32:300:32:35

In the early days of Brahmanism, karma was synonymous with

0:32:350:32:39

ritual action, performed by priests, on behalf of the higher castes.

0:32:390:32:44

The lowest castes had little prospect of improving

0:32:440:32:47

their lot through this ritual form of karma.

0:32:470:32:50

The Buddha changed karma from ritual action to the thought

0:32:520:32:56

of that action, so the intent of that action was more important than

0:32:560:33:01

the action itself.

0:33:010:33:02

If you thought well or if you had good intentions,

0:33:020:33:05

then you could change your destiny,

0:33:050:33:08

not necessarily in this life

0:33:080:33:10

but in future lives, as well.

0:33:100:33:13

That's a key shift, isn't it?

0:33:130:33:15

That is a very major shift in the understanding of the notion

0:33:150:33:17

of karma, from ritual action to an individual's choice of doing good.

0:33:170:33:22

They have to be good human beings,

0:33:220:33:24

and that's the fundamental thing about Buddhism.

0:33:240:33:26

So, that's not just a, kind of, philosophical shift,

0:33:260:33:29

that's a change in society?

0:33:290:33:31

Absolutely, he took it out of the hands of the priests

0:33:310:33:34

who were empowered to change the destiny of men

0:33:340:33:38

and gave it in the hands of people who were practising Buddhism.

0:33:380:33:41

So, it doesn't matter what class you're from or,

0:33:410:33:43

actually, what gender?

0:33:430:33:44

You could be anyone, you could belong to any caste.

0:33:440:33:46

It didn't really matter.

0:33:460:33:47

Everybody had the choice and the freedom to improve,

0:33:470:33:50

to become a good person.

0:33:500:33:51

The Buddha's take on karma was liberating.

0:33:560:33:59

Everyone stuck in the cycle of samsara,

0:33:590:34:02

had the chance to improve the quality of their rebirth.

0:34:020:34:05

Now, you were no longer good or bad,

0:34:090:34:12

dependent on class or gender,

0:34:120:34:14

or some kind of ritual expertise.

0:34:140:34:17

The Buddha sought answers that had the potential to benefit everyone.

0:34:170:34:21

Just think what a radical development that is.

0:34:210:34:24

The Buddha's democratisation of karma attracted the attention,

0:34:320:34:35

and support, of one class in particular,

0:34:350:34:39

the merchants and traders, who had fuelled the rise of Indian cities.

0:34:390:34:43

According to the conventions of Brahmanism,

0:34:460:34:49

contact with anyone outside your caste resulted in contamination.

0:34:490:34:54

But of course, by definition, merchants were interacting

0:34:540:34:57

with different people and different cultures the whole time.

0:34:570:35:01

Now, Buddhism didn't have any kind of a problem with that.

0:35:010:35:04

Some merchants felt disadvantaged by the caste system.

0:35:080:35:12

The Buddha's inclusive message, gave them a greater sense of place

0:35:120:35:16

in society and channelled their aspirational instincts.

0:35:160:35:20

The wealth of merchants, like good karma, was by its very nature,

0:35:210:35:26

meritocratic.

0:35:260:35:27

It wasn't in some way pre-ordained,

0:35:270:35:30

it was won and accumulated through your own efforts.

0:35:300:35:33

The Buddha's take on the ancient ideas of karma,

0:35:360:35:39

offered ordinary people a way to a better, moral life.

0:35:390:35:44

He helped to create the belief, that action and intention,

0:35:440:35:48

in our everyday lives, had real consequences.

0:35:480:35:51

Coins like these were a brand-new common denominator,

0:35:530:35:57

just as karma was now a kind of moral currency for Buddhism.

0:35:570:36:02

It's easy to imagine how, with things like these in your pocket,

0:36:030:36:06

you could understand how you could secure future benefit,

0:36:060:36:10

by building up merits.

0:36:100:36:12

The Buddha had revolutionised ethics.

0:36:130:36:16

We could no longer blame any external force, like a God,

0:36:170:36:20

for our decisions.

0:36:200:36:23

We were entirely responsible for our own moral condition.

0:36:230:36:26

The buck stopped with us.

0:36:260:36:29

In essence, this is the same rallying cry that we hear from those

0:36:290:36:32

other great philosophers of the age, Socrates and Confucius.

0:36:320:36:37

To find answers to the universe, first look within.

0:36:370:36:40

"Be your own lamp," said the Buddha. "Seek no other refuge."

0:36:400:36:46

These are exciting thoughts, the idea that you don't just have

0:36:460:36:50

to be a victim, but a master of your own fate.

0:36:500:36:54

The Buddha forged ahead with his potent message

0:37:030:37:05

of personal liberation.

0:37:050:37:07

It's said he criss-crossed the central Indian plains,

0:37:090:37:12

giving public talks in cities and the country,

0:37:120:37:16

to anybody he thought ready to hear his message.

0:37:160:37:18

And the community of disciples, who shared his mission

0:37:200:37:23

and wandering lifestyle, acquired a name - the Sangha.

0:37:230:37:28

At this stage, the Sangha was dispersed,

0:37:300:37:32

and only loosely organised.

0:37:320:37:35

But, according to traditional accounts, when the Buddha

0:37:350:37:37

came here, to a forest on the outskirts of Rajagriha,

0:37:370:37:42

the Buddhist order would take on a whole new direction.

0:37:420:37:45

The king of the city, Bimbisara,

0:37:480:37:50

heard that the Buddha was camped outside,

0:37:500:37:53

and went to visit him with 120,000 Brahmans.

0:37:530:37:57

On hearing him preach, we're told that each and every one of them,

0:37:570:38:01

including the King, begged to be received as lay followers.

0:38:010:38:07

We know that with people when we meet some people,

0:38:110:38:13

we immediately feel a sense of reverence, you know,

0:38:130:38:16

a sense of humility in their presence.

0:38:160:38:20

And yet, they don't seem inaccessible.

0:38:200:38:23

He was, I feel, very charismatic,

0:38:230:38:25

people were, in a way, entranced by him.

0:38:250:38:29

I think he was able to understand the psychology of the person.

0:38:300:38:34

He had a, sort of, intuitive sense of what the person needed.

0:38:340:38:37

He was not saying, "I'm the one who knows."

0:38:390:38:42

He said, "You try it."

0:38:420:38:44

And this spirit of free enquiry

0:38:440:38:46

that the Buddha was really encouraging,

0:38:460:38:48

was quite revolutionary.

0:38:480:38:50

Following their meeting, Bimbisara was said to have donated

0:38:520:38:55

a bamboo grove on this very spot,

0:38:550:38:58

as a retreat for the Buddha's growing community.

0:38:580:39:01

Winning over wealthy patrons would be crucial for the future

0:39:020:39:06

of the Buddha's message.

0:39:060:39:07

The establishment of permanent bases

0:39:080:39:11

in places like this, saw the Sangha develop from a group

0:39:110:39:14

of like-minded itinerants, into a settled institution.

0:39:140:39:17

The Sangha at Rajagriha became the model for something entirely new.

0:39:230:39:28

Soon, a network of monasteries,

0:39:290:39:31

the first known monasteries in the world, sprang up.

0:39:310:39:36

Places where the Buddha, and his travelling disciples,

0:39:360:39:39

would stay during the monsoon season.

0:39:390:39:41

The movement was changing, and the Buddha's role would change, too.

0:39:440:39:48

He'd taught that each monk was an island,

0:39:490:39:51

and responsible for themselves.

0:39:510:39:54

But, now, he's believed to have created a comprehensive

0:39:540:39:57

set of guidelines.

0:39:570:39:58

'With early Buddhism, there was only a few monks, so there was no need'

0:40:000:40:04

of rules, because those who became monks

0:40:040:40:08

were very highly intelligent

0:40:080:40:10

and highly, you know, spiritual.

0:40:100:40:13

They have the clear intention, comprehension -

0:40:130:40:17

why I am become a monk -

0:40:170:40:20

so they never done anything wrong.

0:40:200:40:23

But gradually, you know, with the numbers growing up,

0:40:230:40:27

to maintain the excellence, peace and harmony,

0:40:270:40:31

he prescribed the different rules and the discipline.

0:40:310:40:36

And amazing to think that two-and-a-half millennia later,

0:40:360:40:39

you're still living by those rules.

0:40:390:40:41

I think we need MORE rules.

0:40:410:40:43

Because, in the modern times, we have to face so many things.

0:40:430:40:47

That time, only India, now there is the whole world!

0:40:470:40:50

There are 227 rules for monks, enacted every day.

0:40:510:40:57

And it is amazing to think that in these words, we could be

0:40:570:41:00

getting a glimpse into the mind of the Buddha and his early followers.

0:41:000:41:04

CHANTING

0:41:070:41:08

The Buddha's thought to have adapted his rules in an ad hoc way.

0:41:080:41:13

He was a pragmatist, not above changing his mind

0:41:130:41:16

and listening to reason.

0:41:160:41:17

Even when it came to the thorny issue of including women.

0:41:180:41:23

CHANTING IN BACKGROUND

0:41:230:41:25

At the very beginning, they were regarded as a bit of a burden,

0:41:250:41:27

because they needed protecting.

0:41:270:41:29

But the logic that liberation should be available to all

0:41:290:41:33

meant that, really, they had to be included.

0:41:330:41:36

And we're told that the Buddha himself eventually declared

0:41:360:41:40

that nuns should be part of the Sangha.

0:41:400:41:42

The rules of the Sangha are eminently practical.

0:41:450:41:49

Self-discipline and resourcefulness are enshrined into daily life.

0:41:490:41:53

They dictate what you can own and what you must give up.

0:41:530:41:57

Monks are allowed to have eight possessions.

0:41:580:42:03

There are three robes, basically.

0:42:030:42:06

-It is to look ugly.

-SHE LAUGHS

0:42:060:42:08

Not to be beautiful.

0:42:080:42:10

We have to have a small needle and the threads.

0:42:100:42:13

But, you know, nowadays, we don't stitch,

0:42:130:42:16

-because we have ready-made robes.

-OK.

0:42:160:42:19

This is the razor.

0:42:190:42:20

-It is very troublesome to keep hair.

-Yes.

0:42:200:42:23

So, we leave it, everything.

0:42:230:42:26

-This is bowl...

-Begging bowl?

-Begging bowl of the monks.

-Yeah.

0:42:260:42:29

So this, you collect food and drinks

0:42:290:42:32

-and alms from other people?

-Every day.

0:42:320:42:34

And why do you get your food from outside?

0:42:340:42:36

Why don't you produce it yourself?

0:42:360:42:39

Because a monk has to depend on the people, on the society,

0:42:390:42:43

so...we have gratefulness and gratitude.

0:42:430:42:47

So, what we return to them -

0:42:470:42:50

our compassion and wisdom.

0:42:500:42:53

Monks can be a guide to the people,

0:42:530:42:57

to the society, to show the path to wisdom,

0:42:570:43:01

to show the path to peace and to show the path to happiness.

0:43:010:43:06

Apart from that, monks have no other connection,

0:43:060:43:10

relations to the lay people, whatsoever.

0:43:100:43:15

But you've had to leave your family in order to become a monk?

0:43:150:43:19

Yes. In fact, family life is always

0:43:190:43:23

full of that kind of miseries,

0:43:230:43:26

that kind of obstacles and troubles, so many.

0:43:260:43:30

So, living in a family life,

0:43:300:43:32

one cannot practise a simple, holy life,

0:43:320:43:37

in order to achieve the spiritual heights.

0:43:370:43:41

CHANTING

0:43:420:43:45

When monks leave home, it can be hard for those left behind.

0:43:450:43:50

The Buddha is said to have acknowledged the grief

0:43:500:43:52

he'd caused his family and proclaimed that monks needed

0:43:520:43:56

parental permission to join.

0:43:560:43:57

CHANTING

0:43:590:44:00

Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion that's sometimes criticised

0:44:000:44:04

for only benefiting the practitioner,

0:44:040:44:06

that, rather coldly, sees social and family bonds

0:44:060:44:09

as attachments to the world

0:44:090:44:11

and, therefore, a barrier to achieving nirvana.

0:44:110:44:14

But what I get a sense of here

0:44:140:44:16

is a real commitment to collective wellbeing.

0:44:160:44:20

CHANTING

0:44:260:44:29

The Buddha hadn't shut himself away after his enlightenment.

0:44:290:44:33

His insights had heightened his concern for others

0:44:330:44:36

and he'd spend over half his life helping those around him

0:44:360:44:40

to alleviate their suffering.

0:44:400:44:41

The Buddha's insistence on the absolute value of compassion

0:44:440:44:48

is something that really impresses me.

0:44:480:44:50

Just listen to these words of his,

0:44:500:44:52

some of the very earliest ever written down.

0:44:520:44:55

"Let no-one deceive another, nor despise anyone anywhere.

0:44:560:45:01

"As a mother protects her child, with boundless loving kindness,

0:45:010:45:07

"cherish the world.

0:45:070:45:09

"Love without limit."

0:45:090:45:11

How can you argue with that?

0:45:130:45:15

By tirelessly expressing and explaining his ideas,

0:45:240:45:28

the Buddha had nurtured a committed following

0:45:280:45:31

dedicated to his principles of intellectual rigour

0:45:310:45:34

and deep humanity.

0:45:340:45:35

But the Sangha couldn't rely on the leadership of its founder forever.

0:45:380:45:42

We're told that when the Buddha reached his eighties,

0:45:450:45:48

thoughts turned to the continuation of his message.

0:45:480:45:51

His faithful attendant, Ananda, asked what would happen

0:45:550:45:57

to the Sangha after he died.

0:45:570:46:00

He said, "The Sangha doesn't need a leader,"

0:46:000:46:03

"it just needs my dharma, my teaching."

0:46:030:46:07

After accepting a meal at the house of a humble blacksmith,

0:46:110:46:14

it's believed he contracted food poisoning

0:46:140:46:17

and quickly became very ill.

0:46:170:46:19

Yet, having achieved nirvana,

0:46:210:46:23

the Buddha had no fear of death.

0:46:230:46:26

His suffering had ended with the moment of his enlightenment.

0:46:260:46:30

He would not be reborn

0:46:300:46:33

and what followed death was, like nirvana,

0:46:330:46:37

beyond comprehension.

0:46:370:46:39

Just before he died, he told his fellow monks

0:46:450:46:48

to simply keep seeking enlightenment.

0:46:480:46:51

"It is the nature of things to decay.

0:46:510:46:54

"Be attentive, and you will succeed."

0:46:540:46:57

The Buddha's death robbed the Sangha of their founder and leader.

0:47:100:47:14

With this vacuum, there was a real danger

0:47:160:47:18

his ideas would be lost or corrupted.

0:47:180:47:21

The Buddha had encouraged the Sangha to reach consensus

0:47:240:47:26

on day-to-day concerns by holding regular meetings.

0:47:260:47:30

And now, the monks did as they'd been taught.

0:47:300:47:33

They're said to have convened a council

0:47:370:47:39

of 500 prominent monks here to this cave

0:47:390:47:43

to determine the content of Buddhist doctrine.

0:47:430:47:46

Ananda recited the sermons and the teachings of the Buddha.

0:47:480:47:51

Another monk, Upali, recited the monastic rules.

0:47:510:47:55

They now had a definitive account of the Buddha's ideas.

0:47:550:47:59

For the next few centuries,

0:48:040:48:06

the Buddha's message was kept alive by the Sangha.

0:48:060:48:09

But, ironically, Buddhism's expansion to the wider world

0:48:110:48:16

would come courtesy of a despot.

0:48:160:48:19

200 years after the Buddha's death,

0:48:330:48:35

most of what is modern India

0:48:350:48:37

was ruled by the ruthless emperor Ashoka.

0:48:370:48:40

This well in Ashoka's ancient capital, Patna,

0:48:420:48:45

is believed to have been his purpose-built torture chamber.

0:48:450:48:49

We're told that, here, Ashoka's sadistic head torturer

0:48:510:48:55

would prise open the mouths of his victims

0:48:550:48:58

and pour molten copper down their throats.

0:48:580:49:01

BELL RINGS

0:49:040:49:06

But then, around 262 BC,

0:49:060:49:09

following a particularly pitiless and bloody victory,

0:49:090:49:12

Ashoka suddenly had a sickening realisation

0:49:120:49:16

of all the suffering that he'd caused.

0:49:160:49:19

And his change of heart could not have been more dramatic.

0:49:190:49:21

Invoking the non-violent teachings of the Buddha,

0:49:230:49:25

and declaring his heartfelt remorse for all his murderous actions,

0:49:250:49:30

he vowed that, from here on in,

0:49:300:49:32

he would govern righteously.

0:49:320:49:35

HORNS BEEP

0:49:360:49:38

The reformed emperor set his new beliefs in stone.

0:49:380:49:42

He sought out sites associated with the Buddha's life

0:49:440:49:47

and erected pillars up to 15 metres high.

0:49:470:49:51

In doing so, he marked them out for the benefit of future pilgrims.

0:49:510:49:55

HE SPEAKS IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

0:49:550:49:58

He had inscriptions, like this, carved into stone

0:49:580:50:01

right across his empire.

0:50:010:50:03

But these edicts didn't lionise his victories in battle.

0:50:030:50:07

Instead, they declared his revulsion of violence

0:50:070:50:10

and urged his subjects to live moral and compassionate lives.

0:50:100:50:14

Ashoka gave up conquest and abolished the death penalty.

0:50:180:50:23

He liberated slaves, set up free hospitals.

0:50:230:50:27

Animal sacrifice was banned in the capital

0:50:270:50:30

and a wide range of animals,

0:50:300:50:32

including parrots, tortoises, porcupines,

0:50:320:50:35

became protected species.

0:50:350:50:36

BIRDS CAW

0:50:360:50:38

He sent missions out of India,

0:50:380:50:40

taking Buddhist principles to Sri Lanka, the Middle East

0:50:400:50:43

and across Asia.

0:50:430:50:45

Buddhism would continue to dominate the Indian subcontinent

0:50:470:50:51

for the next one-and-a-half millennia.

0:50:510:50:53

Wealthy patrons donated generously.

0:50:540:50:58

Stupas, containing what was said to be relics of the Buddha

0:50:580:51:01

and sculptures depicting his life, emerged across the landscape.

0:51:010:51:06

But to my mind, the greatest legacy of this time

0:51:070:51:11

is here, at Nalanda.

0:51:110:51:13

It is just such a treat to be here,

0:51:220:51:24

because this place has a claim to be the oldest university

0:51:240:51:28

in the world.

0:51:280:51:29

We know there was a serious educational establishment here

0:51:290:51:32

from at least the fifth century AD,

0:51:320:51:34

and you have to try to imagine it in its heyday.

0:51:340:51:38

It would have been buzzing with international scholars,

0:51:380:51:41

who came from as far afield as Indonesia, Tibet, China,

0:51:410:51:45

Turkey and Japan.

0:51:450:51:47

It had a huge campus with thousands of students.

0:51:490:51:53

200 villages supplied the students' practical needs.

0:51:530:51:57

Maths, politics, literature were all studied here,

0:51:570:52:01

but there was particular emphasis on Buddhism.

0:52:010:52:05

Thousands of Buddhist manuscripts were housed

0:52:050:52:08

in a nine-storeyed building.

0:52:080:52:10

It was the envy of the medieval world.

0:52:100:52:12

One Chinese scholar clearly adored it here.

0:52:130:52:16

"There are richly adorned towers, and fairytale turrets.

0:52:170:52:21

"Roofs covered with tiles that reflect

0:52:210:52:23

"the light in a thousand shades.

0:52:230:52:25

"There are observatories and the upper rooms tower above the clouds.

0:52:250:52:31

"These things add to the beauty of the scene."

0:52:310:52:34

Renewed interest in Nalanda's legacy of enquiry

0:52:380:52:41

has been led by Nobel-prize-winning economist Amartya Sen.

0:52:410:52:46

Do you think that the Buddha would have approved

0:52:460:52:49

of what went on at Nalanda?

0:52:490:52:50

I should think that he very much would have approved.

0:52:520:52:55

It was inspired by his ideas, it's inspired by the idea

0:52:550:52:59

that we have to solve problems by reflection,

0:52:590:53:04

by knowledge, by critical examination.

0:53:040:53:07

You know, he tried fasting and it didn't do anything for him

0:53:070:53:10

and he decided that by torturing the body, you don't improve your mind.

0:53:100:53:16

You improve the mind by cultivating the mind.

0:53:160:53:19

Some people might think it's counter-intuitive that Buddhism

0:53:190:53:22

is being taught at Nalanda alongside maths and science and grammar.

0:53:220:53:27

But it's part of that kind of practical understanding

0:53:270:53:30

of the world, isn't it?

0:53:300:53:32

Well, it's part of a Buddhist understanding of the world, too.

0:53:320:53:35

Namely that you have to be concerned with those issues that move people,

0:53:350:53:40

which includes mortality, disability, morbidity.

0:53:400:53:45

It wouldn't be seen in any kind of conflict with Buddhist studies,

0:53:460:53:50

because Buddhism is also about human life.

0:53:500:53:54

What would you say the Buddha has to offer the world today?

0:53:540:53:57

One of the things that Buddha identifies is that

0:53:570:54:01

it's possible for you to agree on good action

0:54:010:54:06

without necessarily agreeing

0:54:060:54:09

on a bigger, metaphysical view of the universe.

0:54:090:54:14

When I was fortunate to get the Nobel,

0:54:140:54:16

I gave the bulk of that money to have elementary education,

0:54:160:54:20

elementary health care and gender equality.

0:54:200:54:22

At the same time, I don't have any great belief

0:54:220:54:25

in religion and God.

0:54:250:54:28

But it was the Buddha who changed the question from

0:54:280:54:32

"Is there a God?"

0:54:320:54:34

to questions like, how to behave,

0:54:340:54:37

no matter whether there is God or not.

0:54:370:54:40

And I think that's a game changer.

0:54:400:54:43

Buddhism had been in the ascendency,

0:54:510:54:54

but, from the seventh century, changes in patterns of patronage

0:54:540:54:58

began to affect big institutions like Nalanda.

0:54:580:55:01

Gifts from rich benefactors ebbed away.

0:55:020:55:05

Brahmanism had always remained a strong presence

0:55:060:55:09

and people drifted back in greater numbers.

0:55:090:55:12

It began to dominate state governance, at Buddhism's expense.

0:55:120:55:16

Muslim conquerors in the 12th and 13th centuries

0:55:180:55:22

sacked monasteries and temples.

0:55:220:55:24

Nalanda is said to have been put to the torch

0:55:260:55:29

and to have burnt for three days.

0:55:290:55:31

The Buddhist way of life

0:55:340:55:35

all but disappeared in the land of its birth.

0:55:350:55:39

But Buddhism was already on the move.

0:55:490:55:52

It had already travelled at a furious pace throughout Asia

0:55:520:55:55

and would continue its journey to become a truly global religion.

0:55:550:55:59

With no single sacred language, no inflexible dogma,

0:56:050:56:09

Buddhism was ripe for export.

0:56:090:56:12

It's an adaptable philosophy that's become a diverse belief system.

0:56:120:56:17

As it spread, it cross-pollinated with other cultures

0:56:170:56:21

in numerous, unexpected ways.

0:56:210:56:23

For some, there is life after death

0:56:250:56:28

and the Buddha is a figure of devotion.

0:56:280:56:30

Since the 20th century, it's even been implicated

0:56:340:56:37

in violent, nationalist struggles.

0:56:370:56:40

But, at its heart, the Buddha's message remains the same -

0:56:410:56:46

that whilst change is inevitable,

0:56:460:56:49

we all have the power to direct that change.

0:56:490:56:52

CHANTING

0:56:520:56:54

By gaining wisdom, we can reduce suffering.

0:56:540:56:58

The Buddha's life is a fascinating one

0:57:000:57:03

from an age that made history.

0:57:030:57:06

But we can relate to him on a very personal level.

0:57:060:57:09

His need to find answers to the human condition in the here and now

0:57:090:57:13

is one that, I'd argue, deep down, we all share.

0:57:130:57:18

CHANTING

0:57:190:57:21

He offers practical solutions to help overcome

0:57:230:57:26

the desires and delusions, which fuel hatred, jealousy and greed.

0:57:260:57:31

And, arguably, his greatest gift is deceptively simple.

0:57:330:57:37

That it's compassion, empathy and knowing who we truly are

0:57:370:57:43

that makes both us and the world better.

0:57:430:57:47

Whether you're Buddhist or not,

0:57:470:57:49

the humanity and hope of that message still burns bright today.

0:57:490:57:53

ALL TALK

0:57:540:57:56

If the mind of the Buddha has made you think,

0:58:030:58:04

explore further with The Open University

0:58:040:58:07

to find out how great minds have influenced our world.

0:58:070:58:10

Go to the address on the bottom of the screen

0:58:100:58:13

and follow the links to The Open University.

0:58:130:58:15

Next time, I investigate a philosopher

0:58:180:58:21

who influenced the whole of Western thought -

0:58:210:58:24

Socrates.

0:58:240:58:26

His rigorous methods and uncompromising questioning

0:58:260:58:29

made him the moral conscience of the city he loved - Athens.

0:58:290:58:34

Yet, his dogged pursuit of truth would end with a death sentence.

0:58:340:58:39

In this first episode, Bettany investigates the revolutionary ideas of the Buddha.