As I’ve said several times, I am not a student of religion and I have no specialized knowledge of Buddhism. I have one benefit in this area — my husband has read about many religions and has some books on Buddhism. Therefore, I have read parts of Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor, and Religions of Asia, 3rd Edition, by John Y. Fenton, Norvin Hein, Frank E. Reynolds, Niels C. Nielsen, Jr., Grace G. Burford, and Robert K. C. Forman (all of these authors are professors at various American universities). To write this post I will be relying on these references and a website that really gives a great outline of what Buddhism is all about.
As we all know, there are several Buddha statues placed around ME’s exam room. The presence of these statues has prompted viewers to wonder what their meaning might be. I read somewhere that when PB was asked about the Buddhas, she refused to discuss them. There are many ways to interpret her response, and I’m not into speculation of that kind. Nevertheless, if she won’t discuss it, we will never know what their actual purpose is. Ultimately what I’ve decided is to use the Buddha figure ME considers valuable enough to take with him and strap into the backseat of the car as the important statue in the show. I think if we’re going to put some energy into trying to determine what the Buddha might mean to ME and DM as a show, the fact that he separates out that one to take with him in the car, and it’s also the one Edith notices when she first visits his office (S4E1), makes it the one to concentrate on.
The Buddha appears to be in the meditation pose in which the back of the right hand rests on top of the left palm with the thumbs lightly touching each other. The right hand, being on top, represents enlightenment and the other, the world of appearance. Thus, this gesture symbolizes overcoming the world of appearance through an enlightened state of mind. This was the state of the spiritual leader, Gautama Buddha. The fact that it is in the car when Martin chases after Louisa, fearing for her safety, could be interpreted as contributing to his enlightened state of mind once they reach the pub and Louisa is in labor. It is still in the car next to Louisa when they take the baby home from the hospital. When she gets into the back seat, Martin says the baby makes everything different and, when they arrive back in Portwenn, he asks to stay overnight. His view of having a child and staying with Louisa has taken a dramatic turn. Could the conversion be due to some influence of the Buddha?
Why he finds it valuable and how it is related to Edith are hard to answer questions. Is he calling it valuable because of its material value, its sentimental value, or its value to him as a person? (Here we go again with the significance of language and how a word can have many meanings.) How was Edith involved with the Buddha? Was she there when he found it? Does it have something to do with their relationship? It’s hard to imagine that they traveled somewhere to get it because of his aversion to travel and hotels, but they could have gone shopping in London together and seen it at some store. We don’t know why it’s valuable; we only know he considers it valuable.
I will try to distill the salient points of Buddhism that I’ve read about and could be related to this show. I want to strongly caution that all of this is totally my own guesswork and might have absolutely no merit. I have no reason to believe anything I come up with coincides with what the writers, set designers, producers, etc., etc. had in mind. As long as we understand that what I’m doing is purely an intellectual exercise, I can go on.
Buddhism is based on the life and teachings of Sakyamuni Gautama Siddhartha (please excuse the lack of proper accents on some of the letters), a name that comes from his clan name followed by his family name and his given name. Siddhartha means success. He lived in the 5th C BCE in northeastern India. One of my sources states, “Buddhism has so many different teachings that it is impossible to fit them into a single, coherent, logical system. They do, however, fit together as therapies or medicine…Buddhism teaches that beings are sick, and the Buddhas are the physicians.” The stories told by Siddhartha’s followers describe a boy born to the ruler of the Sakya kingdom and who was insulated from sickness, decay, and death. He was given the best education possible and married to the most beautiful princess, by whom he had a son. He names his son Rahula which means the fetter. This name could be a sign that he was ambivalent about the value of married life.
[At this point we could pause to note that obviously the idea that Buddhas are physicians might be related to Martin’s profession. In addition, we could draw an analogy between the first rate education Siddhartha received and Martin’s education, as well as his marriage to a beautiful princess followed by the birth of a son and Martin’s similar circumstances. Martin, too, might consider his son a fetter despite loving him.]
Eventually, Siddhartha left home and practiced asceticism but that did not lead to any clear answers about the cycle of life. He went into the forest and found himself under a tree where “he vowed that he would not move until he had attained perfect and complete enlightenment.” As a result, meditation became an integral part of his belief system. The teachings of The Buddha are called The Dharma and consist of the Four Noble Truths. According to another source, “the first two truths (anguish/suffering and its origins) describe the dilemma, the second two (cessation and the path) its resolution. He awoke to a set of interrelated truths rooted in the immediacy of experience here and now…An unawakened existence, in which we drift unaware on a surge of habitual impulses, is both ignoble and undignified.” Furthermore, “instead of presenting himself as a savior, the Buddha saw himself as a healer. He presented his truths in the form of a medical diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.” [I hesitate to make too much of this, but it must be significant that Buddha is so intertwined with medicine and healing.]
The Four Noble Truths “are challenges to act.” Suffering is the first noble truth. Buddha believed that “all sentient beings…live lives in which suffering is an inevitable and ultimately dominant component.” The Second Noble Truth asserts that the cause of suffering is desire and craving. The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of suffering through Nirvana, which means “extinguishing.” Here it means the extinguishing of craving and, therefore, of suffering. “When the mind no longer grasps and craves what is by nature impermanent, suffering ends.” The Fourth Noble Truth is the path out of suffering. The path is called Noble Eightfold Path and those who follow it are released from suffering. Buddha is said to have followed it himself. For me the path is somewhat vague. It consists of “right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.”
The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes divided into three basic divisions, as follows:
Division Eightfold Path factors Acquired factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view 9. Right knowledge
2. Right intention 10. Right liberation
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
To the best of my understanding, Wisdom is the ability to be discerning and depends on each individual’s capacity to know right and wrong. Ethical Conduct is the necessity “to restrain from unwholesome deeds of body and speech to prevent the faculties of bodily action and speech from becoming tools of the defilements.” Right Speech is “abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter.” Right Action is “abstaining from taking life, from stealing, and from illicit sex [or sexual misconduct].” Right Livelihood “means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.”
The five types of businesses that are harmful to undertake are:
Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of toxic product designed to kill.
And Concentration “is achieved through training in the higher consciousness, which brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop true wisdom by direct experience.”
The Buddha points both to cognitive and emotional causes of suffering. The emotional cause is desire and its negative opposite, aversion. The cognitive cause is ignorance of the way things truly occur, or of three marks of existence: that all things are unsatisfactory, impermanent, and without essential self. The noble eightfold path is, from this psychological viewpoint, an attempt to change patterns of thought and behavior.
[I want to pause here again because this is a lot to take in and because I think we can see a link to some of ME’s behavior. When Louisa describes Martin as moral before their wedding in S3, she could be saying that he subscribes to the Eightfold Path and, indeed, he exhibits highly ethical conduct as defined by Buddha. He abstains from lying, idle chatter, stealing, and illicit sex. He also has chosen a profession that is the polar opposite of harming others and he doesn’t eat meat or use intoxicating drinks. Even his view of people being able to change could be linked to Buddha’s belief that by using the eightfold path a person is trying to change his/her patterns of thought and behavior.
Although all of the above is one way of applying Buddhism to the show, we have other sources for these traits and actions such as psychological conditions or childhood traumas. Thus, we cannot attribute it all to following the Buddhist philosophy. We can only say that it is possible to find a connection to Buddhism.]
In addition to the Four Noble Truths there are two doctrines that are distinct to Buddha’s teachings. These are Interdependent Arising and No Self. My source explains that the doctrine of Interdependent Arising states “all phenomenal reality, both cosmic and personal, comes into being through a process in which 12 constituent elements are continually arising interdependently (that is, dependent on and in conjunction with one another). These 12 constituents are ignorance, karmic predispositions, consciousness, name and form, the five sense organs, and the mind, contact, feeling-response, craving, grasping for an object, action toward life, birth, and old age and death. All reality can be seen as a kind of circular chain, the links of which are these 12 constituent elements. Each one of these elements, and the suffering it involves, therefore depends on each other link…It becomes possible for any individual person at any time to stop his or her involvement in the process by eliminating one or more of the links in the circular chain.” For the Buddha the two weak links that are more easily eliminated are ignorance and desire or craving.
The doctrine of No Self professes “the individual is made up of five psychophysical elements…: corporeality or physical form (which includes physical objects, the body, and the sense organs); feelings or sensations; ideations…; mental formations or dispositions – the likes, dislikes, and impulses we have about those ideas; and consciousness, the awareness of any or all of these elements… There is no essential “I” to protect and fight for. Thus, egoistic striving is seen to be delusory, and one’s own suffering is reduced. One is also more available to others, for one is freed from one’s own agenda.”
[Martin appears to have eliminated ignorance, at least when it comes to medicine, and he has few desires or cravings, although he drives an expensive car and dresses in natty suits. His major desire is Louisa, of course, and perhaps being a surgeon. Has his desire for Louisa led him to be too caught up in his craving? Can he be said to have reduced the suffering associated with these links? I struggle to believe he isn’t suffering over Louisa. When it comes to his sense of self, he seems to have relatively little interest in his psychophysical self as defined by this doctrine and he is without much of an agenda. Nevertheless, we don’t see much reduction in suffering as a result.]
I’m not sure if my discussion of Buddhism has been a satisfactory summary of Buddha’s teachings or whether it has shed any light on why there are Buddha statues placed in ME’s office. Despite spending some time reading about Buddhism and trying to find ways in which it can be related to the show, there is a part of me that can’t help wondering if they have no important meaning. Sometimes props are used to misdirect viewers or as an inside joke. As I said at the outset of this post, all of this is speculation and may have no real connection to the show.
Originally posted 2014-08-31 16:34:41.