It's quite amazing to see these sacred sites. All sorts of amazing footage.
It starts out exploring some of the ideas, and she goes to Bodhgaya (1).
It goes to Nepal where there are many Tibetans, and she goes to the Boudhanath Stupa (2). There is the signing female monk who also takes in girls from negative families. There's a bit about Ashoka.
She goes to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy Sri Lanka (3). You can't see the tooth, but you can get some holy water from ritual bathing of it. She trots out the superficial idea of karma, as a kind of metaphysical retribution, instead of the ideas of conditionality that are not necessarily punishing or rewarding. Not that there isn't some sort of wisdom in there, but I just worry people have some kind of weird metaphysical add on. Buddhism for me has parsimony. It doesn't add on a bunch of stuff. Sri Lanka has been in a civil war for many years.
Then she goes to Thailand and Wat Poh and the golden reclining Buddha (4). She points out it's opulence.
Cambodia's wonder of the Buddhist world is Ankor Wat (5). This is where she tries meditation. She's a beginner at meditation and seems positive about it, but doesn't want to take it on. It feels too much for her. She has respect for it. Again Cambodia has been plagued by war, genocide and terror in modern times. There were times when Buddhist were persecuted, so there are small sort of hidden temples. She tries to understand samara.
Next she goes to Hong Kong, to see Giant Buddha overlooking the city. It's also called Tian Tan Buddha (6). She decodes the iconography. She visit a monastery right next to the giant buddha. People meditate in cute little insect nets just the size of a meditator. I never saw water bowl meditation. You walk and try not to spill a bowl of water. She tries to understand Zen.
(7) Finally she goes to California, to Hsi Lai Temple in a suburb of L.A. There are over 10K Buddha statues, and families sponsor them and get to put their names on them (good money making idea). She tries to understand Nirvana. She talks to a California guy who doesn't want Buddhism to be mixed with anything goes new age spirituality, but sees it as a discipline. She sits and watches a yoga class.
She's strong at giving background to the context of these seven wonders in the countries she's in.
I liked seeing Richard Gombrich, I've never seen footage of him. Wish there was more footage of him.
I guess I'd like to see the 8 great places: Lumbini,Bodh Gaya, Sarnath,Kusinara,Sravasti, Rajgir, Sankassa, Vaishali.
It is narrated by Bettany Hughes, a non-buddhist, a popular historian, and therefore has a certain level of superficiality and tries to understand ideas in Buddhism without much depth. Lots of expert talking heads, and local experts give a hodgepodge of ideas. She starts out calling it a philosophy, but expands it later. It was weird her talking while a group of Tibetan monks were chanting in the same room. I could see her trying to "get the shot".
One talking head in this film says that Buddhism is all about personal responsibility. I would agree, but I would also add that there are sects of Buddhism that focus more on other power, mostly the pure land traditions. You need self power, community power and other power.
Thurman says there is no creator god, but there are many gods. I would also say it's possible to believe in them as archetypes, or even mental creations that might be useful.
One commenter wondered why Borobudur wasn't included. I'd leave out the one in California and put that one in. One person noted that the 4 noble truths were not explicitly mentioned.
In the end, it synthesizes a lot of information about Buddhism, the various cultures and sects that spring out of enlightenment experience in 7 different countries, and shows a lot of footage of sacred places, and talks to a bunch of people to get the various takes on Buddhism. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in breadth. At times I was offended by the simplicity, and others I was interested in the footage of practicing Buddhist. I don't know if it would be spiritual tourism to visit these 7 sites. I think you don't need to go anywhere to practice. Many people have been profoundly effected by traveling to the holy sites in India. My impression of people who got interested in Buddhism because they were in one of these countries and they just went to some temple because it's a tourist site, is that they don't really follow it up. But some do, and it works for them. It's a funny old world.
(I couldn't help but notice on the same page was a documentary called Jesus Was A Buddhist Monk. It was done by the BBC.)