Your handy guide to true religions on TV – Hinduism and Buddhism

David Carradine in Kung Fu

This entry is one of a list of articles covering TV shows depicted on TV as being true. For full details and a list of the other religions covered, go to the introduction.

The world’s number three religion after Christianity and Islam, this has had perilously few TV shows based on its tenets. However, Channel 4’s The Mahabharata did manage to condense down its central work to a mere 10 hours or so – although that did mean the Bhagavad Gita was squished down to just six minutes:

Obviously, one of the more popular Eastern religions in the West, it’s also one that’s hard to demonstrate as ‘true’ because many branches of Buddhism don’t include a belief in supernatural figures such as gods and demons. However, there are a number of shows that depict the truth of Buddhism.

1. Kung Fu (1972-1976)/Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1993-1998)
Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine wanders the Old West, teaching everyone the inner truths of Buddhism, while punching and kicking everyone who doesn’t embrace its truth. Certainly, Buddhism was always proved right in a fight, and there was never a time that Caine learnt that something he’d been taught at the monastery was fundamentally wrong. However, later seasons erred more towards Chinese mysticism and while Kung Fu: The Legend Continues ostensibly picked up the story in the modern day with Caine’s descendants, it was more a Daoist than a Buddhist show.
Further reading
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2. Life (2007-2009)
Cop is fitted up for a crime he didn’t commit and when he’s released from prison, he learns to apply the Buddhist teachings he read inside to his criminal investigations. This one’s a bit borderline though, since it’s clear he’s not the best of Buddhists.
Further reading
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3. My Name Is Earl (2005-2009)
What goes around comes around – aka karma, in Buddhism. Here, karma teaches the selfish Earl the value of doing good by rewarding him for helping people he’s previously wronged.
Further reading
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4. Monkey (1978)
A dramatisation of the classic 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, this saw a monkey king, the Buddhist monk Tripitaka and a pig monster and a water monster tasked by the Boddhisatva Guan Yin to undertake a pilgrimage from China to India to fetch holy scriptures. While neither English language nor made by Western TV, the show was dubbed into English and shown in both the UK and Australia, and does feature the Buddha, whose teachings are revealed to be true wisdom.
Further reading
Buy it


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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