Friday, May 13, 2011

Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

It's one thing to explain about buddhist practice. It's quite another to show it*. Yet showing (and seeing) is what the practice finally comes down to.

The 1989 movie Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? (달마가 동쪽으로 간 까닭은?) by Korean director Bae Yong-kyun is maybe the best expression of the Buddha way in a modern medium yet. Its depiction of monastic life in the Korean Seon (or Ch'an, or Zen) tradition could have been twee and comfortably oriental. Three generations of monks cooped up in a tattered mountain hermitage, the oldest being an evidently enlightened master who is dying from the chill blains he inflicted on himself by meditating against a wall of ice to keep himself awake. And indeed, this picture does have that subtle pervading sense of prettiness the Far East is so good at.

But it is also ruthless.

Together with the youngest monk we are confronted with the inevitable consequences of our own distracted mistakes and death and the great potential of our own bodies have for death. Together with the middle monk we are confronted with the flimsiness of our concern for ourselves, and death. Together with the master we we are confronted with the great emptiness where we want our souls to be and the great freedom selflessness entails and, finally, death. Also, that romantic, tattered hermitage is kinda ugly.

I really respect the Korean tradition of Ch'an. Their main approach to practice is to just question (verb): who is this? Who is dragging this corpse around? What is your original face before your parents were born? Not that I'm not grateful for the fact that my own Tibetan tradition has all kinds of crutches along the way but, as Shantideva says: whatever the Buddha taught, he taught for the sake of wisdom. And apart from knowing the dreamlike nature of the self, there is no wisdom to be had.

So: who is watching this?
on youtube:
part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8
part 9
part 10
part 11
part 12
part 13

*) No 'about' about it.

1 comment:

  1. Laat ik hier nu toevallig van de week weer eens een stukje van gekeken hebben! (Ik kijk hem in stukjes van tien minuten met tussenpozen van twee maanden - ben nu zo'n beetje op éénvijfde.)