Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Most Spiritually Affecting Buddhist Films?

Green Cine has posted their list of the 8 The Most Spiritually Affecting Buddhist Movies. All I can think is that in some cases they have stretched the definition of Buddhism beyond anything I recognize, I mean Revenge of the Sith?

Here is the introduction to the list:
List: The Most Spiritually Affecting Buddhist Movies

By Simon Augustine

"A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes suffering. " - The Buddha

"The highest problem of any art is to cause by appearance the illusion of a higher reality." - Goethe

"The secret to film is that it's an illusion. " - George Lucas

The dramatic portrayal of Buddhist lifestyles and spiritual truths is perhaps more difficult to accomplish in an exciting way than depictions of Western religious practices and stories, because the Dharma is geared to inner transformation. And while enlightenment may be one of the most profound experiences a human being can undergo, it doesn't exactly translate easily into compelling cinema.

Christianity, on the other hand, with its bloody and wrenching crucifixion story, its miracles, and a traditionally greater emphasis on social action, lends itself more directly to the external world and the sensationalism upon which cinema thrives - witness the extensive pantheon of superb films about Christ and his message from Passolini's The Gospel According to Saint Matthew to The Mission. The stuff of cinema is often about what is excessive in human nature: big emotions, big explosions, blood, passion, and lots of fighting and screwing (it could be argued that Christology is in some ways about excess, too.)

Yet much of Buddhist practice is about the refrain from excess - it is, after all, called "the Middle Path" - that is, it consists of stepping back from the entanglements of emotional attachment and aggressive desire, and understanding how to free oneself from these things by being more mindful and aware of them. Its teachings attempt to make us more human by questioning our usual human reactions.

Does this mean there cannot be a viable and entertaining Buddhist cinema?

Fortunately, the answer is "no," because the struggle of disciplining the mind away from excess can make for a fascinating struggle in itself. There are many examples in which filmmakers have made the purposes and consequences of relatively "passive" activities like meditation and non-violence into powerful narratives, featuring a more internalized struggle -- let's call them "inner explosions."

And as Buddhism becomes more pronounced and practiced in America, and even evolves into new movements such as "engaged Buddhism," which expands more directly into the social action typical of Christianity, filmmakers from the West have more opportunities to explore the Dharma from fresh perspectives.

The following is a list of films, from both the East and the West, that comment in some way upon the teachings of the Buddha, and that are both explicitly about Buddhist subjects, or more subtly so. (Alas, the first two listed are not yet on DVD, but hope springs eternal that at least one of them shall be soon.)

Here are the honorable mentions:

Honorable Mention:

Samsara (for showing the difficult relationship between romantic love and the search for enlightenment; n/a on DVD);

Siddhartha (for its cinematography);

How to Cook Your Life for Zen in the kitchen;

Kundun (for its loving portrait of the Dalai Lama from a man usually obsessed with Christian hypocrisy and violence);

The Matrix (for its extended metaphor that addresses parallels between the concept of samsara, the internet, and "virtual reality");

I Heart Huckabees (for its comedic take on identity and the unforgettable line "What happens in the meadow at dusk?!");

American Beauty (for it's questioning of consumer culture, its "bag floating on the wind" scene, and the last lines by Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey): "...there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday.");

Tommy (for its somewhat muddled but powerful commentary on the nature of sensory information and its relationship to spiritual insight through the story of a "deaf, dumb, and blind boy");

and Fight Club (for illuminating the strange and complicated parallels between Buddhism, nihilism, and fascism that arise in the project of deconstructing the Self).

The post goes into the explanation for each of the top eight, so you'll have to go check it out at their site, but here are the "winners.'
  1. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (Korean)
  2. The Thin Red Line
  3. Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Come From The East? (Korean)
  4. Revenge of the Sith
  5. Wheel of Time
  6. Peaceful Warrior
  7. The Dhamma Brothers
  8. The Cup
Yeah, I don't know. I've seen Numbers 1, 3, 5,6, and 8 (Peaceful Warrior is vaguely entertaining, but not very Buddhist). Numbers 1 & 3 are among my favorite films, and The Cup was a lot of fun.

Any thoughts?

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