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Movies and Mind: Why has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

On Friday, April 3, 2009, CMC presented "Why has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East" as part of "Movies and Mind", where films are screened and discussed from a Buddhist perspective.

The film is about three monastics—the aging master, the disciple, and an orphaned child, living in a secluded temple. Each of the students has his own personal attachments with which they struggle. The disciple faces the difficulties of renunciation—torn between the responsibilities of family life and the need to practice on the mountain. The young child is haunted by memories of his deceased mother and the accidental killing of a bird.

The entire movie can be seen as a mirror that reflects the internal world of the characters.

Their psychological conflicts are expressed through visual images and sound---the wild rushing of the river is one example of the use of images and sound of the environment to show the quality of the disturbed and untamed mind.

The movie is symbolically rich-- the claustrophobia of the samsara world is represented by the crowdedness of the environment while the spaciousness of the meditative world of the temple is shown through the openness of the natural environment. Images of the ox-herding pictures are used throughout the movie to parallel the monastic’s internal struggle to steady the mind.

The whole movie can be seen as a koan and a roadmap. The master's teachings are sparse; his final teaching is wordless, through his death. Finally, the disciples learn to let go through the process of the funeral.

(by Chang Jie)

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