What is a Zen movie?

Date: Fri, 14 Nov 97 20:18:02 -0000

From: ironhart

Subject: inq: What’s a Zen movie?

Since many new people have joined the circle since I did my first introduction allow me to reintroduce myself.

My name is Paul Tesshin Silverman and I live in Oita Prefecture (kyushu) in Japan. I am currently the Master (jushoku) of the Tetsugyuji Zen Temple here and often run various social & spiritual programs for the public. Before getting involved with this world I was a working theatre/industrial film director in America. Last year (coming on my 10th year here) I decided to combine my various backgrounds and began preparations on my first Japanese feature film. Without any support Ive managed to put together an indie production which this week-end will finish shooting. The title of the film is Hazama Monogatari. Actually we have shot it on Betacam Sp and when the final edit is completed will look for means to transfer it to 35mm. From this point on the post-production process begins. Im expecting all of you critics in this circle to give it big hearty S.O. when ,and if, it ever makes it your local movie house. :)

Im leaving for New York in a few weeks (teaching a workshop at the Japan Society and Juilliard) but I wanted to toss out an inquiry before I go. People often ask me about the relationship between Zen and film making. We all know about the profound affect Zen has had on various arts in Japan but I find it difficult to explain this in terms of film. For me its a very personal process. Last year I attended the American Buddhist Conference in Boston and enjoyed many wonderful workshops. One of which was on >Zen and the Japanese Arts< given by John Stevens. During the Q&A I raised this questions and there was total silence in the audience. As if the relationship on an art as modern as film (all 100 years old) had not been considered. So Id like to hear what you all have to say about this. How do you perceive the relationship between Zen and film making? What is a Zen movie!?! How would you define it? Ive seen a few that people recommended and I didnt get it.

As a side note, the now well-known Director Suo did a film several years ago about life in a Zen temple called Fancy Dance. (Actually not only was I in it, I worked as an advisor for the actors. Except for a couple of the large scenes in which monks of the temple were asked to >lend their faces<, I was the only Zen priest in the cast). From my perspective, this film although about life in a Zen temple is NOT a Zen movie. What do you think?

Paul Tesshin Silverman

Date: Fri, 14 Nov 1997

From: Josiah Luke Winn

Subject: Re: inq: What’s a Zen movie?

Hello, my name is Joss Winn and I’m a graduate student at the University of Michigan. I study Japanese Buddhism, particularly Zen, and am also a student this semester of Prof. Mark Nornes in his Asian Cinema class (highly recommended!) I follow the discussions of KineJapan quite closely but haven’t had much to contribute until now.

This message is quite long and mostly concerns itself with Buddhism and not film. I do think, however, that it is entirely relevant to the question of a “Zen movie.”

With regards to “What’s a Zen movie?”, we first have to ask “what is Zen?” There is a habit in the West (I don’t know about Japan) to abuse the term ‘zen’ and manipulate it for all manner of enterprises. It has an exotic appeal that is consistently taken advantage of. Of course, we talk of ‘Zen art’, so why not ‘Zen movies’? Well, it depends on what piece of art we’re talking about. If it’s one of Hakuin’s brush paintings, then yes, that is certainly art within the Zen Buddhist tradition. It is ‘Zen art’. I have no problems with the use of the term ‘Zen’ in instances like this. It is when we find such things as ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ and ‘Zen and the Art of Making Lots of Cash’ (I made the last one up but have seen these types of books). It is this abuse of the term that has led to the quite common remark, “oh, how very Zen!” which, if we examine what Zen actually was and still is in most instances, this is an entirely ignorant exclamation, drawing not from the Buddhist conception of Zen, but from the Western misconception of Zen that has developed over the last century.

I do not see myself as a Zen purist, nor am I a Zen Buddhist, although I have spent a brief period in Japan training at a Ryutakuji, a Rinzai Zen monastery in Shizuoka-ken. I also attended regular ‘sittings’ and retreats at a Zen temple in London for a few years, so I have had some contact with the tradition beyond books. However, it is to books that we should turn if we want to understand the historical development of the Western conception of ‘Zen’. I think if we do this, it will allow us to consider whether a ‘Zen Movie’ is possible, and if so, what would it be like?

The introduction of Zen in Europe and the USA is due almost entirely to the efforts of DT Suzuki, a name that many people are familiar with. Suzuki wrote dozens of books on Zen in English and provided the foundations for both the popular and scholarly understanding of Zen in the West today. However, in the last decade, Suzuki’s works have come under considerable criticisim for presenting an entirely twisted sense of the Zen tradition’s history, doctrine and practice.

Suzuki’s presentation of Zen rests largely on his position as a scholar during the Meiji and Taisho periods. If we read his works they present the essence of Zen as an experience of ‘satori’or ‘enlightenment’. (There is a problem with talking about an ‘essence’ in Buddhism which, doctrinally, argues there is no essence to anything-so how come, for Suzuki, their is an ‘essence of Zen’?) This over emphasis on satori has been shown, quite convincingly, to derive from Suzuki’s position as a Meiji Buddhist scholar.

During the Meiji period, Buddhism was severely persecuted for being a foreign tradition while the State were attempting to emphasise the indigenous Shintoism as the national ethic. In response, Buddhist institutions realised the need for reform and began to promote a new type of Buddhism, one that was no longer the rich land-owning and rather stagnant tradition that it had become, but rather a vibrant tradition that was immediately relevant to everyone. Part of their efforts were directed towards establishing private Buddhist Universities in order to compete with the new State universities. As a result of this, a new form of scholarship was born: Japanese Buddhology. (Interestingly, it is now the largest body of scholarship on Buddhism in the world). This scholarship followed the Japanese model of Buddhism as being highly sectarian (in no other Buddhist country are different forms of Buddhism defined in terms of their institutional history-usually,in other countries, all types of belief and practice can found within a single monastic copmpound).

Suzuki must be understood as not only a Buddhist scholar, but also a Meiji scholar who was educated in a new system of education, was highly susceptible to Western modes of thinking and whose own understanding of Zen was influenced by Western psychology and philosophy. Prof. Robert Sharf of the University of Michigan has done quite a convincing job of showing where Suzuki was coming from, who his sources of understanding were and why he presented Zen as he did. He shows how Suzuki’s emphasis on satori, or the ‘Zen experience’ is a gross misrepresentation of Zen Buddhism if we examine the history of the tradition itself. In fact, Sharf argues that Suzuki’s emphasis on satori as the quintessential Zen experience is used in the interests of a greater nationalistic discourse. Sharf shows how Suzuki defines satori as uniquely Japanese, and that Westerners are unable to experience it. By interpreting the Zen experience in this way, Suzuki was able to place both Zen and the ‘enlightened’ beneficiaries of that tradition (i.e. the entire Japanese nation) above the increasingly influential Western powers and the threat of imperialism.

>From my brief time in a Zen monastery (two months during the summer of 1994) I found that the Zen life (as epitomized by the monastic life),has very little to do with what Suzuki is talking about. Rather, monks are more concerned with learning elaborate ritual techiniques, memorizing scriptures and performing the daily work routine.

Within Buddhism, the monks and nuns are seen as absolutely essential to the continuation of the tradition. The monastic lifestyle provides the perfect example of Buddhist practice, and so I am inclined to think that if we are really to get a sense of what Zen is, then we must understand what is going on in the monastery. This is not to suggest that lay practioners are not practicing Zen correctly or authentically (what is authentic practice anyway?) but that the regulated monastic lifestyle presents the ideal within the tradition of what Zen is. If we are to accept this, then much of the Western understanding of Zen needs to be revised and Suzuki needs to be put back on the shelf only to be reverentially dusted once in a while. Indeed Suzuki was important as the populariser of Zen in the West, and he presented it a way that was very seductive and in terms that were very recognizable. But that is the problem. When Suzuki used terms like ‘the Zen experience’, he was not refering to anything found within the Zen tradition itself, but rather an interpretation unique to him and a few other progressive scholars learned in Western psychology and philosophy. Sharf goes so far to say that ‘Suzuki’s Zen is not Zen at all’. I understand what Sharf is saying, but it requires some elaboration (see above) and also suggests that Zen doesn’t change. Indeed the tradition has changed, and Suzuki’s influence in the West was admired by some Japanese priests who, realising that it was a way of reviving their failing tradition, adopted much of his terminology to explain themselves. However, for the most part, Suzuki did not significantly change the Zen tradition in Japan. The monks might desire satori, but for the most part, they are more interested in learning the professional techniques in order to serve their local community in the form of performing funerary rites.

I do not mean to present a negative image of Zen or Japanese Buddhism. On the contrary, I have a great deal of admiration and interest in contemporary Buddhism in Japan (there is nothing wrong with performing funerary rites!) However, I do think it is important to understand our own misunderstanding of Zen, and realise that when we see a book called ‘Zen and the Art of Making Cash’ it is so far removed from what the tradition is today, that it’s a joke.

I have also wondered about Richie’s questionable interpretation of Ozu when he describes the “empty moments” in his films as examples of “mu, a Zen aesthetic term implying, among other things, nothingness” Without getting into the details of Buddhist philosophy, we should note that as a Zen term, Mu is a strictly soteriological term indeed referring to ‘emptiness’, although not ‘nothingness’. It would appear that Richie is saying that in one sense, Ozu’s films are ‘Zen Movies’, and perhaps Ozu did have an interest in Zen. Yet, it is quite likely that both Richie and Ozu would have received their understanding of Zen from popular books either by Suzuki or by others influenced by him and not from the tradition itself.

So what, if it is possible, is a Zen Movie? Surely not one full of empty moments-that would be a cliche long since given up by contemporary Zen scholars. What is Zen? It’s a Buddhist tradition in which monks (and a few nuns) concern themselves with rituals of some sort or another. They meditate (a ritual), chant scripture, worship the Buddha and a whole lineage of patriarchs going back to the Buddha, they perform funerary rites, go on alms, spend a great deal of time cleaning and maintaining their monastery and provide a center for the local community to practice generosity (by giving gifts to the monks) and learn about the history of Buddhism, and the basic teachings of the Buddha. Occasionally a temple might offer classes in mediation, although this is rare. Zen is also a Buddhist tradition with which the laity might concern themselves when a family member dies, or as a place to go for New Year’s celebrations. Of course, a very small minority of the laity also meditate at home, at a local temple or during week long monastic retreats. Yet most of the time, the lay Zen Buddhist performs daily reverence to the family ancestors at the Butsudan (the domestic shrine) and is not concerned with emptiness or enlightenment.

Aside from studying Buddhism, I am also interested in making films and would love to combine my interest in Zen Buddhism and film-making. To be a Zen film, it would have to be a Buddhist film; that is, it would somehow include themes of suffering, the absence of self, the persistence of life due to past good and bad actions, and the opportunity to stop this continuation of life and simultaneously help others do so too. We may ask, “would it have a happy or sad ending?” Theoretically, it couldn’t possibly have a truely happy ending because the audience would still be left in the theatres as the credits roll, evidence that there are still suffering Beings present in the world. Yet it needn’t have a sad ending either since the fact that Buddhism still exists in the world (testified by the very creation of our Zen film), means that there is still the opportunity for all Beings to attain nirvana/enlightenment. Perhaps there should be no ending to the film, just as there is no ending to the cycle of death and rebirth without enlightenment (I would not suggest that my film could enlighten anyone!) By having no ending, the audience would naturally be frustrated and have the opportunity to reflect on suffering as they watch the credits!

Well, I hope those that have bothered to read this far can understand my irritation with the popular use of the term ‘Zen’. When I first saw “Zen movies”, I imagined empty moments of silence and motorcycle maintenance, and I’m very bored of coming across that.


p.s. good luck with your film, Paul!

Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997

From: (Abe-Nornes)

Subject: Re: inq: What’s a Zen movie?

To be honest, I have been waiting for this issue to come up ever since we gathered under the KineJapan banner!

Many thanks to Joss for his very informative post.

Every time I teach Asian cinema, there are students who want to write papers on “Zen films.” I always drill them on what they think this apparent _genre_ is. The logic is inevitably the same: Zen underlies Japanese culture, setting it apart from other nations/Film must been seen as a product of Japanese culture, setting it apart from other national cinemas/If we look hard enough, we’ll find Zen in all Japanese film/…but certain directors like Ozu produce a _stronger_ Zen aesthetic.

This is usually the logic underlying attempts in film studies to link Zen and Japanese cinema, an approach that has largely disappeared in recent years. For good examples, see the Schrader book, bits and pieces of Richie, or Stephen Prince’s article “Zen and Selfhood” (in the database). Some of these writers are Kinema Clubbers; perhaps they could reflect on these methodologies!

David, I seem to remember that an early version of your Eros+Massacre chapter on Ogawa and Tsuchimoto makes connections to Zen, but this gets dropped in the book version. What happened between these two publications?

Also, Joss writes:

>The monastic lifestyle provides the >perfect example of Buddhist practice, and so I am inclined to think that if we are really to get a sense of what Zen is, then we must understand what is going on in the monastery.

Yes, but perhaps more important for this discussion is the function of Zen in popular culture; this is basically what we are dealing with when it comes to the cinema question. This helps us sidestep questions which you begin to raise on “authentic” traditions. A better approach is to think of practice, its appearance in popular culture being one important form that may have absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in the monasteries.

That’s for the question of film production. As for Western criticism, Joss’ discussion on Suzuki is certainly the basic background for understanding “Why Zen?”, as opposed to one or another of the mish mash of religions from the Japanese mix.


PS: Here are the articles I mentioned, entries coming from a quick trip to the new Kinema Club database.

Author : Schrader, Paul
Journal : Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer
Imprint : (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972)
Title : Zen and Selfhood: Patterns of Eastern Thought inKurosawa’s Films
Author : Prince, Stephen
Journal : Post Script
Imprint : 7.2 (Winter 1988): 4-17
Title : Zen and the Art of Documentary
Author : Desser, David
Journal : East-WestJournal
Imprint : 1.2 (1987): 45-59

[you can see some of the work needed on the database entries, missing spaces and punctuation…annotations….]

D ate: Sat, 15 Nov 1997

From: (David Desser)

Subject: Re: inq: What’s a Zen movie?

At 11:55 PM 11/15/97, Abe-Nornes wrote:

>David, I seem to remember that an early version of your Eros+Massacre chapter on Ogawa and Tsuchimoto makes connections to Zen, but this gets dropped in the book version. What happened between these two publications?

>Title : Zen and the Art of Documentary
>Author : Desser, David
>Journal : East-WestJournal
>Imprint : 1.2 (1987): 45-59

The above-named essay was not at all intended to be an examination of Zen or Zen aesthetics in the production of Ogawa’s documentaries. It was, in fact, an attempt at a “catchy” title a la “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” If I had any real notions of linking Ogawa’s practice to Zen (and I didn’t really) it was along the lines of “the Zen of everyday life” wherein one lives fully, in the moment, totally dedicated to whatever it is one is doing. If one knows Ogawa’s documentary practice, one sees a dedication to his subject matter unique in world cinema. While I will stand by this latter notion of Zen, it’s not crucial to the article. A reading of the article shows that I make no great efforts to define Zen or link Ogawa’s important and challenging films to any sort of “Zen” influences. Just a catchy title more than anything else.


Date: Sat, 15 Nov 1997

From: (marran)

Subject: Suo/zen

Dear Paul,

I don’t have an opinion on what constitutes a “zen movie;” and yet I feel fairly confident in agreeing with you that Fancy Dance is NOT a zen movie. It is a satirical film that is located in a zen temple. Fancy Dance seems similar in general form to his film on starting a sumo club at a university, Shiko-funjatta. I actually found Suo’s Hentai kazoku a much more inventive, satiirically funny film.

-christine marran

Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997
Subject: Re: inq: What’s a Zen movie?

My understanding of what Zen is is based on the work of Robert Scharf and especially one paper he delivered at the American Academy of Religion a couple of years ago. To whit, the purpose of studying Zen is to become a Buddha and one’s competence is publicly demonstrated in certain ceremonies involving a sermon delivered by the abbot whose status is indicated by mastery of a particular diction (Zen talk). Zen’s survival into the premodern period was based on its ability to convert its strategies for turning humans into buddhas into a pedagogy for converting apprentices into masters of just about any performing art–flower arranging, calligraphy (just what Zen art is is made clear by going to a museum exhibit of a sumie master with 10 or 20 surviving copies of the same cartoon, performed in the presence of an audience and then presented), swordsmanship, you name it. Thus, I think, we should look at Zen film less from the perspective of the product than from the perspective of its production and reproduction of its tradition. I don’t think there is any such thing as Zen film. There is however a process for training filmmakers and performers characterized by a preconceived model of form and diction and a rigorous apprenticeship under a master.



From: “Mark Schilling”

Subject: Re: inq: What’s a Zen movie?

Date: Mon, 17 Nov 1997

Re the “Zen movie” discussion. One example of an explicitly “Zen” film that comes to mind is “Why Did Bodhi Dharma Go to The Orient?,” which Iwanami Hall screened in 1991. For the curious, here is my Japan Times review:

Why Did Bodhi Dharma Go to the Orient?

By Mark Schilling

Bae Yong-Kyun’s “Why Did Bodhi Dharma Go To The Orient?” takes its title from a koan – a verbal key to unlocking one’s Zen mind. But those who try to grasp the key find it very slippery indeed. Why did a Buddhist monk make the long, hard journey from India to China in the sixth century?

To a historian, the answer may seem obvious; Bodhi Dharma went to the East to spread Buddhism. To a Zen priest, the answer lies beyond logic, historical or otherwise. And yet it is a plain as the nose on your face! To the student earnestly seeking the Way – and desperately racking his brain for the solution to this riddle – it may seem madden ing, this “plainness.”

How much more maddening for a filmmaker, intent on communicating the essence of Zen to an audience! He is faced with a impossible task. And in Korea, where film financing for uncommercial subjects is as hard to find as a rose in a rock garden, he is seemingly defeated from the start.

Bae Yong-Kyun, a university professor, not only made his film, but did it virtually singlehanded; the credits list him as director, scriptwriter,director of photography, art director and editor. Also, the film went on to win the Grand Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival. His is an amazing accomplishment.

The film itself, not surprisingly, is as uncompromising as the old mountain priest who is one of its central figures. He has absorbed Zen into his very bones; the film tries to exemplify it in every frame. The result is similar to a session of zazen; flashes of insight, moments of drowsiness and pain. The film does tell stories, but they are as enigmatic – and tantalizing – as a Zen fable. Why, we wonder, are these people doing these strange things?

Why, for example, does a young man abandon his blind mother and sister to serve as an assistant to the old priest, who lives like a hermit in a remote mountain temple? Isn’t he simply being selfish? Why is he seeking his own salvation when he could be helping others?

He tells himself that Bodhi Dharma followed the same path – and did enormous good. He also tortures himself with the thought that he is an undutiful son and brother.

The film gives no easy answers. Yes, this search- after-wisdom is selfish, it says, but it is also necessary. The young priest can no more abandon his quest – or his teacher – than leap out of his skin. Ironically, it is just this kind of leap that his teacher demands.

There is also another resident at the temple, a boy. Like the two priests, he lives apart from the outside “world of illusion.” But unlike them, he did not choose to come to the temple. He has grown up hearing his elders speak of Zen, but has never consciously sought its truths.

Boy-like, he throws rocks at a flock of birds and injures one. Though he cares for it, the bird dies. As a kind of karmic retribution, the boys falls into a river and starts thrashing for dear life. But, suddenly, he lets himself go and finds that, instead of drowning, he floats. He has learned an important rule of swimming – and life.

The films is filled with similar moments of revelation. Although the young priest questions and the old priest preaches (contrary to the strong, silent stereotype, this Master is as full of pithy wisdom as Barry Fitzgerald), the film presents most of these moments minus dialogue. It is the images, more than the voices, that we remember. The young priest begging silently for alms on a crowded Seoul street, the boy following an ox home through a dark forest, the old priest meditating in the dimly lit temple, his dark form outlined on the glowing shoji.

If anything, Bae is too much in love with his images, not enough with his characters. Frame by frame, the film is a masterpiece of composition and lighting (it would make a lovely book of stills), but it presents its three heroes as Zen exemplars. The actors, all amateurs, are well-suited for their roles and turn in fine performances. But the film gives us only glimpses of them as human beings, as when the old priest laughingly extracts the boy’s bad tooth with a piece of string or the young priest grimly tends the fire that is consuming his master’s corpse.

Perhaps this emotional austerity is necessary to the film’s message, but it is also wearing. We can feel the passion that Bae put into this project (he reportedly spent three years filming and one editing), but we leave it hungry for pleasure. Wrong expectations are to blame; Bae is offer ing us enlightenment, not entertainment. The theater should hire a priest to give worldly patrons a thwack on the shoulder when their attention starts to wander. It would definitely create the right atmosphere for this most meditative of movies.

Date: Mon, 17 Nov 1997

From: Josiah Luke Winn

Subject: Re: inq: What’s a Zen movie?

There is a brief bibliography at the end of my message.

Sybil Thornton wrote:

“I think, we should look at Zen film less from the perspective of the product than from the perspective of its production and reproduction of its tradition. I don’t think there is any such thing as Zen film. There is however a process for training filmmakers and performers characterized by a preconceived model of form and diction and a rigorous apprenticeship under a master.”

It would seem that I am not the only one to consider Robert Sharf’s work on Zen as useful for this discussion (strange,in that he wouldn’t regard himself as a Zen scholar). When I initially responded to Paul’s question, I also wrote that I didn’t think there was such a thing as a Zen film, but then decided to omit this, thinking that I was being a little too hasty.

When I wrote last time, I wanted to detract from the rather crude efforts of a ‘Zen style’ of film that lingers on emptiness and silence, and suggest a ‘fuller’ film style, one that I think reflects more accurately, the zen lifestyle. I should add something at this point following David Desser’s comment: “ ‘the Zen of everyday life’ wherein one lives fully, in the moment, totally dedicated to whatever it is one is doing.” Admittedly this kind of remark is found in every popular book on Zen, yet it is by no means unique to Zen. Every Buddhist tradition would include this as an essential practice. It’s this kind of misunderstanding that we need to be aware of when talking about Zen. There is, in fact, little that distinguishes it from any other Buddhist tradition except for an obsession with it’s patriarchal geneaology and a greater emphasis placed on meditation-although not in all cases.

Clearly, if we are to make a ‘zen film’, we should be aware of what Zen is, and understand the rhetorical moves often found within the tradition. The Zen tradition is fortunate in many ways, that it had such a charismatic spokesperson to represent it in the West (Suzuki). In Japan the situation is different of course. Zen is just another Buddhist sect and far from being the most popular. It’s influence on the arts derives mostly from it’s political connections during the Muromachi period, and not because there is something intrinsically unique to it that defines the Japanese. Much of our understanding of Zen and Japanese culture comes from Suzuki’s book of that title, a book which although still in print, is now the subject of much criticism today among scholarly circles.

My knowledge of art within the Zen tradition is very slim, and although I have criticised the emphasis on Zen emptiness, silence, minimalism, etc. these are features that we can identify in traditional Zen arts. Indeed if one were to go to a Zen monastery one would see that there is very little ornament, especially compared to, say, a Shingon monastery. Yet, minimalism isn’t the exclusive property of the Zen tradition, nor is emptiness. We should remember that Buddhism is an ascetic tradition and that this lifestyle demands a certain amount of minimalism (admittedly few Japanese priests would seem to follow this). The emphasis on emptiness is also by no means exclusive to Zen. It has been the central philosophical doctrine of the entire East Asian Buddhist tradition since it’s arrival in China in the 2nd century.

Obviously there is a Zen aesthetic, yet how we translate that onto film I’m not quite sure. How significant should we deem it anyway? Surely,there would be more to a Zen film that it’s immediate sensual properties. I do remember enjoying Bae Yong-Kyun’s film but am inclined to think that Paul’s original question was referring more to Zen style than a film explicitly about Zen. As I have mentioned, I am more interested in considering what a Zen narrative would consist of, what themes would it address?

With regards to Markus’ comment: “Yes, but perhaps more important for this discussion is the function of Zen in popular culture; this is basically what we are dealing with when it comes to the cinema question. This helps us sidestep questions which you begin to raise on “authentic” traditions. A better approach is to think of practice, its appearance in popular culture being one important form that may have absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in the monasteries.”

To do this we have to consider whether we are talking about Zen in the USA or Zen in Japan. The two are quite different. I’m not sure if I should really attempt to answer how Zen functions in either culture as I have only spent a couple of months in Japan, and most of this was in a monastery. Neither am I qualified to talk much about Zen in the USA, as I’m really only a visitor here. In Japan, there are a few opportunities for the populace to practice Zen meditation outside of the monastery. It is also common for Zen monasteries to encourage companies to send groups of business men to do week long intensive retreats. The retreat I did had twenty or so business men there, most of whom had never meditated before. Their company was also kind enough to provide cakes and buns for everyone each day! Anyway, I will leave Zen and popular culture to someone else for now. It has been my intention to point out the misunderstanding many Westerners (and even some Japanese) have about the term ‘Zen’and to encourage a more ‘enlightened’ (sorry!) perspective. I really think it could be much more interesting than what we have had up to now. It would also allow us to appreciate the richness of the tradition beyond the usual spin on emptiness and minimalism. Unlike Sybil, I do think that a ‘Zen film’ is possible, one that communicates issues found within the tradition without a reliance on overt symbolism and empty imagery and yet offers Zen answers or a Zen perspective on life through the use of narrative in a subtle and familiar way. Since it is a religious tradition, it should be relevant to all aspects of life, offering suggestions and guidance. Neither would the film rest on the pretence of offering the viewer a glimpse of enlightenment (within the Zen traditon, enlightenment is handed down and certified individually from master to disciple, something a film-maker could not do).

Well, if anyone’s interested, I would really love to work on getting a project together…..


p.s. here’s the brief bibliography:

Faure, B. 1995. ‘The Kyoto School and Reverse Orientalism.’ Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives. Eds. Charles Wei-hsun Fu and Steven Heine. Albany: SUNY.

— 1993. Chan Insights and Oversights. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

— 1991. The Rhetoric of Immediacy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Foulk, T.G. 1988. ‘The Zen Institution in Modern Japan’ Zen Tradition and Transition. Ed. Kenneth Kraft. New York: Grove Press. 157-177.

Ketelaar, James Edward. 1990. Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan. Buddhism and its Persecution. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Sharf, Robert H. 1995. ‘The Zen of Japanese Nationalism.’ Curators of the Buddha: The study of Buddhism Under Colonialism. Ed. D. Lopez Jnr. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

— 1994. ‘Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited’ Rude Awakenings. Zen, the Kyoto School & the Question of Nationalism. Eds. James W. Heisig & John C. Maraldo, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

Stone, J. 1990. ‘A Vast and Grave Task: Interwar Buddhist Studies as an Expression of Japan’s Envisioned Global Role.’ Culture and Identity: Japanese Intellectuals During the Interwar Years. Ed. Rimer, J.T. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Suzuki, D.T. 1953. ‘Zen: A Reply to Hu Shih.’ Philosophy East and West. 3: 25-46.