Practicing Buddhism through Film

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 June 2018) | Viewed by 37195

Special Issue Editor


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Guest Editor
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1135, USA
Interests: East Asian Buddhism; Buddhism and literature; Buddhism and film; Buddhism and science; theories and methods in the study of religion
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This issue will consider the ways in which film can function in the manner of traditional Buddhist ritual practices. Ritual practice is defined here as the production of insight into Buddhist truths and the performance of Buddhist soteriological goals. While films that depict Buddhist monastics and/or lend themselves to illustrating Buddhist concepts are useful, the aim of this issue is to examine how cinema itself functions as Buddhist religious practice. Such investigation can focus on the process of filmmaking, the experience of watching films, and/or the phenomenology of cinema in its liminal status between reality and illusion.

I invite you to submit articles on any category of film—feature movies, documentaries, art films—that consider the manner in which the medium of cinema extends and reprises Buddhist religious practices. Much of the literature on Buddhism and film to date demonstrates how Buddhist themes can be applied to the interpretation of feature films. The aim of this issue is to pay more attention to the cinematic aspects of selected films in parallel to Buddhist ritual experiences and Buddhist understandings of the imaginary nature of lived experience.

Prof. Dr. Francisca Cho
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • ritual
  • imagination
  • contemplation
  • insight
  • illusion

Published Papers (6 papers)

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24 pages, 53623 KiB  
Article
Liberation through Seeing: Screening The Tibetan Book of the Dead
by Paul B. Donnelly
Religions 2018, 9(8), 239; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9080239 - 7 Aug 2018
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 8978
Abstract
The text known in English as The Tibetan Book of the Dead is arguably the principle source for popular understandings of Tibetan Buddhist conceptions of death. First translated into English in 1927, subsequent translations have read it according to a number of interpretive [...] Read more.
The text known in English as The Tibetan Book of the Dead is arguably the principle source for popular understandings of Tibetan Buddhist conceptions of death. First translated into English in 1927, subsequent translations have read it according to a number of interpretive frameworks. This paper examines two recent films that take The Tibetan Book of the Dead as their inspiration: Bruce Joel Rubin’s Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (2009). Neither of these films overtly claim to be depicting The Tibetan Book of the Dead, but the directors of both have acknowledged that the text was an influence on their films, and both are undeniably about the moment of death and what follows. The analysis begins with the question of how, and to what degree, each of the films departs from the meaning and purpose of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, before moving on to examine the reasons, both practical and ideological, for these changes. Buddhist writer Bruce Joel Rubin wrote a film that sought to depict the death experience from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, but ultimately audience expectation and studio pressure transformed the film into a story at odds with Tibetan Buddhism. Gaspar Noé wrote and directed a film that is based on a secular worldview, yet can be seen to be largely consistent with a Tibetan Buddhist reading. Finally, I consider if, and to what extent, these films function to express or cultivate an experiential engagement with Tibetan Buddhist truths and realization, concluding that Jacob’s Ladder does not, while Enter the Void largely succeeds, despite the intention of its creator. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Practicing Buddhism through Film)
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21 pages, 356 KiB  
Article
Blindness, Blinking and Boredom: Seeing and Being in Buddhism and Film
by Lina Verchery
Religions 2018, 9(8), 228; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9080228 - 25 Jul 2018
Viewed by 4582
Abstract
This essay takes up a paradoxical problem articulated by Buddhist philosopher, Nishitani Keiji: the eye does not see the eye itself. It argues that film has a therapeutic function by virtue of its ability to draw our attention to this precise aspect of [...] Read more.
This essay takes up a paradoxical problem articulated by Buddhist philosopher, Nishitani Keiji: the eye does not see the eye itself. It argues that film has a therapeutic function by virtue of its ability to draw our attention to this precise aspect of our existential situation; namely, that we alternate between being in our experience and perceiving ourselves in our experience. Or, to borrow Nishitani’s terms, we alternate between the act of seeing and the quest to see the eye itself. The essay explores this theme with reference to specific elements of formal cinematic language. Rather than focus on a particular film or set of films for analysis, we focus instead on how the grammar of cinematic language draws our attention to aspects of our existential situation that ordinarily escape our awareness. Insofar as this may also be a goal of Buddhist practice—that is, to expand one’s ability to perceive reality for what it is, beginning with one’s own experience of it—this essay highlights a few of the salient ways that perennial aspects of the human condition have been articulated through the languages of both Buddhism and film. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Practicing Buddhism through Film)
18 pages, 263 KiB  
Article
Killing the Buddha: Ritualized Violence in Fight Club through the Lens of Rinzai Zen Buddhist Practice
by Gregory Max Seton
Religions 2018, 9(7), 206; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9070206 - 2 Jul 2018
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 5862
Abstract
David Fincher may not be an expert in Buddhism. But his description of Fight Club—as reprising the figurative admonishment to “kill the buddha” by Lin-ji Yi-xuan (9th cent.), the founder of the Rinzai Zen Buddhist school—illuminates the way that Fincher’s own directorial [...] Read more.
David Fincher may not be an expert in Buddhism. But his description of Fight Club—as reprising the figurative admonishment to “kill the buddha” by Lin-ji Yi-xuan (9th cent.), the founder of the Rinzai Zen Buddhist school—illuminates the way that Fincher’s own directorial choices mirror the ritualized practices of Rinzai Zen aimed at producing insights into the imaginary and subjective nature of reality. Other articles have already looked from the perspective of film criticism at the many Buddhist (and non-Buddhist) diegetic elements in Fight Club’s story, plot, and dialogue. In contrast, this article analyzes the non-diegetic elements of Fincher’s mise-en-scène in Fight Club from the perspective of film theory in order to demonstrate the way they draw inspiration from certain Zen Buddhist pedagogical methods for breaking through to a “glimpse of awakening” (kenshō). By reading David Fincher’s directorial choices in light of Zen soteriology and the lived experience of Rinzai Zen informants, the article sheds light not only on the film’s potentially revelatory effects on its viewers, but also on esoteric aspects of Rinzai Zen pedagogy as encapsulated in Lin-ji’s “Three Mysterious Gates” and Hakuin’s three essentials of practice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Practicing Buddhism through Film)
19 pages, 3911 KiB  
Article
Pedestrian Dharma: Slowness and Seeing in Tsai Ming-Liang’s Walker
by Teng-Kuan Ng
Religions 2018, 9(7), 200; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9070200 - 25 Jun 2018
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 8539
Abstract
This paper studies the ways that Walker, a short film by the Malaysian-Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-Liang, visualizes the relationship between Buddhism and modernity. Via detailed film analysis as well as attention to sources in premodern Buddhist traditions, this paper argues that its [...] Read more.
This paper studies the ways that Walker, a short film by the Malaysian-Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-Liang, visualizes the relationship between Buddhism and modernity. Via detailed film analysis as well as attention to sources in premodern Buddhist traditions, this paper argues that its filmic performance of Zen walking meditation serves two functions: To present slowness and simplicity as prophetic counterpoints against the dizzying excesses of the contemporary metropolis; and to offer contemplative attentiveness as a therapeutic resource for life in the modern world. By instantiating and cultivating critical shifts in viewerly perspective in the manner of Buddhist ritual practice, Walker invites us to envision how a place of frenetic distraction or pedestrian mundaneness might be transfigured into a site of beauty, wonder, and liberation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Practicing Buddhism through Film)
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8 pages, 29979 KiB  
Article
Khyentse Norbu’s Film Travelers and Magicians: Experiencing Impermanence, No Self, and Emptiness
by Catherine Benton
Religions 2018, 9(4), 124; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9040124 - 11 Apr 2018
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 5485
Abstract
This article examines the filmmaking of writer and director Khyentse Norbu (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche), a Tibetan-Bhutanese lama with major responsibilities as a senior Vajrayana teacher, and recognized as the third incarnation of the founder of the non-sectarian Khyentse lineage. Focusing particularly on [...] Read more.
This article examines the filmmaking of writer and director Khyentse Norbu (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche), a Tibetan-Bhutanese lama with major responsibilities as a senior Vajrayana teacher, and recognized as the third incarnation of the founder of the non-sectarian Khyentse lineage. Focusing particularly on his film Travelers and Magicians (2003), the article explores how Khyentse Norbu creates an experience of Buddhist seeing: an experience of impermanence [anitya], no self [anātma], dependent arising [pratītyasamutpāda], and emptiness [śūnyatā]. The filmmaker draws the audience into worlds that appear to exist and not exist, shaped as they are by these interrelated Buddhist realities. Moving back and forth between a frame story and its embedded narratives, the film invites the viewer to experience the emotional turmoil of two protagonists as emotions shape and re-shape their behavior and influence the actions of those around them. Identifying with the protagonists in Travelers and Magicians, the audience experiences the Buddhist perception that life is a myriad of mutually dependent realities: the powerful reality of illusion and the illusory nature of reality. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Practicing Buddhism through Film)

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9 pages, 204 KiB  
Essay
Crafting Cinema in the Buddhist Contemplative Gaze
by Edward A. Burger
Religions 2019, 10(4), 253; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040253 - 7 Apr 2019
Viewed by 2564
Abstract
In this essay, I discuss the evolution of my approach to creating Buddhist contemplative cinema. I begin, by way of personal anecdotes, defining my approach to Buddhist life and the evolution of what I will call the “Buddhist contemplative gaze”—a fundamental shift in [...] Read more.
In this essay, I discuss the evolution of my approach to creating Buddhist contemplative cinema. I begin, by way of personal anecdotes, defining my approach to Buddhist life and the evolution of what I will call the “Buddhist contemplative gaze”—a fundamental shift in perspective shaped by the Buddhist meditation experience. I continue with a discussion of Buddhist art and the distinctive multidimensional quality of the cinema-viewing experience that makes it suitable for celebrating, sharing, and exploring the Buddhist contemplative experience. I trace how my work and life as a Buddhist and a filmmaker come together in this working approach as an artist. The final section of the essay includes reflections on my film, ONE MIND, as an experiment in crafting cinema in the Buddhist contemplative gaze. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Practicing Buddhism through Film)
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