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Zen Buddhism – The Land of the Disappearing Buddha – Japan

Zen Buddhism - The Land of the Disappearing Buddha – Japan

This documentary is narrated and directed by Ronald Eyre for BBC in 1977.

The Land of the Disappearing Buddha – Japan is the episode 9 from The Long Search documentary series.

Zen Buddhism – The Land of the Disappearing Buddha – Japan documentary synopsis:

The film’s first major segment looks at Zen Buddhism, in two contexts. The first is a session of sitting meditation (zazen) at a Tokyo restaurant, with the owner, Mr. Tahnee, striding purposefully among his meditating employees, and occasionally giving one a whack on the shoulders with a stick that the Zen monks named “encouragement.”

The second context is the house of a Zen master who teaches sword fighting and calligraphy. Because of its emphasis on experiencing the moment (every moment), and recognizing the transitory quality of life, Zen was very popular with the samurai class. In his calligraphy exercise, the master draws an empty circle, which he describes as the “pinnacle of zen”.

The master also stresses that the Buddha is not something outside of us, but is indeed our very Self (this is the notion of the Buddha-nature inherent in all things, which is a central Zen idea).

In Kyoto, we meet with a hereditary leader of one of the Pure Land Sects, visits with a family that is one of its members, and visits with a factory owner (Mr. Sugita) who is a Pure Land devotee.

There is also a considerable introduction to Pure Land theology (depending for salvation on the grace of Amida Buddha, rather than on one’s own efforts), and the notion of the Bodhisattva as a Mahayana ideal.

This film closes with a sanzan (daily encounter) between master and disciple. Each disciple has been meditating on a koan and comes to a meeting with the master to give a response to it.

The master evaluates the disciple’s response (since the koan is a question with no answer, the content of the answer is irrelevant, what is important is the manner in which the answer is given), and then gives the disciple further instruction.

This final sequence highlights the Zen claim that it is a “special teaching outside the scriptures,” based on the direct intuition of one’s inner nature. The teacher cannot give this to one, but he (or she) can try to point the student in the right direction.

More interesting documentaries are available to watch on insightstate.

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