Daughters of the Buddha: Buddhism and film with Ven. Daehae Sunim

- through Francois Leclercq

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Fri. Daehae Sunim. Image courtesy of Ven. Daehae Sunim

The 18th International Sakyadhita Conference was recently held in Seoul under the theme “Living in a Precarious World: Impermanence, Resilience, Awakening. and around the world have come together to share their experiences and research, and to support and encourage projects and initiatives aimed at improving the lives of Buddhist women. The five-day forum was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends from around the world, forge new relationships, learn and exchange ideas, inspire and be inspired.

BDG was privileged to witness this unique manifestation of the sacred feminine in contemporary Buddhism and to meet some of the women working to shape the face of Buddhism today. Among the many female monastics present at this remarkable forum was Venerable Daehae Sunim, a Korean bhikshuni and 28-year-experienced Dharma master who explored the medium of film as a means of communicating spiritual and philosophical concepts to a wider audience. BDG sat down with Ven. Daehae Sunim on the sidelines of the conference to learn more about his work as a Buddhist filmmaker.

Image courtesy of Ven. Daehae Sunim

Alongside her work as a Dharma teacher at her monastery near the South Korean city of Gyeongsan, Ven. Daehae Sunim has been writing and directing films since 2007, with over 90 short films to his credit, including Socrates' Last Words et What is my real me!, which have won 65 awards at international film festivals. At the end of 2018, she released her first feature film, the award-winning Sermon on the Mountwhich examines some of the fundamental philosophical questions explored by both Buddhism and Christianity, with a view to sharing a harmonized view of these ancient spiritual traditions that could help promote happiness and peace in our troubled world.

"I originally thought I would make a film about human values ​​that could help people around the world live more peacefully and promote religious harmony," said Ven. Daehae Sunim, also known as a director by her profane name, Yoo Young-Uee, told BDG. "I've always tried to base my teachings on understanding the essence of human life, but looking at current global trends, I realized that books and writing might not be the best means of disseminating this message; now everything revolves around the cinema as a means of mass communication. So I thought it would be more useful and effective to share a message about the truth of life, the essence of human nature, with the people of the world using this film.

On the surface, Sermon on the Mount is a biblical film, centered on a group of eight young Christians who gather in a mysterious cave to reflect and debate the questions they have about their faith: Why is the world filled with disasters if an omnipotent God exists? What is the tree of knowledge and the forbidden fruit? Why did God make the fruit and let people pick it and eat it? Why are we born in sin for what Adam did? If God created man, why is man considered a sinner and not God?

“In fact, the truth of spirituality and the essence of this human life is basically the same between all religions, whether it is Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc. said Ven. Daehae Sunim explained. “In Buddhism, we have a path to achieve enlightenment through faith, understanding and practice in real life, and then to enlightenment. We believe this is a more helpful and effective way to realize the ultimate truth of life through the process of enlightenment. In the case of Christianity, we generally understand that the main goal is to have faith in God. As such, we find Buddhism to be a more effective teaching in recognizing the true essence of human life, and this is also why I could easily understand and recognize the spiritual commonalities between Buddhism and Christianity.

Sermon on the Mount addresses familiar Buddhist concepts of no-self (Skt: anatman) and interdependence and interconnectedness (Skt: pratityasamutpada) by exploring the Christian relationship between man and God and the sense of separation that can be found there, when in fact God and man can be understood as the expression of a deep and ineffable unity .

“In fact, we can recognize that humans, Jesus Christ and God are all the same thing. And that is why, in the same way, if we look at the essence of human life and all phenomena, it is one interconnected unity,” said Ven. Daehae Sunim watched.

“There is a member of the congregation of my monastery here in Korea who knows the Bible very well. And I asked him to show me where in the Bible these concepts are expressed and addressed. This is how I was able to tap into the philosophical parallels between Buddhism and Christianity that are the basis of the film's script.

Fri. Daehae Sunim meets Pope Francis. Image courtesy of Ven. Daehae Sunim

In addition to screenings at numerous international film festivals around the world and numerous awards, Sermon on the Mount premiered at United Nations Headquarters in New York, on the occasion of World Interfaith Harmony Week, and at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome, delighting audiences, intriguing scholars and sparking praise from Pope Francis.

"Actually, the positive reactions to this film from the Buddhist community or the Christian community doesn't matter," noted Ven. Daehae Sunim. “What is important is whether people can understand the essence of the content of this film. Even among Christians, there are people who find it difficult to understand this film and there are people who understand it very well. For example, there was a Christian priest who told me that while he disagreed with my underlying premise, he acknowledged that the film was very well made and presented, so he couldn't not criticize him. Likewise, in the Buddhist community, there are people who have understood the themes well and people who have had difficulty understanding them. But my main intention is to highlight the commonalities between the fundamental beliefs of these two communities to help humanity in its quest for meaning and peace.

Fri. Daehae Sunim. Image courtesy of Ven. Daehae Sunim

The International Association of Buddhist Women Sakyadhita is the leading global body committed to transforming the lives of women in Buddhist societies, aspiring to empower and unite Buddhist women, promote their well-being and facilitate their work for the benefit of the Dharma and all sentient beings. "Sakyadhita" means Daughter of Shakya (the historical Buddha's clan name). Working locally, Sakyadhita provides an international network among Buddhist women, promoting research and publications and striving to create equal opportunities for women in all Buddhist traditions.

* Daughters of the Buddha: The 18th Sakyadhita Conference in Seoul Celebrates the Sacred Feminine (BDG)

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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