Title: Buddha Wild: The Monk In A Hut
Genre: Documentary, Buddhism, Spirituality
Distribution: Reality Films
Buddha Wild: The Monk In A Hut is one of the best documentaries about Buddhism to appear in a long time. Written, directed and filmed by Anna Wilding, this film is fresh, sincere and fun without sacrificing its critical edge.
One would scarcely know this was Wilding’s first documentary. The polished narration, interviews, camera work and editing seem more like the work of a seasoned director, while the soundtrack enhances but never overshadows the story.
The film kicks off with a brief synopsis about the historical spread of Buddhism. Then it shifts to a Theravada temple nestled deep in Thailand, where much of the footage takes place.
We learn about the legend of the Buddha–his early life, insights and subsequent enlightenment. In addition, the film takes a penetrating look into some of the rules, opinions and objectives of several monks and an abbot, and is sprinkled with comments from visiting lay Buddhists.
Before watching this DVD I prepared myself for the usual ho-hum cliches about how materialistic city folk just don’t get it because we’re locked into our so-called “monkey minds,” obsessed with gadgets, and so on. But this film contains none of that talk, which usually comes off as thinly veiled discrimination and hypocrisy. Instead, these monks seem sincerely gentle, playful and compassionate.
Also commendable is Wilding’s probing with regard to the status of women in Buddhism. Some of the monks she interviews attribute questionable gender-related practices to “Tai culture” and not to Buddhism, itself, where women and men are said to be equal.
This raises the hot button issue as to whether any person, religious or otherwise, may justify unfair or discriminatory practices by pointing to “culture” or “tradition.”
Buddha Wild pursues the question of gender inequality without upsetting the apple cart. Wilding is provocative but also diplomatic. After all, if she’d pressed the monks too hard, the film might not have been finished and gone on to receive the Dalai Lama’s official blessing in 2010.
Like most religions (and many things in life), Buddhism abides by an organizational hierarchy. And these particular monks know that politics matters. They even say so. At first glance they might seem naïve and simple, but it soon becomes clear that they’re well aware of the complex world around them and, for the most part, university educated.
Central to any worldview, political or not, is the meaning of freedom. Wilding observes that the monks are free from worry when it comes to paying the monthly bills. But they’re not free, she adds, to pursue the worldly pleasures that many of us take for granted. For instance, the monks observe a rigid mealtime schedule and, like their Catholic counterparts, take a vow of celibacy.
Perhaps the most engaging part of the film occurs when Wilding enters a monk’s hut. But don’t conjure up images of a quaint straw dwelling without any modern conveniences. In this hut spirituality and technology converge. The joyful and contented monk in the hut sits at a computer, reads in two languages, meditates, and has, as he puts it, “sweet dreams” in his simple but adequate bed.
Wilding talks candidly about her initial apprehension to enter the hut alone. But she leaves somewhat relieved, finding the experience to have been wholesome and refreshing.
Altogether, Buddha Wild is a great introduction to the philosophical underpinnings, ideals and observances of Buddhism. It’s one of those films where theory and practice easily coalesce to produce something really quite memorable.
Bonus features include a segment with a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk residing in Los Angeles plus a shorter scene with the Dalai Lama, amid countless camera flashes, talking about the intimate connection between personal and global caring.
- Mike Ragogna: The Buddha Image…Out Of Uddiyana: A Conversation with Collector Nik Douglas, plus a Forward by Tibet House’s President Robert Thurman (huffingtonpost.com)
- Jillian Burt: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra (huffingtonpost.com)
- Ed and Deb Shapiro: What the Buddha Might Say to Christine O’Donnell (huffingtonpost.com)
- Confession Of A Buddhist Atheist (anatheist.net)
- Great Buddha’s ritual cleaning (bbc.co.uk)
- Sokushinbutsu – Japan’s Self-Mummified Monks (odditycentral.com)
- Buddhism in America (time.com)
- Buddhism 101 (brighthub.com)
- New Buddhist monastery opens in Richmond (theprovince.com)
- New Buddhist monastery opens in Richmond (globaltvbc.com)