Monday, August 07, 2017

Monkey Kings

SBS Viceland (I still don't really understand that change) showed The Monkey King 2 last week, and it's still able to be watched on SBS on Demand.

This is at least the second Chinese film I have seen lately that features at some point a massive heavenly Buddha intervening on Earth.  It would seem that the government doesn't have a problem with such ideas being promulgated in cinema, which I suppose shows how technically communist states have moved on a bit.

I find something rather watchable about movies loosely based on the Monkey King story now.  I'm even tempted to read the book.    I knew someone once (an Australian but from an Asian family) whose secret ambition in life was to produce a movie that did proper justice to the book Journey to the West.  He evidently has not achieved that.

Update:  One thing about Buddhism - if a Catholic were to become one,  the Mahayana version is surely the type to which he or she should feel more affinity (given the Communion of Saints idea is not a million miles away from bodhisattvas being able to help):

Mahayana Buddhism agrees with Theravada Buddhism that the human problem is suffering; it holds the Four Noble Truths as fundamental. But whereas Theravada holds out the ideal of the individual striving alone on the Eight-fold Path towards nirvana, Mahayana adds helpers who provide shortcuts and assistance out of compassion for those who are suffering. These helpers are called bodhisattvas, and are beings who have worked towards enlightenment and nirvana. But rather than enter nirvana, once they are able, they turn around and bring their store of wisdom, power and merit to help others along the same path. This simple idea has a number of ramifications for the goal of humanity.

  • 1) All human beings participate in the Buddha's nature; that is to say, all humans have the essence of Buddha within themselves. Thus the goal of Mahayana Buddhism is for everyone to realize their true Buddha nature. This goal is the same as attaining nirvana (the Theravadan goal), but it is focused on the Buddha and each person's imitation of the Buddha, rather than on the release from samsara.
  • 2) The Buddha was a bodhisattva. In contrast to the Theravadan view, Mahayana holds that the Buddha (i.e., Gautama) did not just attain nirvana. At the point at which he could have extinguished his existence in samsara, he instead returned to this world and taught other people how to attain nirvana. If he had not, then humanity would not know how to attain it. It was Buddha's compassion for the suffering of humanity that motivated him to remain in this life and to teach and preach for forty more years. Thus, the Buddha used the merit, power and wisdom he gained while striving for enlightenment to help others. He was a bodhisattva.
  • 3) Since humans should imitate the Buddha, the Mahayana ideal is to become a bodhisattva and help others. The Theravadan ideal of the arhat is seen as too selfish, too focused on the individual, and thus without benefit for humanity in general. By emphasizing that the goal is to be a bodhisattva, Mahayana shows that it cares about the rest of humanity as a whole, not just as individuals.
  • 4) Once a person becomes a bodhisattva, then they have the ability to help people towards nirvana and enlightenment. They may create new paths to higher stages that can be accomplished by lay people as well as monks. In fact, many forms of Mahayana focus on the laity, almost to the exclusion of interest in the sangha. Pure Land is a good example of this. Amitabha Buddha (who was initially a monk, then a Bodhisattva, and finally attained Buddha-hood) created a "pure land"--a paradise--in the "west" (i.e., in the Buddha-fields). He vowed that anyone who would call on his name could enter this land. There they could remain, or they could strive towards enlightenment, which would be much closer.
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