Enlightenment Through Film: Why Has Bodhidharma Left for the East?

By Wanda Avila


1. The film was first released in 1989, but the Director’s edition was released in 2007. This analysis is based mainly on the 2007 edition.

2. The city is never named in the film, but it is possibly Taegu, South Korea, where Bae teaches art at the Faculty of Fine Arts.

3. “Director’s Statement” in the Milestone press kit for the film.

4. Linda C. Ehrlich, “Closing the Circle,” in Seoul Searching: Culture and Identity in Contemporary Korean Cinema, ed. Frances Gateward, New York: State University of New York Press, 2007, p. 184.

5. Stephen Holden, review in The New York Times, May 7, 2008, viewed online at http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review September 13, 2008.

6. Jonathan Rosenbaum, review, viewed online at http://onfilm.chicagoreader.com/movies/capsules/9329_WHY_HAS_BODHI_DHARMA_LEFT_FOR_THE_EAST September 13, 2008.

7. Some representative Buddhist mandalas are the Wheel of Time (Kalachakra) mandala (http://www.buddhanet.net/images/smandala.jpg), the Wheel of Life (Tanghka) mandala (http://www.angelfire.com/yt/fairtibet/whexpl.html), and the Overcoming of Death (Yamantaka) mandala (www.artsmia.org/art-of-asia/buddhism/the-mandala.cfm), viewed online September 13, 2008.

8. Robert Faires, review in The Austin Chronicle, July, 9, 1993. Viewed online at http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Calendar/Film?Film=oid%3A139054 September 13, 2008.

9. Koreans are said to be reluctant to adopt orphan children because of the Confucian emphasis on family ties and blood lines.

10. M. Esther Harding, The ‘I’ and the ‘Not-I’: A Study in the Development of Consciousness, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965, p. 63.

11. Among the many versions of these drawings online, that of the 12th C. Chinese Zen Master Kakuan can be viewed at http://www.4peaks.com/ppox.htm#1.

12. Yamada Mumon, Lectures on the Ten Oxherding Pictures, trans. Victor Sogen Hori, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

13. “Korean Traditional Dance, Seungmu (Buddhist dance),” http://english.whatsonkorea.com/view_reports.ph?rid=589&code=M&scode=M-06&ss_code=&pst=L September 13, 2008.

14. Paul Schraeder, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 82-86.

15. Patrick Laude, Singing the Way: Insights in Poetry and Spiritual Transformation, New York: World Wisdom, Inc., 2005, p. 209.

16. Ehrlich, pp. 179-181.

17. In Buddhist iconography, the “calling the earth to witness” position (the hand hangs over the knee, the palm turned inward, with the whole hand pointing to the earth) refers to the story that after the Buddha Sakyamuni experienced Enlightenment, he was challenged as to his right to sit on a particular piece of ground. To justify his seat in that place, he called the earth to witness his many good deeds of past lives and so justified his seat in that place. (“What Is Korean Buddhism?” viewed online at http://www.buddhapia.com/eg/extensive September 13, 2008.

18. Michael Gillepsie, “Picturing the Way in Bae Yong-kyun’s Why Has Bodhidharma Left for the East?” Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 1, April 1997, paragraph 19, viewed online at http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/gillespi.htm September 13, 2008.

19. Master Sheng-yen and Dan Stevenson, Hoofprint of the Ox: Principles of the Chan Buddhist Path as Taught by a Modern Chinese Master, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 208-210.

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