Picturing the Way in Bae Yong-kyun’s Why Has Bodhidharma Left for the East?

  • Author(s): Michael L. Gillespie
  • When: 1997-04
  • Where: Journal of Religion and Film
  • Last year the teachers of a course called "Religion and Film" asked me to lead a discussion of Why Has Bodhidharma Left for the East? (hereafter, Bodhidharma) a film directed by Bae Yong-Kyun that tells a story set in the context of Son Buddhism (the Zen Buddhism of Korea). This opportunity has allowed me to reflect on the use of the film in classroom teaching and to evaluate how well this particular film displays the key elements of Zen. I find Bodhidharma uses a Zen-like simplicity to teach simplicity. With an otherwise simple story, it gradually opens up Zen's compelling subtlety and richness. The Zen-like simplicity is key to the movie and to teaching Zen. I hope readers will respond with ideas about how this and similar films can be used effectively in teaching and with suggestions about my interpretation of Bodhidharma as a teaching device and a religious film.

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