So I’m digging through my DVDs the other day and I discover a copy of a movie called Buddhist Life. The director was a guy named Luis Carapeto. He was Portuguese. I remember him coming to a number of Nishijima Roshi’s talks and retreats. Then he went back to Portugal. Later on he returned to Japan with a couple of people and a bunch of video equipment to make a movie about Nishijima.
He gave Nishijima a copy on VHS, which I then copied for myself and later transferred to a DVD-R. Then, as far as I knew, the movie just vanished. IMDB doesn’t list it. I checked around the interwebs and the only reference I can find is this listing from a film festival in Amsterdam. It gives the year of production as 2003. I think the movie may be a couple years older than that. But my memory is not so reliable. Amazon has a listing for it. Though the DVD appears to be out of print. So buy the download because maybe Luis is getting some money from those sales. And I’m sure it’ll look and sound a lot better than this third generation copy.
The synopsis on that Dutch film festival’s website says:
“I live my Buddhist life from day to day, from moment to moment sometimes in my office, sometimes in my home, sometimes in a temple. In every situation there was just my Buddhist life.” Gudo Wafu Nishijima was born in Yokohama, Japan. With a new and fresh approach to the Buddhist view of reality and the sense of balance to the philosophical and scientific investigations from last decades, Master Nishijima gives us the coordinates to start to understand Buddhism with our own method of thinking. He wants to pass the teachings of Buddhism to people all over the world who are searching for “Truth”. “We have to say that we live in a succession of moments rather like the frames of a film.” In these frames, from the present moment, the documentary is about Master Nishijima´s daily life that is all ready a Buddhist life.
I uploaded the whole thing onto YouTube this morning. Luis, if you’re out there and you want me to remove it I will. I’m under the impression that Luis and the others who made the movie have kind of forgotten about it at this point. I’m hoping maybe this blog posting might spark some renewed interest in it. I say again unto thee, buy the download! It’s only two dollars, ya cheapskates!
Watching it again I’d forgotten how good it was. It gives you a very honest look at who Nishijima Roshi was when the film was made. It shows him leading one of his annual retreats in Shizuoka for foreigners. It shows him in Europe giving talks and running a sesshin. It shows him talking to students of his from Israel and Ireland. There’s also a wonderful scene of him dragging his suitcase through Tokyo Station. He always insisted on carrying his own stuff when he went on retreats. If you wanted to help him out with his bags you’d have to kind of trick him by grabbing them before he noticed. But he was always very quick.
In one of the scenes Nishijima is in his office at the Ida Soap and Cosmetics Company working on the translation of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika, although the book itself isn’t mentioned. This would have been a couple years before I got involved with it. He was working on that thing for ages.
The opening scenes were shot one morning at Nishijima’s dojo in Chiba prefecture. It was a thoroughly urban Buddhist living space. At one time it had been Ida’s company dormitory back in the days when Japanese companies made new workers live together in dorms. After they stopped using it they gave it to Nishijima to run as a dojo. Then when Mr. Ida died his son decided to take it back and sell the property. Residents were required to sit two periods of zazen each day. Nishijima himself rang a bell at 5:30 every morning to signal the start of the first period. Residents weren’t required to attend that one. But the bell was there to offer encouragement to do so. I never lived in the dojo myself.
I appear at about 2:55 into part two sitting next to Nishijima in the zendo at Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka. I think maybe you can hear my voice as one of the people asking questions in one of the lectures too. But I’m not sure if it’s me or not.
I have to warn you, though. The movie is painfully slow. If I would’ve edited it I would’ve made it a lot speedier. But I think Luis wanted to give viewers a sense of Nishijima’s lifestyle. He seems to be attempting to recreate the feeling of sitting zazen in the form of a cinematic experience. You’ll have to judge for yourself if he was successful or not.
*At the time I posted this, part 3 was still loading up. So you may have to sit some zazen till it becomes available.