If your fantasy is to live an exceedingly simple Buddhist life on a floating temple in the middle of a beautiful lake, this movie is for you. Set in Korea and spoken in Korean (with English subtitles), it was reviewed in Spirituality and Health magazine, which demonstrates its uplifting credentials.
However, Laurel was disappointed that the SSFWS DVD we rented didn’t match her expectations. She thought that the movie would be non-stop Buddhist inspiration, languorous images of water lilies, meditative chanting, strolls through unspoiled nature, that sort of thing.
Yes, SSFWS has much of this, but the central theme is the relationship between an adult Buddhist monk and his protégé, who experiences some rough lessons during his passage through life’s seasons (the movie is divided into five parts, each set during one of the seasons in the title, but many years pass as the young monk grows to take the place of his master—not just fifteen months).
Here’s some impressions “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” left with me:
(1) I liked how, at the end of the movie, the young monk practiced martial art exercises so assiduously without having any intent to use his skills in any martial way. Rather, he was building up strength and will for a karma-cleansing trek up a tall mountain, dragging a heavy stone behind him all the way. During my traditional Shotokan karate training years we students would be asked by the sensei, “What is the purpose of karate?!” And we would reply, “Perfection of character!!” Exactly.
(2) The next time I get bored because I can’t find a movie on the six channels of HBO that we get via our DISH receiver, I’ll picture myself living on the floating temple. No TV. No newspapers except what food occasionally comes wrapped in. No books in evidence. Very few visitors. Barely any contact with the outside world. “What do you want to do today?” the old monk asks at the beginning of the movie. “I want to go pick herbs!” says the boy monk. That’s the day’s big excitement.
Things perk up when the monk gets older (and testosterone-fueled) and a sick girl stays at the temple for healing purposes. Plus other purposes, it turns out. On the whole, though, SSFWS shows the True Simple Life. Who of us addicted to modern 24/7 media—TV, radio, Internet—could live happily this way? I wish I could, but I’m pretty certain I’d be running screaming to Seoul for a big screen television and high-speed broadband after a few days of herb picking.
(3) Nonetheless, I’d like to fashion a floating temple in the middle of my own pool of consciousness. A place I could retire to whenever I wanted. When the world would become too much with him, the young monk would sit before a stone Buddha and rapidly strike a piece of wood with a stick. Clap, clap, clap, clap. A percussive mantra. Listen to the sound of one stick clapping and all else fades away.
I’ve practiced mantra meditation for more years than I’d like to admit, given how disturbingly slowly I’ve been able to improve my practice. The scenes in the movie of both the old and young monk holding the piece of wood next to an ear and striking it rhythmically gave me a fresh image of what repeating a mantra is all about. Hard to put into words though—that’s why it’s an image.
Yesterday we got a flat tire on the Volvo when we got back to Salem, after driving all the way from central Oregon. Today I was exercising at the athletic club, watching the news while stepping away on a machine, and a news flash came on: “Florida Supreme Court allows Nader on the ballot.” Both events threatened to produce a mini-tidal wave in my previously mostly calm consciousness.
Then…clap, clap, clap, clap. I was able to get my consciousness back to a semblance of a still center in the eye of the worldly hurricane. Those winds outside of us never stop blowing. I’ll be driven crazy if I let myself drift wherever the current of a nail on Commercial Street or a headline on Fox News takes me. Clap, clap, clap, clap. A mantra returns me to the center. Bull’s-eye. Everything moves around that, and I can enjoy the motion without being caught up in it.
There’s an interview with Garry Shandling in the September 20 issue of TIME magazine. Who knew the star of HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” had such Buddhist depths? Here’s an excerpt:
“You do a lot of meditating?”
“I’ve been meditating for about 20 years—a kind of Zen Buddhist meditation—and never talked about it because no one understood. And now of course it’s become part of our culture and we see Buddhas in storefront windows. It’s weird to me that I do that and happen to be funny. I still can’t figure that part out. It’s feeling the deep impermanence of life and yet seeing the funny, impermanent side of life. Because it’s all a joke.”
Yes. Clap, clap, clap, clap. That helps us hear the punch line. Nails in the tire. Nader on the ballot. From one point of view, the real point of view, it’s all funny. All a joke. I look forward to being able to smile through the entire day no matter what happens.
Clap, clap, clap, clap. What a great show!