Souls of Zen

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The documentary Souls of Zen – Buddhism, Ancestors, and the 2011 Tsunami in Japan presents perspectives on Buddhism as practiced by clergy, lay adherents, and families in Japan by drawing on ethnographic fieldwork on the daily life of Buddhist temples, monastic education, prayer practice, mortuary rituals, and Japan’s tradition of ancestor veneration in the wake of 3/11. From March to December 2011, Tim Graf and Jakob Montrasio filmed invaluable footage of the greatest religious mobilization in Japan's postwar history. This film is the only documentary based on sustained attention to the everyday lives of Buddhist professionals in the disaster zone. In an ethnographic journey from Tokyo to the hardest-hit prefectures (among other regions in Japan) Souls of Zen covers insights and opinions from scholars, clergy, and lay adherents with a focus on Soto Zen and Jodo Pure Land Buddhism.

The film explores the unfamiliar institutional, doctrinal, and psychological challenges Buddhist clergy are facing in the wake of 3/11, re-evaluating the complex role of Buddhism in a society struggling with the sudden impact of these catastrophic disasters that have exacerbated and otherwise altered continuing dilemmas occasioned by demographic change and religious pluralism.

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sanghadass's picture

okay, so when does the next film come online. we have changed months have we not??????????????

Andrew Gladstone's picture

Hello Sangha Dassa,
The new film went up this morning at 8am EST. If you click Film Club you will find that it has updated. Thank you for your interest in the Tricycle Film Club, and happy watching.
- A.G. Digital Media Coordinator,

trixie22's picture

Perhaps this is an unexpected lesson in patience, but was wondering when the April movie will be available for viewing

lotustiger's picture

Thank you Tricycle. A very interesting film and I'm quite glad that I have seen it. I agree with others that the narration and music balance was not optimal; the filmmakers will learn, I am certain. And the digital filming could sometimes be sometimes distracting with the movement. But those are filmmaking quibbles. The subject matter is compellingly interesting and I learned quite a few new things. It would be interesting to see a follow-up documentary in some years time to see how things are changing in Japan. And that final shot with the bonfires on this hill of Kyoto (right?) was sublime: a very beautiful practice.

whiteroses's picture

The funnyjokes have most important part in our lifes beacuse its keep our charmfull and our heart filled with pleasure so the funny images play a diffrent role in our life for fun.funny jokes

Kayla's picture

Glad I found the the time to watch this film. Worth it!

gr82brees's picture

Thank you Tricycle!

mflinton's picture

What a thought provoking film. The vision, care, and effort that went into this work is remarkable. This would be an excellent work for Western (U.S.) Buddhist sanghas to view, reflect upon, and discuss. I hope the film will also spread by both word of mouth and by institutions such as Tricycle Magazine telling everyone about its powerful ideas and messages and inviting them to view it.

jewelupthesteps's picture

A plea to film makers everywhere; please be aware that loud music over the top of commentary renders it inaudible. Very frustrating!

caryl.s's picture

I had this problem too. Hard to enjoy the beauty and message of the film when straining to hear all the time.

elationaviation's picture

This is the only downside to watching the film. However, I did find myself paying closer attention to what the narrator was saying. Still frustrating, though.

jungsoo's picture

I agree, it sounds as if the narrator is whispering. I had a very difficult time understanding him.

bpaschen's picture

I also agree. I was happier when I was able to read the subtitles.

lauragalvao's picture

oh... thanks. I thought I didn't understand because my english was getting worst, so I had this hope: maybe the sound is not good or too loud when the narrator speaks... Now, reading this commentary I feel's not my fault :-)
Anyway a great documentary so sensible.

mattbard's picture

.... haunting , thoughtful and enigmatic, very human, sobering look at tragedy and ourselves. .... thank you for the film. matt

Richard Fidler's picture

Thank you for showing this fine film about the diverse functions of Buddhism in contemporary Japan. The dharma is valued for many reasons: comfort in difficult times, social good works, joining people together in community celebrations, providing a sense of belonging to the elderly and to those without families, and introducing young people to the virtues of peace and quiet, and many more.

I am struck with how different Zen is regarded in Japan compared to the United States. In the States it is seen as a refuge, primarily, as a practice that stands in opposition to grasping, struggling, making money and all the rest. In Japan it is an integral part of the culture, taken for granted by many people and mostly ignored by the young. Perhaps that is why Japan shows little interest in Buddhism: the dharma is seen as a fossilized remnant of old ways of thinking and feeling. In this country, by contrast, it is something shiny and new, attractive to many young people who have grown tired of following narrow Christian beliefs.

The dharma has a long way to go before it becomes rooted here in America--and the form it takes will differ from that of Japan. I do not think ritualistic practices will become important here--chanting will be practiced only by a few, for example. On the other hand, I suspect social service will grow in importance. Already the dharma is spreading within prisons as many teachers demonstrate meditation before inmates. Individual practice, not community involvement, will form the backbone of the dharma here in the United States. Few followers of the dharma will pass along their practice to their children: teachings will attract new practitioners every generation. And really, is that so bad? Perhaps a new model for Buddhist practice is being constructed right here, right now. That can be a good thing.