‘Buddha’ goes to the hospital: A convergence of science, history and art

Emi Kolawole, Washington Post: The hospital admissions sheet simply read: “Name: Buddha; DOB: 1662.”

The 350-year-old patient’s visit started with a routine x-ray in the summer of 2008. But doctors discovered there were signs of an unknown mass inside his head and yet another inside his stomach – objects that his new caretakers were intent on identifying and extracting if at all possible. The x-ray wasn’t detailed enough to make a proper diagnosis, so doctors at Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville cleared the schedule and ordered a CAT scan.

After a trip through the scanner, receiving a radiation dose higher than …

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‘World’s happiest man’ advocates meditation

Dubbed the “world’s happiest man,” best-selling author and master Buddhist teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was in Korea for the first time last weekend, offering his take on how to be happy.

The Tibetan monk participated in a groundbreaking study of brain activity in 2002, where scientists found that advanced meditation increases mental happiness.

What is happiness to him?

“My idea of happiness is an experience of calm, peace and joy which is non-dependent on outside circumstances,” Rinpoche told The Korea Herald over a vegetarian lunch in Insa-dong, Seoul.

For 35-year-old Rinpoche — who is to go on a three-year retreat in May — solitary reflection develops inner happiness, unaffected by the stresses, temptations and complications of modern life.

“I think two things are important (for happiness): wisdom and experience. For wisdom, accept and appreciate…

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what you have. One of our problems is that we are not satisfied and cannot rejoice at what we have,” he said.

And experience? He said that is all down to the practice of meditation. “Anybody can meditate: religious, non-religious, it doesn’t matter,” he said, emphasizing the value of being able to create inner calm — any time, anywhere.

Likening life to the stock market, he said if we expect change, then our happiness will be steady and endure.

Born near the border between Tibet and Nepal, Rinpoche devoted his life to Buddhism from an early age, along with a strong interest in the sciences, and rose quickly to become known as one of a new generation of teachers making Buddhist teachings relevant to today’s society.

He now guides the work of the Tergar Meditation Community and, for the past 10 years, Rinpoche has been travelling the world, organizing meditation retreats and programs and speaking on his philosophies.

His first book, “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness” hit the New York Times’ bestseller list, and attracted quite a following including longtime Buddhist, actor Richard Gere.

Rinpoche’s sense of humor and worldly knowledge appear to be a product of the life he has made for himself, and he seems entirely at ease with that. “I have many homes so … I have no problem (traveling) now.”

There was one thing he hankered for though: “I miss doing retreats.”

A lesson in relaxation

Addressing a packed theater at the Jogyesa temple complex in Insa-dong, Seoul, on Sunday, Rinpoche gave an accessible tutorial on meditation.

Soon the entire room was absorbed in silence, eyes closed, muscles relaxed and spines straight.

“Breathe in, breathe out,” instructed Rinpoche. “Just relax.”

But these were really the only directions needed, for this, he said, was “non-meditation.”

“Non-meditation is the best meditation,” he explained, saying that our tendency to over-think it, to focus on meditating, can take away from the calm, sense of clarity and heightened awareness that should be felt.

As for posture, he said, do not be preoccupied by it. If you can, cross your legs, but always maintain a straight spine so energy can flow through your body. As for thoughts, we should not try and block them but let them pass through.

Westerners, said Rinpoche, imitating a typical cross-legged meditation pose with hands on knees, tend to believe they should think of nothing but peace — serving only to create artificial peace.

Asians, on the other hand, are more serious, he said, mimicking a rigid posture and concentrated face.

Rinpoche believes the most important thing is to relax. It should be a natural, normal practice that we can use in our everyday lives, he said.

“We don’t know how to rest,” he said. But rest, it seems, is the key to successful meditation.

Throughout the session he went through other techniques, including “sound” and “sleeping” meditation.

Focusing on the soft whir of the air conditioner, Rinpoche challenged the audience to embrace sound in meditation, rather than be deterred by it, to encourage the focus of thoughts.

For those who find meditation makes them tired, Rinpoche instructed that one should “make friends with sleepiness.”

If you maintain a sense of awareness, do not dream, and awake feeling refreshed with a greater sense of clarity, then sleep during meditation is fine, he said.

Why meditate?

“When I was young, I had this panic disorder and I used my panic as support for my meditation … my panic was one of my best teachers,” he said, explaining that meditation is now being used by some doctors in medical treatment.

He wanted to share this — through books, retreats and monastic endeavors — and show that a rested mind can help in many areas of our lives, from study to business. He explained that when we are stressed, we tend to make mistakes and meditation can help alleviate this.

A simple message

However skeptical one is about faith and its leaders, Rinpoche’s message — delivered through understanding and humorous anecdotes — was simple: Remember to take time to appreciate what you have.

Among Rinpoche’s fans, there was clear excitement — one man came from Tokyo and told the audience how special this meeting was for him — and most joined the long line to get books signed, or to ask questions. Walking through Insa-dong he was keenly followed, given gifts and asked for advice.

Following his upcoming three-year hiatus, Rinpoche plans to return to Korea.

“I think Korea has a lot of traditions still living: meditation traditions and study. Nice people, nice food and nice environment.”

For more on Rinpoche and the Tergar Meditation Community, visit https://tergar.org/.

By Hannah Stuart-Leach (hannahsl@heraldm.com)

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Falun Gong devotee named refugee

wildmind meditation news

Kim Mi-Ju, JoongAng Daily:

The Seoul High Court recognized a Chinese woman yesterday as a refugee who can’t live in her homeland because of her belief in Falun Gong, the meditation-based religion banned in China.

The 40-year-old woman surnamed Wang, who has been working in Korea and was involved in promoting the religion, filed the case against Korean Minister of Justice Lee Kwi-nam after the Justice Ministry rejected her request to be acknowledged as a refugee.

Wang came to Korea in 2001 for economic reasons and become a Falun Gong practitioner in 2004.

She was hired as a reporter in the Korea bureau of NTDTV, a Falun Gong-affiliated, Chinese language network based in New York. She is also a vocal critic of Chinese Communist Party.

“There are grounds for Wang to feel afraid of being persecuted by the Chinese government because she has been reporting China’s crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners on NTDTV,” the verdict reads.

“The word refugee not only refers to a person who fled China because of threats but also someone who is likely to be persecuted by the government if she returns because of her active involvement [in Falun Gong practices] in Korea.”

A lower court rejected Wang’s plea because it suspected Wang was using Falun Gong as a way of extending her stay in Korea, especially since Wang didn’t practice Falun Gong in China.

Yesterday’s verdict, however, found Wang’s motive believable. This was the first time a local court acknowledged a Falun Gong devotee as a refugee.

Falun Gong was founded in China in 1992 and boasts more than 100 million practitioners in 60 countries, according to the Falun Gong Information Center. The practice is banned in China and the government has brutally cracked down on its followers.

In 2008, the Seoul Administrative Court gave refugee status to two Korean-Chinese Falun Gong practitioners who fled China, but the ruling was overturned in appeals. In March, the Supreme Court upheld the overturned ruling.

Original article no longer available


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“There are grounds for Wang to feel afraid of being persecuted by the Chinese government because she has been reporting China’s crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners on NTDTV,” the verdict reads.

“The word refugee not only refers to a person who fled China because of threats but also someone who is likely to be persecuted by the government if she returns because of her active involvement [in Falun Gong practices] in Korea.”

A lower court rejected Wang’s plea because it suspected Wang was using Falun Gong as a way of extending her stay in Korea, especially since Wang didn’t practice Falun Gong in China.

Yesterday’s verdict, however, found Wang’s motive believable. This was the first time a local court acknowledged a Falun Gong devotee as a refugee.

Falun Gong was founded in China in 1992 and boasts more than 100 million practitioners in 60 countries, according to the Falun Gong Information Center. The practice is banned in China and the government has brutally cracked down on its followers.

In 2008, the Seoul Administrative Court gave refugee status to two Korean-Chinese Falun Gong practitioners who fled China, but the ruling was overturned in appeals. In March, the Supreme Court upheld the overturned ruling.

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101 Places Not To See Before You Die

An Overnight Stay at a Korean Temple

In theory, an overnight stay at a Korean temple sounds like the perfect activity for anyone struggling to escape the pressures of modern life. You’ll meditate, you’ll learn about Buddhism, you’ll go vegetarian. Concerns and cares will slip away as you drift into a blissful state of conscious awareness.

Unfortunately, that’s not what it’s like.

I signed up for one of these sleepovers through a program called Templestay. Created in 2002 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism — the largest Buddhist order in Korea — the Templestay program aims to allow visitors to “sample ordained lifestyle and experience the mental training and cultural experience of Korea’s ancient Buddhist tradition.” In other words, it’s a chance to test-drive life as a monk.

The meditation center I visited, about two hours from Seoul on Ganghwa Island, seemed like the sort of place that could inspire calm. The grounds are nestled between rice paddies and a leafy forest, and the center’s brightly painted temple sits several stone steps up from a gentle brook and a small pond stocked with lotus flowers and koi.

When my friend and I arrived — several hours late, thanks to trouble reading the bus schedule — the Templestay coordinator introduced herself in fluent English and led us to the room where we’d be staying. It was empty except for sleeping pads, blankets, and small pillows stuffed with plastic beads. After we’d dropped off our bags, she handed us our clothes for the weekend: two identical extra-large sets of baggy gray pants and vests, along with sun hats and blue plastic slippers. We looked like we’d stepped out of a propaganda poster for Maoist China.

I’d assumed that most temple life involved sitting still and cultivating enlightenment, but instead our first activity was community work time. Clad in our Mao suits, we followed the coordinator to the garden, where eight other Templestay guests squatted between raised rows of dirt, piles of potatoes scattered around them. They gave us hostile glances as we approached — thanks to our late arrival, they’d been forced to harvest potatoes for three hours in eighty-degree heat. I couldn’t blame them for their animosity; if I’d been digging in the dirt while some assholes took the slow route to Ganghwa Island, I’d be pretty pissed off too. But such negativity seemed to go against the spirit of the retreat. I adjusted my sun hat and joined them in the field.

After we’d assumed our squatting positions, the coordinator explained that we were supposed to sort the potatoes into piles of small, medium, and large — and then left without demonstrating what the Buddhist definition of “small” was. After a half hour spent tossing any potato smaller than a golf ball into a nearby box, I looked up to find a monk standing above me, examining my work. I smiled. Expressionless, he picked up my box and emptied it onto the ground.

It was time for meditation.

Once we’d learned the correct way to arrange our shoes outside the temple door, the Templestay coordinator demonstrated how to prostrate according to the Korean Buddhist tradition: kneel down, touch your forehead to the floor, and rest your hands, palms upward, on the ground. Then do it all in reverse, like a movie playing backward. Repeat, ideally several hundred times.

To me, the main value of the prostration practice was as a quadriceps exercise, but any improvement in the shape of my thighs was mitigated by the pain it caused in my arthritic knees. I had plenty of time to reflect on this discomfort when we followed our prostrations with a meditation: sitting in silence for a half hour, a slight breeze blowing through the open doors at our back as if beckoning us to escape.

After a slow walking meditation through the temple grounds, a vegetarian dinner, calligraphy practice, and a discussion on meditation led by the temple’s head monk (I spent most of the time killing mosquitoes and then feeling guilty about the karmic implications), we were sent back to our rooms to get rest before our 3:30 a.m. wake-up call. Lying on the floor, still dressed in my Mao suit, I fidgeted till 1:30.

Two hours later, the sound of the mokt’ak — a wooden percussion instrument played every morning to start the temple’s day — jolted me awake. I pulled myself up from my floor mat and stumbled through the predawn darkness to the temple, where pink lotus lanterns illuminated a small group of people inside, creating the kind of picture you would send home to friends to make them feel jealous about the exotic experiences you had while on vacation.

There is a difference, however, between postcards and reality. For example, no one sends postcards at 3:30 in the morning. Nor do most people’s vacation plans involve getting out of bed in the middle of the night to sit for a half hour in silence with their eyes closed. I watched through cracked eyelids as the Templestay coordinator repeatedly jerked herself awake just before tipping over, like a commuter on an early-morning subway train. I was close to succumbing to the same fate myself when I noticed something that kept me awake: a gigantic beetle crawling on a lotus lantern hanging above my head. This beetle was easily the size of a large fig; having it fall on my head would have been the equivalent of being smacked by a mouse. I began to focus my attention entirely on the beetle, sending prayers into the ether for its secure footing.

My prayers worked — the beetle remained aloft, and we were eventually allowed to go back outside. After sneaking a cup of instant coffee with a Venezuelan couple, I pulled myself through another walking meditation and followed the other participants to the main room for a Buddhist meal ceremony. A highly choreographed process of place-setting, serving, and eating, it included a final inspection by a head monk to see if our bowls were clean. “You do not want to disappoint him,” said the coordinator. “Doing so would reflect poorly.”

She then walked us through what would take place during the meal ceremony, including a final cleansing: we were to take a piece of pickled radish and use it to swab our dishes. This caught the attention of a young Canadian woman.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said. “But how is wiping my bowl with a radish going to make it clean? What about germs?”

“We fill the bowls with very hot water,” said the coordinator, sidestepping the question. “So when you use the radish, the bowl is already very clean.”

“Is it, like, a hygienic radish?” asked the Canadian woman.

“Yes,” said the coordinator. “It is a hygienic radish.”

Things went downhill from there. Exhausted and cranky, one by one we began refusing to play monk. If one of the whole points of Buddhism was to cultivate acceptance, why, I asked, did we have to go through such an elaborate meal ceremony? The Venezuelan couple went a step further: they left.

Wishing that we had the same kind of courage, my friend and I instead counted down the hours until we returned to Seoul, and upon arrival treated ourselves to a bottle of wine. Several days later, the Templestay coordinator e-mailed the weekend’s participants and invited us to a workshop to perform three thousand prostrations to “inspire yourself into practice.” The idea sounded horrifying, but it reminded me how difficult it would be to live like a monk. Which, as the coordinator suggested, may have been the point.

Excerpted from 101 Places Not To See Before You Die by Catherine Price.

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Get meditative with Korean Air

Maybe it’s because air travel has become so stressful: Korean Air is now offering meditation, chanting and a Buddhist temple sleepover as part of a new “Templestay” tour.

Korean Air and Hanjin Travel have teamed up to offer travelers a peek – the tour lasts 24 hours – into the traditional culture of Korean Buddhism and let them relax and rediscover their “true selves” amid peaceful surroundings.

Visitors will get tours of five Korean temples, live the strict life of a Buddhist monk — wakeup time is 4 a.m. sharp –- and take part in a formal monastic meal (no talking or wasting of food allowed) and ancient tea-sipping ceremony. There is also time allotted for making beads and lanterns, doing community work, and taking walks in the forest.

Tours start at around $175, excluding airfare.

[via New York Times]
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Meditation: Going home first time (Korea Times)

Zeff Kraus, Korea Times: Everyone knows the fantasy: meditating on an idyllic Eastern mountain peak with birds singing in rhythm to the soft “ttak, ttak” of a temple’s wooden gong. Such images attracted me to Asia 10 years ago, seeking an inner sense of purpose that my upbringing in Canada had not provided. But my first visit to an actual mountain temple outside of Seoul resulted in a monk offering me inner peace ­— for $2,000 in tuition. From this I learned that a mountain peak can be simply a piece of the city mounted high. Luckily, I met a doctor of traditional Eastern medicine who offered to teach me meditation.

I think that my expectations of meditation matched those of most Westerners, since we all learned what to expect from movies and television shows. I knew that I would not really have to shave my head and wear a saffron robe, but I expected that my teacher would have me meditating in a hushed temple with woven mats and ancient statues. In later years, when I started instructing others in meditation, several of my Western students mentioned their fear that they would find meditation boring, a result that would have meant  in their minds that they lacked some unique inner vision. I shared this concern and also feared that I would fail the esoteric art of meditation for petty reasons, such as failing to keep my mind from wandering or being unable to sit in one position for long periods of time.

The reality of my first meditation session was much like the reality of many stereotyped experiences. Half of my expectations were completely confounded, and the expectations that were met surprised me. Instead of a serene temple at dawn, my first meditation experience occurred in my teacher’s apartment after a fine dinner of kalbi and crab. During dinner, my teacher’s sister-in-law expressed her astonishment that I truly wanted to learn meditation. She was a modern Korean and viewed meditation as an outmoded and eccentric pastime. Her astonishment astonished me, for I had always presumed that all Asians revered meditation, and I suppose I even thought that monks were only the highest form of meditators and that all other Asians had at least some cultural experience of the art.

After coffee, my teacher announced: “Let’s meditate!”

His apartment study had a computer station along one wall, his library against a second wall and a meditation shrine against the third. His humble shrine, covered in white paper, had a simple silver water bowl, two white candles and an incense brazier. He and I sat on two cushions side by side and he began the instructions.

“Straighten your back. Breathe with your lower abdomen, like a baby does. Babies have the most perfect, natural breathing rhythm, right from the stomach. Your legs do not have to be in any limb-twisting lotus position, just cross them comfortably.” He gave me more practical advice on how to relax my muscles, where to place my hands and how to hold my head. The instruction that surprised me most was, “Close your eyes, but not all the way.” All the depictions of meditation I had seen had shown people with their eyes closed. But Dr. Shin Min-shik explained, “If you close your eyes, your mind will wander too easily. Instead, leave your eyelids open a crack to keep you grounded in reality.”

I told him that I thought the point of meditation was to transcend reality.

“If you close your eyes,” he explained, “your mind will drift off into your vast pool of memories and start compulsively thinking about everything. That’s analytical meditation, an entirely different form,” he said with a smile. “Besides, if you close your eyes, you’ll fall asleep.”

We meditated in silence at first, listening to our own breathing. After a few minutes, Dr. Shin led me in chanting a fundamental mantra focused on healing he had taught me earlier in his clinic office. At 23 syllables, the Taeul mantra seemed long and complicated to me, but short to him. For a Westerner, a short mantra would be “ohm,’’ but historically, Eastern mantras have stretched as long as ten thousand syllables, comprising the contents of entire tomes of learning.

After a time in which my mind focused on questions such as “Am I doing this properly” and “Am I chanting the mantra right,” I noticed my left hand become cold as though an ice pack were hovering near it and my right hand tingled as though near a heat source. Then, my feet and legs became numb, and this numbness progressed up my legs, chest and arms, until all that remained was the sound of the mantra, my breathing and my mind. A euphoria swelled within me, something that my mind did not recognize, yet could examine with eager curiosity. Eventually, my consciousness felt like a balloon tethered to a speeding car, just tenuously attached to reality.

The clapping of my teacher’s hands, signaling the end of meditation, startled me. I would later learn that sometimes during meditation, when your joints are aching or your body is sick, minutes can seem like hours. But in that first meditation session, what felt like a handful of minutes spent chanting turned out to have been 40 minutes.

Afterward, my emotional elevation evolved into a mindset of peace and expansive awareness. In trying to describe this elevation to friends, I explained that it did not feel like the giddiness of alcohol or sex, but rather like the euphoria one feels upon beginning a journey home. In my subsequent years of meditation, I came to recognize this giddiness as a happy stage that meditators eventually learn to move beyond as they seek the state in which the mind stops speaking and starts listening. Through and beyond this state lies the potential to see the universe as it exists in truth.

The writer works as an editor at the Jeung San Do spiritual organization’s headquarters in Taejon.

Original article no longer available…

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A meditation on lessons of life (Movie Review) (Arizona Republic)

Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic: Spring Summer Fall Winter . . . and Spring may be the antidote to Mel Gibson. It is one long, intensely beautiful Buddhist meditation on the passage of life and time, the acceptance of responsibility and the release of desire. It is as quiet as The Passion of the Christ is violent.

It is as quiet as The Passion of the Christ is violent.

It covers five seasons and five stages of life as a taciturn Buddhist monk raises his young apprentice from infancy to adulthood and teaches him the lessons of life.

We watch as the adolescent boy leaves his floating hermitage to follow the young woman he has developed a fever for, and we watch as the outside world gives our young apprentice nothing but stress and ashes.

Many years later – each season covered in the film skips a period of roughly 10 years — our apprentice returns to his lake, to pick up the meditative life after his master’s death.

Every scene in the film has the careful presentation and composition of a painting, and director Kim KiDuk keeps the film nearly as static as a painting. If the movie goes through the changing seasons, moviegoers used to American pacing may well feel they have sat in the theater for a full year.

Yet, if you can slow your emotional metabolism down to a more natural pace, the film has barely a moment that drags: It is completely involving.

There are a few odd missteps in the latter part of the film, as the monk is given “superpowers” you expect from a Hong Kong action film. Or maybe David Carradine.

They are completely unnecessary to the purport of the film and only distract the viewer, as will an extended bit of choreography with the apprentice practicing martial arts on the icecovered lake: His moves seem like a parody of Martin Sheen’s in Apocalypse Now.

Nevertheless, this South Korean movie is a balm for the soul and a reminder that even in the frenetic city, the cosmos has its own steady pendulum.

Original article no longer available.

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New seasons, new lessons and a nod to Buddhism (via Buddhist News Network)

Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald: SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER … AND SPRING (Unrated) ***½

Transcendental, humorous, occasionally grim and above all wise film about the journey of life. An elderly monk teaches his young pupil some hard lessons in this intriguing reflection on the cyclic nature of life.

The South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk is known to many as a maker of violent films with a radical and often shocking view of Korean society. People who gave up watching The Isle, can however this time enter the cinema without fear to see Kim Ki-Duk’s serene and breathtaking meditation about the essence of life.

No one is immune for the power of the seasons and their yearly cycle of birth, growth and decay. Not even the old and the young monk who live as hermits in a floating monastery on a lake surrounded by mountains and trees. In the spring, the young monk in his cruel innocence binds stones on the backs of fishes, a frog and a snake. For punishment, he has to carry a stone on his own back as he looks in the stream for the frog and the fish he mistreated. When the boy is 17 (in the summer), a girl comes to the monastery.

The young monk soon experiences the meaning of love and obsession. In the third episode, autumn, the boy returns from the mountains as a 30 year old. The old monk finds him when he wants to commit suicide in front of the statue of the Buddha.

See also: A meditation on lessons of life (film review)

He makes him carve the Prajnaparamita Sutra in the wood to rediscover his tranquillity. As an adult man, the monk (now played by Kim Ki-duk himself) returns to the deserted monastery. A woman leaves her newly born son with him. In the last part of the film, it is against spring and we see an old monk and a child…

Nearly all of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring takes place aboard a floating monastery on a pond surrounded by picturesque trees and mountains. An oasis of serenity and beauty, the locale is far enough removed from civilization to feel like another planet — a perfect place for an old monk (Oh Young-soo) to raise his young disciple and educate him in the principles of Buddhism.

With the onset of each of the seasons, which leap ahead several years in the characters’ lives, the pupil learns a new lesson. In spring, while still a boy (Seo Jae-kyung), he discovers the price of casual, mischievous cruelty. In summer, now a teen (Kim Young-min), he experiences sexual longing when a young woman (Ha Yeo-jin) visits the temple for healing. The boy’s lust causes a rift between him and the monk that will take years to repair.

An entrancing cinematic poem, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring was written and directed by Kim Ki-duk, an accomplished South Korean filmmaker whose work remains largely unknown to American audiences (this is the first of his movies to receive wide distribution in the United States).

Kim, who also edited the film and appears as the adult pupil, leavens the movie with the tenets of Buddhist principles: Animals, meditation, man’s relationship to the natural world and spiritual penitence all factor strongly in the plot, which has the circular structure and resonant wisdom of an ancient fable. But this delicate, transporting movie, which keeps dialogue to a minimum to tell its story primarily through images, is also a triumph of sheer cinematic craft that mirrors its characters’ contemplative natures while extolling the virtues of lives simply led.

Cast: Oh Young-soo, Seo Jae-kyung, Kim Young-min, Kim Ki-duk, Ha Yeo-jin.

Writer-director: Kim Ki-duk.

Original article no longer available…

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