Lights, Camera, Enlightenment: A Film Journey with Ven. Daehae Sunim

The 18th Sakyadhita International Conference recently concluded in Seoul under the captivating theme “Living in a Precarious World: Impermanence, Resilience, Awakening.” Over five inspiring days, more than 3,000 Buddhist monastics, laywomen, dignitaries, and guests from South Korea and around the globe congregated to share experiences, research, and ideas, bolstering initiatives to improve the lives of Buddhist women and spreading the message of harmony.

Among the distinguished attendees was Venerable Daehae Sunim, a Korean bhikshuni and an experienced Dharma master of 28 years. Notably, Venerable Daehae Sunim has been engaging with film as a medium to convey spiritual and philosophical concepts to a broader audience, reaching out to people around the world.

Apart from her responsibilities as a Dharma teacher at a monastery near Gyeongsan, Ven. Daehae Sunim has made her mark as a writer and director, having helmed over 90 short films since 2007. Her outstanding works, including “The Last Words of Socrates” and “What is My True Self!,” have earned 65 awards at various international film festivals. In 2018, she received acclaim for her first feature-length film, the award-winning “Sermon on the Mount.” This thought-provoking film explores the core philosophical questions shared by both Buddhism and Christianity, aiming to promote happiness and peace in our tumultuous world.

Speaking about her film-making journey, Venerable Daehae Sunim, also known as film director Yoo Young-Uee, said, “I wanted to create a film on human values to help people lead more peaceful lives and foster religious harmony. Recognizing the power of movies as a mass communication medium in today’s world, I saw it as an efficient way to share the truth of life and the essence of human nature with a global audience.”

At first glance, “Sermon on the Mount” appears to be a biblical film revolving around eight young Christians who congregate in a mysterious cave to contemplate and discuss their faith-related queries. The film delves into profound questions, such as the existence of suffering in a world governed by an omnipotent God, the symbolism behind the tree of knowledge and the forbidden fruit, and the concept of human sin.

Interestingly, Venerable Daehae Sunim’s film bridges the gap between Buddhism and Christianity by exploring the similarities in spiritual concepts. She explains, “The truth of spirituality and the essence of human life are fundamentally the same across all religions, whether it’s Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. By presenting Buddhism’s path to enlightenment through faith, understanding, and real-life practice, we find a more efficient way to realize the ultimate truth of life.”

“Sermon on the Mount” artfully addresses the Buddhist principles of non-self and interdependence by examining the Christian belief in the relationship between man and God and the perceived separation between them. Venerable Daehae Sunim suggests that both religions can be seen as expressions of a profound and ineffable oneness.

The film’s philosophical parallels between Buddhism and Christianity were inspired by extensive research, as Venerable Daehae Sunim reveals, “I consulted a member of my monastery who had a deep knowledge of the Bible to find expressions and concepts that align with Buddhist teachings. This formed the foundation of the movie’s scenario.”

“Sermon on the Mount” has already earned acclaim, not only at international film festivals but also at prestigious institutions like the United Nations headquarters in New York City and the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, where it was showcased during World Interfaith Harmony Week, drawing praise from Pope Francis himself.

For Venerable Daehae Sunim, the film’s reception among the Buddhist and Christian communities is secondary to its ultimate purpose. “What truly matters is whether people can grasp the essence of the film’s content. It’s heartening to see that some have recognized the commonalities between the fundamental beliefs of these two communities, aiding mankind in its quest for meaning and peace.”

With editing currently underway, Venerable Daehae Sunim’s forthcoming feature is set for release soon and is expected to become available on Netflix in the near future. Audiences worldwide eagerly await the opportunity to experience this cinematic masterpiece that seeks to unify faiths and promote harmony in an ever-changing world.

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