A Monk’s Son Struggles to Find Meaning
Apr 25, 2019
Finding a path in life is a tall order for anyone. But when you’re the son of a Buddhist monk, discovering your purpose can seem even more daunting. In her short documentary Sit, Yoko Okumura tells the story of her father, the Japanese Sōtō Zen priest Shohaku Okumura, and her brother, Masaki, who lives at home and struggles to find the motivation to go out in the world and seek a place for himself.
“Birds need to fly in order to figure out what the sky is like … We human beings need to do something in order to find [out] what this world is like,” says Shohaku in the film. Though in many ways their values align—the monk admires his son for his lack of concern for money and material possessions—Shohaku believes it’s important for Masaki to find work that he is passionate about in order to live independently in the world.
One problem, according to Masaki and Yoko, is that their parents’ practice of Buddhist detachment manifested in a hands-off approach to parenting, with very little guidance in the way of career building. “I kind of wish they had more expectations of us,” Yoko says from behind the camera while interviewing her brother.
In a recent interview, Yoko acknowledged the fine line between Buddhist detachment and the kind of ennui that Masaki feels. “There's no one way to draw that line,” she told me, “but since detachment of the Buddhist nature is about being free from the cycles of suffering, I think at the end of the day if your detachment in the form of demotivation is causing you suffering, you're not really achieving the Buddhist purpose of detachment.”
“If we are all immersed in the ocean of Western values that hold fame, fortune, and purpose on a pedestal,” she added, “people who don't have a strong drive for those things can appear like they have a problem.”
Sit is ultimately a moving meditation on the myriad ways we find meaning in our lives, and how we begin to find ourselves in the process.
“I was surprised to find that making the documentary became a reason to talk in our family,” Yoko told me. “There is so much I wouldn't have known, and would never have asked them, if it weren't for this documentary.”
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Author: Emily Buder
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A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.