American director Edward A. Burger takes us on his unforgettable journey into the hidden lives of China’s forgotten Zen Buddhist hermit tradition. “Amongst White Clouds is a look at the lives of zealot students, gaunt ascetics and wise masters living in isolated hermitages dotting the peaks and valleys of China’s Zhongnan Mountain range.” The Zhongnan Mountains have been home to recluses since the time of the Yellow Emperor, some five thousand years ago. Many of China’s most realized Buddhist masters attained enlightenment in this very range! And now? It is widely thought that this tradition was all but wiped out by the twists and turns of history. “Amongst White Clouds” shows us this is not the case. One of only a few foreigners to have lived and studied with these hidden sages, Burger reveals to us their tradition, their wisdom, and the hardship and joy of their everyday lives. With both humor and compassion, these inspiring and warm-hearted characters challenge us to join them in an exploration of our own suffering and enlightenment in this modern world.
If I understand correctly this film, a documentary, was inspired by the book Road to Heaven, Encounters with Chinese Hermits by Bill Porter, AKA Red Pine. I remember drinking in this book some years ago but never had a copy on my book shelf. Then, just the other day, I found a copy in our Monastic Alms Box and have it beside me now. I love the photo of the ancient nun Yuan-chao on the front cover. While visiting this nun Bill Porter asked her to to write down the essence of Buddhism on a sheet of calligraphy paper. She ignored his request however two months later the paper arrived in the mail in Taiwan. It bore the words; goodwill, compassion, joy, detachment.Bill Porter:
“Certainly there are hermits who stay in seclusion all their lives, never rejoining society. Some of them are very powerful people. The old nun on the cover of my book is such a person. She was 88 when she died; they cremated her but her heart remained intact. That was a pretty powerful hermit”.