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  • Writer's pictureThane Lawrie

Carving the Divine: A must watch!

In the summer of 2022 I became aware of the name of Yujiro Seki and his campaign to crowd fund to help him produce and distribute his fantastic film Carving the Divine. This one minute trailer gives an idea of what the documentary contains. You can probably guess already that I loved it.

©2021 Yujiro Seki All Rights Reserved

I was so impressed with Yujiro and the idea behind his film that I contributed towards his crowd funding appeal. Why did this normally tight fisted Scotsman part with his money?

There were a number of reasons. The first being I was just so impressed with the energy and dedication shown by Yujiro to make this project happen. I follow Yujiro on Linked-In and also on Twitter (links to his social media accounts can be found at the bottom of this post) and the energy with which he promoted his project was impressive to me. Everything he wrote dripped with passion and it was clear he was deeply invested in his project. This level of authentic enthusiasm and passion is a rare thing in the modern world and his personality alone piqued my interest. What I also liked about his approach, was it never felt like a hard sell and he always explained why he made the film and what he was trying to achieve. His approach drew me in and made me want to find out more. So what is Carving the Divine all about and why did I enjoy it so much.

©2021 Yujiro Seki All Rights Reserved

This documentary lifts the lid on a tradition that I had never heard of before, despite being a Buddhist myself. The documentary tells the story of the modern day Busshi. What is a Busshi I hear you ask! The Busshi are incredibly skilled artisans, who have been hand carving the most intricate, beautiful and awe inspiring wooden Buddhist statues in Japan for over 1,400 years.

©2021 Yujiro Seki All Rights Reserved

What makes this so interesting is what it takes to become a Busshi. This is no normal job. To become a Busshi you must become the apprentice of a Busshi master. If the master takes you on as an apprentice you essentially watch everything he does, absorbing all his teaching. You must also be incredibly obedient and show a high degree of respect for your master. Never speaking back to the master and being able to take the often very harsh criticism that the master Busshi dishes out to his disciples. The working day is often long and there are no set office hours. The master decides when it is time to go home and it is often an early start and a late finish for the Busshi and their apprentices.

©2021 Yujiro Seki All Rights Reserved

The film is made in the style of a documentary. It is filmed in a way where you feel part of the Busshi community. The cameraman sits with and films meetings between the Busshi and his disciples giving the viewer the impression they are sitting there with them. In other scenes the cameraman is sitting in the workshop filming the Busshi's at work and giving firsthand insight into how they interact with one another. Giving us a glimpse into another world. This gives the documentary a peaceful and slow quality to it, which I enjoyed.

There were a few scenes I found slightly difficult to watch at first. These were scenes where the Busshi really has a go at his apprentices. He shouts at them and really admonishes them harshly for their sloppy work. This type of interaction would feel awkward, even wrong in most modern day offices. However, stick with the documentary and move past these scenes and you realize that the Busshi masters have a compassionate side and deeply care for their disciples. In their admonishments of their disciples they are trying to tutor them towards a level of craftsmanship that truly is divine. I do not say this flippantly, the standards of craftsmanship is beyond normal artistry. They are Olympian craftsmen seeking the sublime. I am sure that if I stood next to the carvings shown in the film and held them in my hands, they would bring tears to my eyes. What is even more impressive is that the modern day Busshi does not use modern technology. Everything is carved with chisels and a mallet in the traditional way. However, I was pleased to see that the Busshi community had embraced one aspect of modernity. This was the inclusion of females among their ranks. In the film we meet at least two female Busshi apprentices. They receive the same treatment as the males but as I would expect they more than hold their own!

As a practicing Zen Buddhist the film fascinated me for other reasons. Zen is a school of Buddhism that originates in Japan and has two main sects, Soto Zen and Rinzai Zen. I follow the Soto sect but to the outsider they are essentially very similar. Zen students are encouraged to take a certain approach to life. To help them find an end to suffering in their own life. The approach that is encouraged is to try and be humble, to be diligent, and

and take care of things. For example, look after your house, keep it clean, don't waste food, be kind to others, live a life that is humble and generous, without blowing your own trumpet.

A story from the founder of the Soto Zen school of Buddhism illustrates this point beautifully and I tell this story in more detail in my novel The Buddhist CEO. Soto Zen's founder was called Dogen, who lived in 13th century Japan, for more on Dogen's life click here . He grew dissatisfied with the Buddhist teachers he encountered in Japan. He then took an arduous trip to China believing he might encounter authentic Buddhist teaching there. He found a teacher that impressed him called Tendo Nyojo (Tiantong Rujing in Chinese) for more on his life click here .

Essentially what impressed Dogen about the teaching and life approach of Tendo Nyojo was his humble approach to life. Despite being the Abbot of the monastery he insisted in taking part in the daily work that needed to be done in the monastery. It is said that he took his turn to clean the temple and toilets just like a novice monk. The approach taken at his monastery was that enlightenment was not something to be found in the future or on a mystical mountain top. Instead the emphasis was to live fully, be present to each task you do, even cleaning a toilet. Being present to our lives, not living in the past or future is how we free ourselves from suffering and experience an enlightened life.

Eihei - ji monastery founded by Dogen in Japan

I felt that this Zen spirit, of trying to live in the present, fully giving ourselves to each life task that we face, was very evident in the Busshi masters in the film. Being a Busshi was not just a job to them. It was an expression of enlightened action. It was their life work and practice and they made their life worthwhile through their work. On one hand they knew their carvings were special and had the ability to move people deeply. But at the same time they seek no praise for their work, it is just what they do, and how they live, it is just the next task in front of them and they face it like the Zen masters of old.

I recommend deeply that you watch this film and support Yujiro in his ambition to raise awareness of this beautiful tradition and almost forgotten way of life. Below is a link to how you can support and also watch the film and I have also listed the various ways you can follow news about the film and also how you can follow the fantastic Yujiro. If you do decide to support the funding effort and watch the film I strongly recommend the following. Create a quiet time to watch it. Make sure you will not be disturbed on the afternoon or evening when you plan to watch it. Darken your room, light a candle and incense. Meditate and ground yourself prior to watching. Then when your mind is grounded sit back and watch the splendor that is Carving the Divine.

If you enjoy the film you might also want to read my recently published novel The Buddhist CEO. The pace and feel of my book is similar to the film.

Thane Lawrie holding his novel The Buddhist CEO

Link to stream the film

Links to social media accounts of Yujiro and news about the film

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Jan 13, 2023

What a wonderful post and a wonderful project. Thank you for sharing this!!!!

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