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Monday, October 19, 2009
The story of Monk Non
Monk Non is now living in a forest temple in Sakol Nakorn. He recently said to a friend: "Making films is a form of repaying your karma." The friend listened, pondered, and believed without a slight vibration in his heart that it was true.
Monk non, or Thanon Sattarujawong before he made the decision to wrap himself in the Buddhist robe, was once saluted as one of the country's most talented cinematographers. After graduating from the film department of Thammasart University, he became the first Thai person to receive the King's Scholarship to study filmmaking at New York University -- the prestigious scholarships are traditionally awarded to pupils of the more useful fields, like engineering or medical study. When he returned, he was a star cameraman for TV commercials. He also made a number of short films of promising quality, shot a feature film "The Happiness of Kati" for his friend, and before he became a monk a few months back, he was trying to raise money for his feature debut as a director.
He asked me to read his script: it is about a cocky photographer who travels into the forest to meet his estranged father and, while stuck in the jungle, realises the hopeless impermanence of the world and becomes a monk.
I've known Thanon, on- and off-work, for about four years, and this gifted man destined for such bright future always wanted to leave it all behind to seek higher solace in the saffron robe. People kept telling him to reconsider. And maybe he did. But when I heard one day that Thanon had already left Bangkok to be ordained at the rural temple in the Northeast, without a farewell party or sentimetal good-bye to friends, it didn't feel like he had made the plunge; it felt like the most natural thing for him to do. It felt like destiny.
Making movies is a form of repaying your karma because when you make films, you keep wanting things to happen. Not just happen, but happen exactly the way you want, and for no other reasons than because you want it to happen for the camera. Wanting, as we all know, is suffering. And to keep wanting more and more, to keep pursuing that elusive vision in your head, the vision that will be sacrificed on the savage altar of art, or of cinema, is to subject yourself to constant suffering, because no matter how talented you are as a cinematographer or a director, no camera could give you that impossible exactitude you desire. Monk Non is so right: to make movies is to be selfish. Not to mention that the final result -- a movie, no matter how good -- is the epitome of impermanence, for what is cinema if not a series of illusion shone through light? Or worse, a set of invisible digital data, as that's how most movies are made today.
There was a talk of friends going to see Monk Non and, again, asking him to reconsider. What a stupid idea! Why dragging a person from the calm back into the chaos? From the ego-free world into the ego-filled existence? Monk Non, I believe, has found peace -- the peace he once envisioned in the script that will never be made and that seems to be of so little importance now. There's no need for him to come back. We have enough of good filmmakers in Thailand. We don't have enough of good monks. I'm sure Monk Non is one of them.
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