There’s a powerful scene at the end of the Japanese film, Departures (Okuribito), where the lead character, Daigo, having spent the entire movie expressing anger about his father who abandoned him and his mother while he was a boy, experiences a moving transformation. Daigo’s occupation is that of an “encoffineer”, or in Japanese, a “nokanshi”, one who prepares a body for cremation. Daigo has learned to perform the encoffining ceremony from a master, and he does it with deep respect and grace. At the end of the movie, he truly “sees” his father clearly for the first time in his adult life, and he is transformed. I don’t want to give away too much as I encourage everyone to see this beautiful, charming film. There are plenty of reasons why it won the academy award for best foreign film in 2009.
So I saw the movie for the third time last weekend, and it just got better. The key concept of the movie that comes through for me in this movie is that of compassion. There is a deep and real sense of compassion that is learned by Daigo throughout the movie. It goes against the grain at first as he doesn’t even want to take the job, but it grows from the lives that he touches and the respect that he learns along the way and from his boss and mentor. At the end he almost doesn’t break through when the greatest opportunity is provided to him at the movie’s end, but he wisely makes the right choice.
I had been spending the past few days thinking about compassion and wisdom, and its importance, and the lack thereof here in our modern world, and the fragility of the intertwining issues that threaten our world. I unfortunately was not being mindful with all my reading this past week, the issues and trials we face as a species are complex and the suffering we cause ourselves and each other are vast. Still, it is this hope for compassion and wisdom going hand in hand, found eloquently in Buddhist teachings, where I still think there is so much opportunity. All of the great spiritual traditions have taught as much. It is compassion that is truly unique to humanity and which can be truly contagious and touch hearts. You sometimes see this happening during the holidays, but maybe it's the thoughts of gift giving and that we want to be on the "nice" list, rather than the "naughty" list. Stories, especially Christmas stories, can touch our hearts and remind us of a deeper dimension.
Wisdom is the other dimension of the hoped for transformation, that we can see through intellectual pursuit and discussion and deep analysis and reasoning, we can find what is the best for us and for our world. I sometimes get very disheartened with the state of the world, especially with the challenges of the media today. Thank goodness for BillMoyers and Bernie Sanders, although not directly, they are still talking about the issues which make compassion and wisdom in government a possibility for our country. Still, when not found on the remaining vestiges of PBS or in select corners of the web, where is the true intellectual discussion? Where is the reasoning? Despite all of the information we have, where is the critical thinking? I really like this article I found when looking further at the concept of wisdom:
“A glut of information can be a kind of Catch-22. While it adds to our knowledge, it can be a block to our wisdom. We can be so busy trying to process more and more information, that we don't have the time for the quiet contemplation that is essential for the development of wisdom. Without contemplation, we lose perspective and can lose our grounding. Without our bearings we lose a sense of place. Confused, we are more easily swayed.”
Wisdom writings have been with us throughout history, but there is a critical need more than ever to encourage depth of thought on the pressing issues of our time. I still believe it is a matter of truly caring enough to do this. It is compassion that must be a guide as a people, and it must grow hand-in-hand with wisdom. We need to find more ways for these two important aspects to permeate our hearts, and allow the deeply needed transformation to begin.
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” - T.S. Eliot