How is it the clear-eyed person can’t sever the red threads beneath their feet?’
~ Entangling Vines, Case 142
In working with koans, like a multi-faceted jewel, it is nice to sometimes hold it up in our hands and give it quarter turn, looking at the koan just a bit differently in the constant and true light of the Dharma.
The theme of this koan is one of passions, of which there are many in the human realm, often carnal, and sometimes (like my note last week), vegetable. But ours is the earnest business of religion, of faith. Let’s for a moment look at the passion of faith. Quick, Buzzfeed-like images may appear to us when considering the passion of faith: Hasidim praying at the Western Wall, Muslims entering the mosque at the Call to Prayer, and even my daughter’s taking part in a sweat lodge ceremony as part of her high-school religion class.
But a friend recently introduced to me to a 1966 movie called Andre Rublev, a film by the Russian director Andre Tarkovsky, about the greatest Orthodox icon painter of the 15th century. Andre Rublev is considered by film critics and directors alike as one of the great films of all time. Historical details of Rublev’s life are few, but the turbulence of the times in which he lived are well known. He walks through those trying times with a burning desire to better know his faith and his art.
(Meanwhile, as I stoically walk through a review for you a 50-year old, 205-minute black-and-white film with English subtitles, downstairs my family is laughing beyond control as they watch I Love You, Man, a hilarious comedy with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel; 2009, no subtitles. From another direction comes the strains of Donald J Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland.)
What I love about Andre is that after his long travels with fellow monks, cavorting with naked pagans, killing a rapist and surviving Tartar slaughters, he returns to a most simple lesson of his passion of faith: his love for life. The last segment of the film is about Andre befriending the son of a bell maker, Boriska, who claims his deceased father passed on to him the ‘secret’ of bell-making on his death bed. In fact, he had not and Boriska’s bravado gets him both a commission for casting a bell and the risk of execution if he fails. First tested at the cathedral with the whole town in attendance, the bell peels true and clear. The boy is overcome by emotion, crying uncontrollably. Andre embraces him and breaking his vow of silence by asking ‘Why are you crying when you have made so many people happy?’ Comforting the boy, Andre adds, ‘Let’s go back to the monastery. You will cast bells and I will paint.’