Cloud Atlas the Movie

David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas is listed on this web site as a work of Buddhist fiction because it has been suggested as such by readers and reviewers. Now it’s a major motion picture in almost every theater in North America, except for the cinema in the small Canadian city in which I live. Since I am unable to see the movie at this time, I thought I would write a quick post to highlight this review of Cloud Atlas from the Buddhist website

The reviewer Danayama states directly that “Though Cloud Atlas is not a Buddhist book, I found certain Dharmic themes reflected in the prose. The strongest of these is the Three Characteristics of Conditioned Existence (impermanence, non-substantiality and unsatisfactoriness), which seem woven throughout the narratives.” This review really made me think about what, in fact, is Buddhist and what is not. I haven’t come to any clear conclusions yet but if any readers out there have answers to this question I would really appreciate reading your thoughts.

3 responses to “Cloud Atlas the Movie

  1. My community defines a Buddhist as someone who takes refuge in the three jewels, and I’ve heard people outside the community use that formula. Add onto that the level of commitment and you get a modifier like nominal Buddhist, provisional Buddhist, and finally effective Buddhist, who’s really progressing along the path towards enlightenment.

    There also seem to be a bunch of people who for most purposes practice like a Buddhist but don’t want to use a label, taking the prajnaparamita teachings too much to heart. There are some people who just can’t join the .7% minority. There are many examples of people who you find Buddhisty ideas, but who don’t seem to want to be identified with Buddhism, like the nature writer David Haskell. With a .7% minority in the USA, I think it’s important to self identify, though of course all words are a kind of pointing at the moon.

    In the end we define ourselves how we want. Or not…

    I’m not even sure that Buddhism has a monopoly on Dharma. People mix and blend ideas however they want, there are a zillion examples of that, to take one, Jan Wallis has a memoir where she’s Baptist and Buddhist (which is on my reading list). I’m not sure where syncretism got a bad name, as if it’s not an informed choice to not go all the way with an ideology. Buddhism isn’t an ideology anyway, it’s practical advice for people who choose to move towards enlightenment. What ever works! (Of course you have to be realistic about “what works” means, and I find the Buddhist tradition and the spiritual community helpful with this.)

  2. I want to see this movie now.

    I think there are several different ways of evaluating, what is Buddhist thought. Out of them all, I’d say that the notions of interdependance and compassion for all beings are primary. They’re the underlying basis for all the teachings. Or in terms of action, you could say Buddhism is encompassed by the three vows, ie do no harm, cultivate virtue and train your mind.

  3. Yes, so many ways of defining “Buddhist.” Myself, I tend to think of a lot of ideas that are identified as Buddhist to be accretions to the original teachings, and all I really need in Buddhist fiction is a character who is seeking enlightenment. (My definition of enlightenment is the realization that there is only one consciousness and that we are that one consciousness.) But ideas like reincarnation (originally part of Hinduism) and various ethical ideas such as loving kindness, etc., are very much a part of the tradition, so it would be hard to exclude books that focus exclusively on such ideas as non-Buddhist.

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