A breathtaking true story of compassion and tough love
Buddha’s Lost Children covers a year in the life of a small roving monastic community, as it travels between the villages of a remote section of Thailand’s northern border with Burma. From the outset however, the film was to be more than just a portrait of a monk and his community, I wanted it to touch on larger, more universal themes.
A clue to what the film is about can be found in the opening quote: ‘Living is an art to be learned’ so cogently put by Shin Yatomi. The Abbot’s aim is to teach this art to the boys in his care. This encapsulates the main goal of the film — to explore one man’s way of giving the boys under his care the basic skills needed for a decent start in life.
The film is also then a ‘coming of age’ story. And looks to capture that struggle of youth coming to know itself. In fact in that little temple community, for many boys this is the first time in their lives they have been given the freedom to become children. And by doing so, they discover the key to developing and maturing as individuals.
Buddha’s Lost Children also explores the nature of compassion, and what it means to actually live by it. I wanted to find out how it worked, record the mechanics of it in action. In the West, compassion is often seen as a weakness, as something passive and debilitating. But to Khru Bah — a Rambo in robes who shattered for me the stereotype of the navel gazing monk — it has become the basis for action.
This is not a film about Buddhism, though the story has the potential to change the way many people think about Buddhism in the West. Buddhism is still commonly seen as promoting a purely passive, contemplative attitude to life (the stereotype of the navel-staring monk). This is thought to lead ultimately to a detachment and even indifference to the problems of the material world, and is therefore not fit to tackle many of the complex, practical problems we face.
Yet Khru Bah’s example clearly shows otherwise. He has translated the Buddhist ideal for infinite compassion and unconditional love into action. From his hilltop retreat he goes out into the surrounding hills where, often literally risking his life, he confronts the most serious problems facing his people. For many I think this dynamic view of Buddhism will be an eye-opener.
The novices of the Golden Horse don’t have MTV or the latest PlayStations, yet in many ways they find riches greater than those enjoyed by many children in the West. What struck me during filming was the self-discipline and sense of purpose of the boys. In this way the film is also about personal transformation, both of the boys and of Khru Bah himself.
This is a story of courage, love and sacrifice. It explores a powerful example of the struggle between ancient spiritual wisdom and the materialism of the modern world. Through his work, Phra Khru Ba is not only helping the children of the Golden Triangle but he also provides the rest of us with an insight into how change can be brought about to release personal happiness in our lives.
We live in a globalised world, more interconnected than ever before, yet one in which the divisions between cultures and the differences between rich and poor are daily more evident. We often talk about how technology has made our world smaller, yet conflict throughout the world and within nations continues to escalate and over half of the children in the world are growing up hungry and unhealthy. The need today has never been greater to understand other cultures and become aware of the common humanity we all share.
Khru Bah is fond of saying, that to change the world you begin by just changing a single person. And in his remote corner of northern Thailand, by using his unique mix of physical and mental training, he’s found a way of doing just that.