Customer Reviews: Amongst White Clouds
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on January 12, 2008
Amongst White Clouds is the DVD of one man's search for enlightenment among China's hermit monks. It is really more than a documentary. If you are patient, there is real teaching offered in each vignette that gives someone who might be interested in a path of spiritual practice true insight into the benefits as well as the difficulties in such an endeavor. Yet, throughout there is a real sense of this very rich tradition and community. The chanting and musical track overlays are well timed and communicate that ineffable longing and completion that are the matrix of a spiritual journey. I give this one 5 stars.
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on February 27, 2008
I just viewed this film in a local theater. I plan to purchase the DVD and pass it on to others. The hermit monks in this video are authentic and some or all of them are very, very far along the path to enlightenment. The close-ups of their faces, their eyes, the clear translation of what they say, their openness, the quiet peace of the mountains in which they live, the attention to small detail - everything about this film exudes an awareness of a deeply spiritual reality which is at the heart of Buddhist practice. This one is the real mccoy.
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on July 6, 2008
Amongst White Clouds is an amazing document of the human adventure revealed not only in it's principle subject, but also in the making of the film.

First-time American director Edward A. Burger went to India in the late 90's to study Buddhism but found a greater connection to China. A book about Buddhist hermits pulled from an Indian monastery library led him north in search of an ancient way of life. Arriving in Beijing, he studied Chinese and began asking around for contacts that could introduce him to a mountain meditator. He ended up in the Zhongnan range of Shaanxi Province, where he lived and practiced for four years with one of these hermit masters. In 2003 he took a small film crew into the mountains to interview half a dozen of these practitioners and document their lives.

What comes across clearly in the interviews is that all of these men and one woman are serious about perfecting themselves, revealing their true natures and escaping from the suffering of mundane reality. What isn't always clear, and what many refuse to discuss, is their motivation for removing themselves from society and monastic communities. Besides footage of fetching water, working in the garden, or working on their huts, there is very little film of actual spiritual practice, no tantric rituals, no sitting zazen, no chanting of mantras. The recluses exhibit a few noticeable differences. Some live alone, while others reside in pairs or small groups. Some have electricity and running water. Others lead sparser lives, for example refusing to accept offerings of food. But still, we don't really get any idea of what kind of practices these hermits engage in - do they meditate most of the day? On what? Do they copy sutras? Recite mantras or the names of the Buddhas?

The most interesting questions are left unasked. How is the daily life of a mountain recluse - which consists in meditating, working around the hut, preparing the day's meals, washing, and perhaps a little study - different from the life of a village lay practitioner? What exactly is "the practice" and why is it necessary to isolate oneself from society in order to do it? Once realized, what then? Is there any obligation to return to society, or is "practice" an excuse to escape from the pressures of living with other people?

Despite the lack of probing questions, this remains a film worth watching for the light it shines on a little documented corner of the human experience.

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on November 3, 2007
This film is less "about" Buddhism than an experience of it. It is thoughtful and present. When it was finished I found myself in a very, gentle, peaceful state. Wantingness, reactivity, and hurriedness had slowly dissolved while watching the film. I drove north into the mountains and noticed how much more vivid and beautiful the country around me looked. It was as if my eyes were clearer.
If this is something you can relate to you will value this movie. If you instead want to escape, have your emotions pushed and pulled, or get into a cerebral labrynth - this movie will not take you there.
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on July 15, 2009
I really wanted to see how these hermits lived, their day-to-day existence. You do see some of that, but the American filmmaker feels compelled to take up screen time himself, beyond what's necessary to frame the theme of the film. It's clearly early work, and the photography is good, but I'd like to see what he was able to make after another 10-20 years experience as a filmmaker. He should try again then; someone really should make an extensive record while these people are still around.
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on October 28, 2009
Film documents the lives of Buddhist monks and a nun living in seclusion on China's Zhongnan mountain range. Perspective is from the young American writer/director who stayed and studied with a wise-looking elderly monk for a few years on the mountain.

Filmmaker prudently stayed out of the way by keeping shots of himself to a minimum. Other than one sound bite at the beginning when he talks about being inspired by Bill Porter's book Road To Heaven to take on a similar journey of his own in search of present-day mountain hermits, we see him mostly in long shots walking along mountain paths. The primary narrative belongs to the hermits, and rightly so.

Poems of seclusion give us a romanticized image of hermits. But theirs is a hard and lonely life. The nun ate wild grass to survive when she first came to the mountain. Once every few days, she ran a thin plastic tube some distance up the craggy slope to a small well to funnel fresh water back to her hut.

It's unimportant whether the hermits are enlightened or not. They're probably in various stages of enlightenment. But one thing is for sure--most of them seem at peace with themselves and the natural world they inhabit, and they're not comfortable talking about enlightenment.

One of the last hermits featured is particularly reticent when asked about the subject. He wraps himself in a sheaf of deep silence, his eyes shining luminous on leathery skin.
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on January 5, 2010
If the director could have stood aside more, this documentary could have been notable. I wanted to see what was in the life of the hermit meditators much more than a somewhat stereotypical American-seeker-abroad autobiography. And i really could have totally done without the director, story-teller and center stage character (same person) also performing his own music in this film. It felt like the edge of what could have been magnificent if we only had spent much more time with the hermits. Still, worth seeing for the rarity of this opportunity at all.

Maybe some other great dvds to see might be: The Lion's Roar, The Saltmen of Tibet,Journey Into Buddhism: Vajra Sky Over Tibet. EvenThe Razor's Edge, with Bill Murray as the spiritual seeker.
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on October 29, 2007
I found this presentation to be everything that I hoped it would be and more. For those who seek the way, this is a revealing, enlightening refreshingly accurate surprise... a real treasure to know that that true, humble unselfish masters,who refuse notoriety and fame, still exist, trapped in time , in the remote mountains of China...

Michael Berger
Author of Masterclass Karate: Kicking Techniques
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on December 29, 2008
I loved this film. The mountains were so beautiful.
Having traveled through Asia and visited mountain temples, my memories all returned from the beautiful cinematography.
The story was told well, and the characters were really brought to life.
I've seen some boring buddhist documentaries, but this definitely wasn't one of them. I highly recommend it - not really to learn about buddhism or anything, but just for the peaceful and joyful experience of being transported to this beautiful land.
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on September 22, 2007
I recommend Amongst white clouds. The movie was well made and the scenery was nice. There are Monks and a Nun practicing in the remote mountains of China. The interviews are short but do offer some teachings and you get a brief look at how and where they live. This is most likely not going to be seen at the local multi screen theater. If you liked the book Road to Heaven by Bill Porter you will Probably like this also.
Its nice to know there is still a few places in today's modern world where people can still live and practice this way.
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