Francisca Cho, “A Buddhist Theory of Cinema”
My current work draws on Mahayana cosmology and Buddhist rituals to construct a theory of cinematic experience as the self-conscious and knowing inhabitation of imaginal worlds as if they are real. Whereas Western film philosophy struggles with this “paradox of fiction” and its putative specter of irrationality, I believe that Buddhist visualization and image practices provide a fuller and more appreciative account of the human ability to occupy what recent ritual theorists have called the subjunctive “as if” world. Buddhist rituals cultivate this ability for the purpose of liberation and have used visual art and artifice as aids. Although not every movie has an overt religious or spiritual message, the phenomenology of cinema as a whole—in constructing subjunctive worlds—has religious significance of the Buddhist kind. A particularly important aspect of cinema that is relevant to Buddhist thought and practice is its overtness and even self-reflexivity about its fictional but compelling nature.
Francisca Cho is Professor of Buddhist Studies at Georgetown University. Her recent books, Religion and Science in the Mirror of Buddhism (with Richard Squier, Routledge Press, 2016), and Seeing Like the Buddha: Enlightenment through Film (SUNY Press, 2017) are both concerned with Buddhist theories of the imagination in their application to contemporary phenomena. She has recently completed a book manuscript on a Buddhist theory of cinema.