Amongst White Clouds presents a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse into the reclusive lives of China’s Zen Buddhist hermits. The American director Edward A. Burger guides his audience through the forbidding ZhongnanMountain range as he meets and learns from the ascetic poets, students and masters living in isolated hermitages. Through living side by side with the practitioners and experiencing their solitary lives of these mountains, Burger reveals a lifestyle that casts away the troubles of the city in exchange for a serene life in search of liberation. The entire documentary revolves around a very central theme that is of ‘letting go of the unnecessary and focusing on the present.’
Burger encounters practitioners at various stages of their training. He meets one pair of new arrivals who are in the process of constructing their houses. Although the two work together initially to help each other settle into the mountain, they stress the importance of isolation, which they seek and will find as soon as they complete their respective homes.
Throughout the documentary filming process Burger seeks wisdom from the residents who share their lessons that they have learned from life in the mountains. At times, their messages might be confusing, particularly to the untrained viewer, but their wisdoms are profound nonetheless. One afternoon Burger encounters a particular Master who welcomes the director and his film team into his house. When asked why he chose the ascetic life, the Master replied, “I wish I knew myself”. Another resident imparts that there are “ten thousand things all in this breath grasping hold of emptiness, there's really nothing to say”. Thought-provoking for sure.
Born in America, Burger decided to become a Buddhist in university after he visited a local Zen center. During that time he discovered a book of traditional Chinese poems by Buddhist monks, which encouraged him to travel to China in 1999 and learn the language and familiarize himself more with Buddhist teachings. In this documentary, in addition to discovering the wisdoms of the hermit dwellers, Burger captures the hardships of living on the mountains. While learning more about Buddhism, he also followed a nun