It's a Wonderful Life

Remember the movie It's a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart? It occured to me how the movie - despite the fact that one of the sub-plots regards whether or not the bumbling guardian angel will get his "wings" or not - is really an illustration of the Buddhist concept of Ohigan, or "other shore." Stewart doesn't appreciate his life (which has taken a turn for the worse) and in fact, tries to commit suicide. Fortunately for him, his guardian angel shows up and proceeds to show him what the world would have been like if he hadn't been around.

This part of the movie is fascinating because it demonstrates the interconnection and interdependence of life, one of the most basic Buddhist teachings. Stewart is "transformed" (reaches the "other shore," in Buddhist terms) by the realization that if he hadn't been around, he wouldn't have saved his brother in the ice pond when they were children, and thus his brother wouldn't go on to win the Medal of Valour. He also realizes he wouldn't have carried on his father's savings and loan (which helped people to make better lives for themselves) and so, in his absence, the town becomes a depressing slum.

Of course, as Buddhists, though we would agree that a person often needs another's help to have the type of "transformation" experienced by Stewart, we wouldn't expect it in the form of an angel, but in the form of the Dharma ("truth," or the experiences of our lives). Nevertheless, the movie is a classic because of the genuine, emotional, and wonderfully human portrayal by the great Jimmy Stewart.

-Peter Hata

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