A little Buddhist is familiar with the life and work of Thich Nhat Hanh. A little non-Buddhist has no idea who the good man is and what he stands for. Well, Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk who founded the Plum Village Buddhist community in 1982 in the hilly countryside near Bordeaux. From Plum Village he bombarded (e) the world with his writings, mostly on applied Buddhism, sometimes on other Buddhist or secular subjects.
In the documentary “Walk with Me” we are introduced to the monks of Plum Village. We observe the quiet monastic life, mingle with the laymen who go on summer retreats, and go on a short Buddhist tour of the United States. We experience the rituals, listen to the singing and enjoy the childish pleasures that the monks experience on their American tour.
“Walk with Me” has to contend with the eternal problem of documentaries about Buddhism: the time span. It is always too long or too short. Too short to expose the complex structure of Buddhist philosophy, too long to just look at rituals, which without further knowledge seem meaningless and fuzzy.
“Walk with Me” solves this problem in a nice way. What the beautiful images, the compelling singing and the interaction with retreat-goers and prisoners show, is not the Buddhist philosophy but the Buddhist mindset. Cheerful, tolerant, selfless and loving. With the peaceful atmosphere of monastic life as a leitmotiv.
The film offers little new to viewers who are familiar with Buddhism. But they too will enjoy the beautiful singing, the tranquil nature and the detachment of the material. A bit too much of a good thing are the lyrics of Thich Nhat Hanh, performed by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Those texts are too mystical to really add anything. Moreover, they are too far from the clear prose that the Vietnamese is known for.
“Walk with Me” (named after walking meditation) is a documentary like a long purifying meditation. Those who are tired of the headlines of Trump, Putin and other world leaders would do well to see the face of one of the spiritual leaders of the 21st century. And to realize that somewhere in this earthly valley of tears a real paradise is hidden.