In Nepal, Hopakuli’s mother abandons him and his brother Chorten at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Limbini. They are raised by the monks in the monastic tradition. By age five Hopakuli becomes a novice living a simple life, happy enough to be there well taken care of, but with no other options. When the boys are old enough they may choose to leave but they may also stay and be ordained as monks.
Limbini is a special place, the birthplace of the Buddha. It has been destination site of pilgrimages for centuries, back to at least the 3rd century BC.
“In a Marvel film this would be a superhero origin story, and in a way it is…”
Daily life for the children is a mix of Buddhist teachings, monastic discipline, relating to people in their lives, and learning about the world around them, including life outside their strict religious bubble.
They do have access to some technology, some screen time, they are provided what they’ll need to function in the modern world well rounded. Birthdays are celebrated with cake. Trees are climbed. Girls are admired. Physical challenges are made: winners and losers declared. Rivalries emerge. Fights break out. The Lama comes and threatens to drag them in for dinner. The evening is a meal, study, and chores. Late religious services round out their day. Chorten calls his mother to talk sometimes as they still have a relationship. It all seems very normal. Life is peaceful and largely unremarkable.
In a Marvel film this would be a superhero origin story, and in a way, it is, though nothing much dramatic happens. The orphans are well treated and do find happiness through a simple life, though they have the same energy, curiosity, and drive to explore as any children.
Director Yuqi Kang lived at the monastery for a year prior to filming Hopakuli, Chorten and the other young monks. He created an intimate portrait of their daily routines. There is minimal dialog. Slow lush shots of forest and monastery with quiet musical tones tell the story. A pleasant blend of nature and human effort, the film is a meditation unto itself.
Being dumped as an orphan to be raised by monks sounds awful on its face, and is certainly a difficult life, but the children receive extraordinary care, emotional support, education, and structure. That’s a standard not always met for all Western children.
A Little Wisdom (2018). Directed by Yuqi Kang. Starring Richen Sherpa, Chorten Sherpa, Sherpa Wangchuk. North American Premiere at SXSW 2018.
7 out of 10