Joyful moments with the Chief

By Oon Yeoh, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 31, 2006

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- In Buddhism we are taught that in order for anything to happen, there needs to be the right causes and conditions. In early 2006, the causes and conditions were just right for the Chief film to happen.

By chance - or perhaps by karma - I got to know Lim Kooi Fong, the founder of the Buddhist Channel ( ).

As a journalist and as someone interested in the Dhamma, I've always wanted to write a book about Buddhism. As a writer, I'm already quite seasoned but as a Buddhist, I am a mere novice. So, I figured, what better way to write a book than by interviewing K. Sri Dhammananda, whom we all know and love as "Chief". The language would be mine but the wisdom would come from an expert on the subject.

Lim, who knew the Chief, helped arrange for a series of interviews to be conducted at the Maha Vihara. The Chief, who was already feeling the full effects of his age, and seemed very weak whenever we arrived for those sessions, would suddenly become very alert and animated once the interviews began.

 Webcast of "Chief: The Life and Work of K Sri Dhammnanda"
A Buddhist Channel Original Video

I asked my colleague Zan Azlee, who was a TV producer, whether he could help me film some of the interviews. At the time, I had no intention of making a documentary. I just thought it would be a good idea to capture some of my discussions with the Chief.

Another one of my friends, Lee Yu Ban, founder of the Theravada e-group, an online discussion forum, heard about this and asked me if I'd considered making a documentary for the 2006 Wesak International Film Festival (WIFF), which was making its debut in KL. Without hesitation, I decided to do it.

I recruited another friend of mine, Wan Chun Hung, an experienced filmmaker, to help me edit the film. We spent many sleepless nights editing the footage. In the end, we managed to produce a short film that captured the essence of the Chief's life and work in Malaysia.

There's no way to do justice to Chief's life's work in a 20-minute film, but with the limited funds, footage and time (the WIFF was just two weeks away when we started editing) that we had, a short film was all we could realistically do. With that in mind, I distilled Chief's story to a few key elements:

i) His initiation into the Sangha
ii) His early work in Malaya
iii) His use of English as the medium to teach Buddhism
iv) His rational approach to Buddhism
v) His work in fostering inter-religious harmony
vi) His broad appeal in the Buddhist community

Of course, there is much more to Chief's life than that. This will be addressed in a new documentary that we are planning to make in time for Wesak 2007. There is a lot of good footage from the interview which we did not use in the short film just because it did not fit the storyline above. But for the expanded version, there's a lot more scope to use such footage.

I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to interview Chief while he was still very lucid and articulate. As you can see for yourself, he was joyful throughout our conversation. This is the lasting impression I will always have of Chief. I'm happy we are able to share this with you through this short film.