Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy

Part I: The Dalai Lama, The Monasteries and the People. Filmed in the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, North India, and in the re-built Sera Monastery, the second largest monastery of the old Tibet, this opening part of the Trilogy observes the Dalai Lama in his dual role as Head of State and spiritual teacher. In an elegant cinematic style, at one with its subject, the film interweaves this personal portrait with an intimately observed exploration of the ways in which the inner knowledge of Tibetan Buddhist culture is developed in the monasteries, through vigorous debate and solitary meditation, and communicated in to the lay community.

Part II: Radiating the Fruit of Truth. With extraordinary authenticity Part II of the Trilogy journeys deep into the mystical inner world of monastic life. Set in the ancient village of Boudha, Nepal and the isolated mountain caves of the yogis, the film follows the lamas of the Phulwary Sakya Monastery through their contemplative retreats, the building of an intricate cosmogram, and the performance of an ancient protective ritual known as ‘A Beautiful Ornament’. Through the ritual invocation of the female deity Tara, the malevolent forces that might bring harm to the society are invited and magically transformed. With a subtitled commentary based on the teachings of the great 20th century master Dudjom Rinpoche, the essence of tantric Buddhism is powerfully revealed.

Part III: The Fields of the Senses. Set in the majestic mountain landscape of Ladakh, Part III is a meditation on impermanence and the relationship between the mind, body and environment. It follows the monks and farmers through a day, ending with an unflinching depiction of the monastery’s moving ritual response to a death in the community. As in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the departed is guided through the dream-like intermediate state between death and birth.

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  1. Tibetans and others close to the earth will prevail at length. They are genetically adapted to high elevations and low resources. Their culture predisposes them to observe the nature of mind itself. Mind is the tool of tools, to grasp its nature obviates many second tier tools.

    By contrast, complex machine societies are dependent on vast networks of external fuel and infrastructure to exist in great numbers.

    Han Chinese will mostly leave the high elevations when their complex support system fails.
    Centralized power in china has had its ups and downs.

    I don’t make Tibetans out to be special. They have all the illusions and limitations of other people. They are simply closer to their support system so they will not have so far to fall.

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  5. If I may be indulged here, I would like to leave a very personal response to this film. This was special for me. In many ways it all felt very familiar and I felt very much at home. I have no idea about the truth of the world and what happens after death to this continuum we call ourselves, but according to Tibetan Buddhist tradition it continues through a transition period into a new life. The remnants that we carry with us into this new life are our karma and our habits, familiarities, and so forth.

    From time to time I consider the possibility of my life in this way and think that I could have been a Tibetan monk in a previous life. Of course from the Buddhist perspective this is all not very important. What is important is to contribute as one best can to the happiness of all beings, big and small, . . . human, mammal, insect, and microscopic. This feels right to me.

    I would also like to acknowledge the two previous comments–Paddy Cullen’s for offering aspirations of the documentary to make a difference with Western audiences, and some suggestions to that end; and Ezra’s for providing a context in which to see the film.

  6. As for the comment above…this production appears to me to be an ethnographical, anthropological study of a vanishing Tibetan culture, and is a field document of that culture that does not seek to interpret it’s subject but instead aims at only witnessing and recording it…in this it is invaluable. If you are looking for entertainment, seek it elsewhere…I am sure the subjects of the piece would appreciate it.

    And the comment, “the lifestyle of these monks is too primitive to see as holy guide…,” huh…since when is a primitive culture less “holy”, I guess you mean spiritual,than one that is technologically advanced??? they are definitely nearer to what I will call the primordial origin (nature) and thus may be more “holy,” as in whole, than we who have the privilege of technology…were the Native Americans or the current tribes of the Amazon or any primitive people under the sun any more or less “holy” than we living under the rule of the scientific method…when the king and queen of England were still wiping their hands on a dog under the table the Chinese Empire was building the Forbidden City for the Emperor that housed 10,000 servants (larger than London at the time), so are the Chinese then more “holy” than we of ‘primitive” European stock???…so your comment as to what defines the spiritual capacity of a people is more than naive, it is unsound…and as a gnostic path (as Buddhism is) one’s own consciousness is sufficient to realize…so why do you need “scientific validation” if you understand the reality of your own mind as the ground state of being??? they (the Tibetans) never asked you to adopt their ways (Buddhism is not a proselytizing religion)…this is a demand you placed on yourself and is no fault of the people or those recording these rituals….

    anyway…it is a fantastic journey into a beautiful culture…and one that is fast vanishing from the earth…they may survive as an exiled people, but as a truly independent one, only time will tell…

  7. For a Western Buddhist – even with Tibetan Buddhist knowledge – this documentary has not been edited sufficiently. The Puja for Tara is much too long and the Tibetan horns and drums become monotonous. One appreciates the purity of allowing the rituals to speak for themselves but it is much too long for a western audience. Any drama inherent is slowly strangled .

    The malevolent protectors and other extraneous deities are hangovers from the Bon pagan faith that was prevalent in Tibet before Buddhism was introduced. This becomes too exotic and ritualistic for many western Buddhists who want the strictly pramatic aspects of life as a buddhist in the modern world. Especially after learning how the Buddha himself stated that none of the teachings should be “believed” – rather one should see how they pragmatically better ones’ spiritual REAL life before adopting these guidelines enthusiastically and without reservation.

    The lifestyle of these monks is too primative to see as a holy guide. The Dalai Lama can bridge the rituals of the past and yet insist upon the latest scientific data to validate Buddhist meditation . More interaction with His Holiness would have placed these ancient rituals in a more favorable and clarified light.