Sunday, December 23, 2007


I do not often go to movies because most are less interesting than books I could be reading. When I do they are usually low budget or foreign until so many people recommend a Hollywood movie that a critical mass is reached and I feel it's not only going to be worth seeing but I'll be sorry if I don't. Yesterday I went to a movie very few people are likely to see, it's been around 6 years and hasn't been generally distributed. Samsara is a movie made by a Himalayan, Buddhist director/film maker and has been showing two days a week at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art this month. The promo pictures did not inspire me, it included a cloud with was a couple kissing. However the Himilayan scenery was too powerful an attraction to miss. It was set in Ladakh, a northern Indian state that was part of Tibet for a long time. The peopl and way of life is essentially traditional Tibetan.

Since no one who reads this is likely to see it I'll tell the story. It begins very interestingly, first with a brief scene in which an eagle drops a large stone from high up, killing a sheep. This happens as a group of lamas are passing. They bless the dead sheep, the shepherd is not comforted. The lamas are on their way to a meditation cave -- a very large one. Tashi has been meditating 3 years, 3 months, 3 week, 3 days. It is time to bring him back to the monstary. His hair and nails are long, he is in a meditative trace from which it is very difficult to rouse him. In fact the abbot says, "Tashi, you've gone too far." Tashi is a Type A personality and we never learn what he learned in his meditations. The Abbot tries many things to bring him round, that eventually includes a visit to a village. There he sees a beautiful young woman. The expected happens -- he givs up the robe and marries the girl. We are treated to overlong sexual scenes to show us how wonderful samsara is. They have a child. He begins to change the way the family deals with neighbors and fights with the local strong man. He eventually also sleeps with a Hindu girl who is a seasonal worker.

We've been set up, of course, with the story of Siddartha who left his wife and child to become the Buddha. After seeing his dangerous attraction to the carnal life Tashi realizes he should have remained a monk and slips away in the night just as Siddartha did So far all this is expected and a little bit ho-hum except for the picture of the still extant rural way of life and of some intrusions of modernity when Tashi and his father-in-law go to town.

The kicker is the last five minutes. Tashi is returning to the monastery walking through the golden aspen woods in the autumn. He comes to a stupa and his wife steps out in front of him. She confronts him with the story of Siddartha's wife. The actress does not emote, she tells the story straight, but the pain is very strong, she reminds Tashi that the wife had been a spiritual person who perhaps taught Siddartha a few lessons, that perhaps she would have liked to give up her duties as wife and mother and go seek enlightenment. That no one took her into account.

At last we (certainly I and I hope others) see the enormous narcissism of the male who pursues his "path" at the expense of others -- there is certainly no compassion in deserting one's family and no nobility. When the wife disappears as suddenly as she came, Tashi falls on the ground overemoting his pain and remorse/ We do not know at the end what he doe. I left the museum wondering if the writer/direcor was questioning the whole monastic idea or the actual ethics of the Siddartha story. I felt the wife's pain so profoundly if I had been alone I would have had a good long cry instead of the few sniffs I managed before the lights came on.

The scenery was the high (15,000 ft) desert, very Tibetan. There were some wonderful touches, a child lama, a spurned rival for the wife, the father-in-law, the equinamnity of the lama's community. Much was very beautiful. Maybe the sizable Americab Buddhist community will eventually see it. The film maker is talented.

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