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Dharma Flix

If you're thinking of renting a movie and would like some ideas, here are a list of films we recommend ! Any comments or suggestions can be sent to Michael Parry: mp@michael-parry.com

> Use the drop down menu for Implicit Dharma flix!
 
> Use the drop down menu for Explicit Dharma flix!
 

  Implicit Dharma  
       
Memento
 

Memento

In Chris Nolan’s 2000 break out feature, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), is an ex-insurance investigator who is caught in a trying conundrum. While, on the one hand, he must compile clues in order to solve the murder of his wife, he is, on the other hand, stricken with a type of amnesia that leaves him unable to form new memories. Sound like a major obstacle to inductive reasoning?  It is. In desperate attempts to wrest the truth from his reality, Leonard begins take polaroids and to write notes to himself across his body. These clues slowly start to begin to paint a picture of what might have happened in Leonard’s mysterious past. The brilliant complexities that weave through the story are far too numerous to recount but what strikes the heart of the dharma student is how much we all toil in our own states of amnesia.  HH the Dalai Lama recently commented that, “Discipline is the capacity to do what is in one’s own best interest”.  How often it seems that when confronted by a choice we lack the means to choose and option that is truly in our own, long term best interest.  Once you see Leonard’s struggle in the brilliant tale of Momento, the effort to act according to what is best might at some point always come without and difficulty at all.

   
Blade Runner
 

Blade Runner

In what is widely viewed as one of the greatest filmmaking achievements of all time, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner enters the Dharma Flicks ranks as an unlikely contender.  How, might you ask, does the stoic Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) impart onto us, intrepid Dharma students, any notion of the Buddha’s teachings?   In the 2019 imagined by the film, a race of beings called “replicants” are androids built to resemble humans in every possible way and to act as laborers on “off planet” colonies.  The film begins when four malevolent replicants escape from their colony and land on earth in order to coerce their maker into extending their four year life span.  Enter Deckard, a preeminent replicant hunter or, Blade Runner.  It becomes Deckard’s job to apprehend the four fugitive replicants. So wherein lies the Dharma?  As noted by Lama Marut in his current newsletter, there is a movement afoot to unearth the real Buddhism; a Buddhism that is free from both historical influence and modern reinterpretation.  What Lama Marut points out is that the “real” Buddhism is the Dharma passed from a Guru to a student.  Though Deckard’s search for the four replicants might be aided by certain objective facts, it is not without it’s complexity.  Like the student who must look within to find his or her Guru to discern the truth of that Guru’s teachings, Deckard too must resolve the lingering question: Is he too a replicant?  A mere simulacrum; a copy that has no original.

   

^Top

rear window
 

Rear Window

A classic among classics, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window is a mystery and thriller starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly that, in 1954, raised the bar for what intrigue could mean in motion pictures. The film opens with professional photographer, L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (Stewart) confined to his New York apartment with a broken leg. Despite his injury, or perhaps because of it, Jeff turns his investigative interests upon his neighbors whose apartments are arrayed before his window as if the activities inside were meant to be on display. We soon meet the neighbor who exercises constantly, the married couple who sleep on their small balcony, the struggling songwriter working at his piano; and the salesman with the nagging bedridden wife. Throughout the film, we are treated to our own "rear window" each of us looking into Jefferies' life as he looks into the lives of his neighbors' and throughout, we sit front and center on a time when films reveled in the simple act of a story unfolding and the grist of the human emotions therein. This being Hitchcock though, the choices of which details are reveled and which are concealed are masterful and like Jefferies, we are quickly swept into the apparent mystery unfolding in the apartment of the salesman and his wife.

For the dharma student, Rear Window paints a picture of how we come to have such commitment to a state of affairs that just could not be that case. We believe for example, that "things could just happen, that they are random", or that "some things just are, or that they exist from their own side". Like Jefferies, we sit on the perch of our minds looking out into the world and too often mistake the signals we receive for "facts". Like Jefferies, we should endeavor toward knowing just exactly what is "out there" but should always remember that the veil through which we peer is subtle and difficult to pierce. For whether or not Jefferies is able to break through into seeing the truth in his neighbors' activities or to decide if such a thing is even possible, you'll have to see Rear Window.

   
Glass
 

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts

Academy Award-nominated director Scott Hicks documents an eventful year in the career and personal life of distinguished composer Philip Glass as he interacts with a number of friends and collaborators. As a student of the dharma, Mr. Glass' life and work serve as great examples of living life according to a higher calling and persevering on a path that requires great personal commitment. Glass' music offers a rare transcendence and has been the score of such notable dharma flicks as Baraka and Kundun. In this film, a glimpse into the life and the mind of such a musician is a special experience.

     
8 1/2
 

8 1/2

Regarded as one of Federico Fellini's master pieces, 8½ is a thinly veiled auto biography that follows a fictional film director, Guido Anselmi, as he searches for the will and inspiration necessary to embark on a new film production. Released in 1963 8½ followed on two widely celebrated releases from Fellini La Dolce Vita (1960) and La Strada (1954). It is easy to see how Fellini might feel the victim of his own success and have difficulty dealing with the pressures and expectations placed on a successful film director. In the film, Guido is bombarded by his mistress, his wife, his producer, and the rest of his friends with selfish demands and outlandish requests. As a result, Guido retreats into his dreams and there, he finds inspiration to make his new film. As a dharma student, one can see in Guido's struggle that there often lacks the solace and meaning that we might hope for in our daily lives. Fraught with the tribulations of samsara, we are often sorting out which paths and influences are worthy of heading and which will only cause greater suffering. As students, we can take Guido as an example of one who retreats into an inner world to find what he must. Although Guido's journey is far from serene, we can see that by following his own inner path, he ultimately reaches his higher goals.

     
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, directed by David Fincher (one of only two directors to appear twice on the Dharma Flicks list), is the imaginative tale of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) who, born an octogenarian, lives life aging in reverse. What may indeed be a “curious” case for the average viewer is, for the dharma student, something far more interesting. One of the most difficult concepts to wrap one’s mind around in the pursuit of wisdom is the emptiness of time. Time’s tendency to move from the past into the future, like the sun rising in the east or Ben & Jerry’s being a delicious treat, seems to be one of those conditions that is hard wired into the human experience. We know though from our study of karma and emptiness that there is no condition and no reality that is not malleable; that is not without condition or cause. Although is it difficult to imagine the karmic causes for being born an octogenarian and aging in reverse, it is helpful to remember that the fact that most of us were born infants is not something that is automatic or uncaused. Even though The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a fantastic flight of fancy by one of our most inspired directors, it is, even more importantly, a powerful reminder that even the most subtle and seemingly fixed elements of our lives are caused. Thanks to Sandra from Brazil for the great recommendation.

     
American Beauty
 

American Beauty

If American Beauty had a subtitle to describe its Dharma related theme, it would be called American Beauty: How NOT to have a Spiritual Partnership. The film, which is the wonderful first collaboration between director Sam Mendes and Cinematographer Conrad Hall (their following collaboration, Road to Perdition, was Hall's final film project before his death in 2003), is also a tour de force by actors Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. In the film, Spacey and Bening play Lester and Carolyn Burnham, a married but deeply estranged suburban couple in their mid-forties. They are successful professionals with a nice home and a bright and beautiful daughter. All seems well. However, what stirs below the surface is a different story. Lester is so profoundly dissatisfied with his life that he quits his job, begins to pursue the friend of his young daughter and is unaffected by the infidelity of his wife. Although few of us unravel to the extent that Lester does, the dissatisfaction that he feels is not hard to imagine. What is particularly interesting to the Dharma seeker is that we get to see a character who understands that life as he is currently living it will never in a million years bring him happiness. In this respect, Lester is way ahead of the crowd. Sadly, the perverse form of "renunciation" that follows only leads Lester further into the mire of samsara. If Lester had only had the good fortune of a Spiritual Partners teaching, he would have realized that his dissatisfaction was not based on the world changing around him but rather, the changes forced on him by his own karma. Lamenting the dull predictability that now governing his life, he asks his wife, now a straight-laced real estate broker, "What ever happened to the girl who used to feign seizures at Frat parties?" How much better it would it have been Lester, my friend, to realize that there was no entertainment and no satisfaction outside yourself. There was no wife feigning seizures, there was no laughter and no loving mother of your daughter that did not come from own karma. So take heart and take responsibility for your own happiness by making the happiness of others your first priority!

     
Thelma and Louise
 

Thelma and Louise

Recently, in the midst of three evenings of sublime teachings on the Bhagavad Gita, Lama Marut suggested that the students consider the predicament of the eponymous characters at the end of Thelma and Louise. My thoughts traveled back to the air conditioned summer theater and the racing heart that anticipated their decision which ends the film. The Bhagavad Gita, as you’ll remember, is the story of the valiant warrior, Arjuna, and the crisis he faces when arriving at the battlefield; the Kulukesetra; the field of Karma. Instead of looking down and seeing a gathered enemy, he sees the faces of his own family. Deeply distraught and overwhelmed by the impasse, Arjuna turns to his charioteer, Krishna to help him decide what to do. Much like Arjuna, Thelma and Louise, face a daunting impasse. At the end of their long run and wild escapades, they must decide to turn back, into the hands of waiting police or to drive their ’66 Thunderbird into the abyss of a deep canyon. What is intriguing to the careful dharma student is that Thelma and Louise refuse to give back the freedom they have enjoyed in the course of the film and instead surrender to the unknown. When we can see that because we live in Samsara we are like Thelma, Louise and Arjuna, we live constantly in the grip of choices that could never satisfy us. That is, of course, until we surrender.

     
Dharma Flix
  Revolutionary Road

As the 2008 Oscar season moves into full swing, Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road has already begun to stand out. In the film, April (Kate Winslet) and Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) are a young, thriving couple living with their two children in a Connecticut suburb. They seem the model of 1950's American success but their self-assured exterior masks a creeping frustration at their inability to feel fulfilled in their relationships or careers. Frank is mired in a well-paying but boring office job, and April is a housewife still mourning the demise of her hoped-for acting career. Determined to identify themselves as superior to the mediocre sprawl of suburbanites who surround them, they decide to move to France where they will be better able to develop their true artistic sensibilities. In this film fueled by powerful performances, confident directorial choices and beautiful cinematography there is a great reminder for the astute Dharma student. Although the good looks and great potential of our two protagonists may tempt us to think otherwise, it remains true that happiness comes from serving others. Similarly, as Khen Rinpoche (the teacher of Geshe Michael Roach) has famously said, "A dog wags its tail in Tibet just as it does in New Jersey". If we take these two ideas together we see the message placed subtly in Revolutionary Road. There is nothing to do but serve others now, in the place that you are and happiness and satisfaction will follow.

 
     
Dharma FLix
  Love Actually

In keeping with the Dharma Flicks tradition of looking closely at holiday themed films during the holidays, Love Actually is a charming and endearing film that is set almost entirely in London during five frantic weeks before Christmas. The film follows a web-like pattern of inter-related people and the complexities that are created in their individual searches for love. The central character is the very eligible bachelor and new Prime Minister David (Hugh Grant) who cannot express his growing feelings for his new personal assistant Natalie. The circle of interconnected lives spreads out from here in a Shakespearean "comedy of errors" fashion. In Love Actually the underlying desire to be happy can remind the viewer of the often absurd lengths that we go to secure our own happiness while often ensuring the opposite.

 
     
Dharma Flix
  Defending Your Life

First of all, thanks to June Hayes for recommending this film to me. Albert Brooks' film, Defending Your Life gives a light-hearted view of the Karma cam. Many of us have heard of the karma cam but who knew that the drab interior of our apartment in the after life, would be caused by our past actions? Well, yes, in fact it must be. And here for a few minutes, you can have a laugh at the antics of Daniel Miller (Brooks) and Julia (Meryl Streep) as they figure out that in fact, all is really cause and effect. Take a break from the more challenging aspects of taking on Mrs. (or Mr.) Karma cam and enjoy a great film that helps us to remember that on the path, a healthy sense of humor is essential.

 
     
Dharma Flix
  The Dark Knight

Amidst the throng of summer blockbusters, The Dark Knight stands alone. Brilliantly conceived and masterfully executed by director Christopher Nolan and his collaborators, the film manages to be bombastic and subtle at the same time. At the heart of the film is the conflict between the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Batman (Christian Bale). For many the rivalry is familiar, but for the intrepid dharma student, the battle between these rivals takes on a more interesting twist. In this installment of the Batman franchise, the Joker takes on the darkest incarnation we have yet seen. Thanks to what will certainly be an Oscar winning performance by Heath Ledger, Batman is confronted for the first time by a true nihilist. An enemy that seems to destroy for nothing but the sake of destruction proves to be the most difficult to battle. It is in this difficulty that Batman is pushed to his limits and for the first time, questions the value of his own efforts. Although loath to descend to his opponents base methods, Batman must find a way to defeat a rival who seems untouchable. For those of us interested in the spiritual life, the struggle that Batman faces in his confrontation of the Joker is a telling tale. As we know, to truly and selflessly battle our mental afflictions (and the forces of nothingness) there can be nothing that we are not willing to give up. In the film, Batman and his public incarnation, Bruce Wayne, are forced for the first time to stare directly at the extent of their sacrifices and decide that there is nothing that is worth not stopping the evils of the Joker. A true Bodhisattva, Batman here in the form of a summer blockbuster inspires us to give all of ourselves in our efforts to rid ourselves of mental afflictions, even if that mental affliction seems like an unbeatable foe.

 
     
DF
  The Message

Directed by Moustapha Akkad, The Message is an historical epic concerning the birth of the Islamic faith and the story of the prophet Mohammed -- who, in accordance with the tennets of Islam, is never seen or heard. The film begins in Mecca in the 7th century when the future prophet, Mohammed, is visited by a vision of the Angel Gabriel and is urged to cast aside the 300 idols of Kaaba and to worship Allah. The Message (originally screened in the U.S. as Mohammed, Messenger of God ) proved to be highly controversial during its production and initial release. Unfounded rumors had it that Mohammed would not only be depicted in the film, but that he was to be played by Charlton Heston or Peter O'Toole. This resulted in angry protests by Muslim extremists, until director Moustapha Akkad hired a staff of respected Islamic clerics as technical advisors. It was this attention to detail that makes The Message a fascinating portrait of the origins of one of the world's major religions.

 
     
DF
  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

In 1995, at the age of 43, Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire body, except his left eye. Using that eye to blink out his memoir, Bauby eloquently described the aspects of his interior world, from the psychological torment of being trapped inside his body to his imagined stories from lands he'd only visited in his mind.   The Diving Bell and the Butterfly directed by Julian Schnabel, is a film making tour de force and a fine example of the craft of directing. In addition, the film was nominated for an Academy Award in Cinematography for the fantastic work by Janusz Kaminsky.   For the discerning Dharma student, the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is a beautiful reminder of the fleeting nature of our human faculties and the unmatched power of the human mind.

 
     
DF
  Jacob's Ladder

A classic of the eighties cinema (actually released in 1990), Jacob's Ladder , is a psychological thriller that begins in the jungles of Vietnam and travels through labyrinths of delusion and paranoia in New York only to end with a surprising and powerfully redemptive twist. Tim Robbins gives a great performance as Jacob Singer, who, back from the war is trying to keep his life together in the midst of a difficult divorce and mourning the tragic death of his son Gabriel. What makes Jacob's Ladder so much more than just a dramatic character study, is that as the film unfolds, we begin to feel that there is something to the delusions that Jacob suffers. Suffice it to say that for the dharma student, the hidden plot of the film (revealed beautifully at the end) may not hide so easily. If you're in the mood for a great ride and moments of creepy fright, check out Jacob's Ladder.

 
     
DF
  Into the Wild

In the Spring of 1992, Chris McCandless graduated from Emory University. His life until that point had been, superficially at least, a model of the American norm. His parents had risen to a respectable upper middle class existence and had provided a very comfortable life for their children. What lied beneath the surface though would soon capture the interest and imagination of many, many people. After Chris finished his obligatory stay in academia, he donated the remaining $24,000 in his savings account to Oxfam and headed west on a quest to find truth; on a quest that would take him into the wild. Chris' story was originally told in the book, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer ( Eiger Dreams, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven ) and adapted by Sean Penn. What is remarkable about Chris' story is not that he had the feelings that he did. Many of us feel that there must be a more simple and more true world beyond the commuting, clocking-in-and-out, bill paying existences that many of us live. What haunts us about Chris' story is that he actually DID what he did. With a huge amount of courage and unapologetic verve, Chris set out to find a place that was true and unencumbered by mundane predictability. The film, directed with simplicity and grace by Sean Penn and shot with gorgeous austerity by Eric Gautier, strikes a special chord for the dharma student. To us, Chris is reminiscent of the ancient Indian yogi, fearless and full of renunciation; sure of only one thing: that samsara must be escaped at any cost. On the one hand, Chris' story is an inspirational tale that shows that one can renounce the things that they know will never lead to happiness and on the other, it is a cautionary tale which reminds us of Shantideva's teaching that we should give according to our abilities; to start small and that if we are able only to give fruits and vegetables, this is what we should do.

 
     
DF
  The Matrix

Recently, Sara from Detroit wrote in to inquire why The Matrix, the Dharma Flick par excellence, or Mahadharmaflick, if you will, was not on the list. Thanks Sara for writing. The Matrix would certainly rank for many as the most identifiable Implicit Dharma Flick of all times. Much has been said about the ways that The Matrix portrays certain tenants of "eastern thought". Indeed, entire academic conferences have been convened around the topic. For this reviewer though, the two most important elements of The Matrix qua Dharma Flick are that, "reality" is a constructed phenomenon and that the hero is one who uses this fact to serve others. In the film, the analogy between the reality created by "the machines" and the one created by us vis-à-vis our Karma is drawn beautifully. The film makes extremely clear that this deceptive reality (of either sort) will do us no real good and that it is our duty to get underneath it so that we may see how things "really" are. What is even more significant though is what the film suggests we do with the knowledge that there is, in fact, an ultimate reality. With the hope that the film places on Neo (Keanu Reeves) to free all other humans from the tyranny of the machines the expectation is set for us, in our own lives, to act appropriately once we have accumulated wisdom. The Matrix is indeed an excellent portrait of Bodhisattva as action hero. Enjoy!

 
     
DF
  No Country For Old Men

In No Country for Old Men, the Cohen brothers have delivered a universal tale of good and evil by entering wholeheartedly into the vernacular of the American Southwest.   The action plays out on the desolate plains of New Mexico where Sheriff Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) follows the trail of ruthless murders left by Anton Chigurth (Javier Bardem).  In this masterfully told tale, barren landscapes, trailer parks and cheap motel rooms give the film a tone that is at once existential and completely naturalistic. Through seamless dialog and stunning photography by Roger Deakins, No Country, invites the viewer to ask where he or she might fit into a world where everyone is either a hero, a villain, or a victim.  In a scene where the killer, Chigurth, confronts a victim-to-be he asks, “If the rule you followed brought you to this, what good is the rule?”  In this tale where the stakes, in a very Middle Way sort of turn, are set up precisely in the balance between existence and nihilism, the film’s antagonist poses a very interesting question.  Indeed, what are the rules we use to bear ourselves along?  For, Anton Chigurth it seems the harshest adherence to chance but for Sheriff Ed Bell it seems the desire to make sense of a world that increasingly defies explanation. The astute Dharma student can certainly sense the drama playing out between the poles of the Middle Way.  Bardem and Jones, nihilism and absolutism respectively, show us that what does play out between the extremes is what makes our very fate.

 
     
DF
  The Day the Earth Stood Still

From the director Robert Wise (whose eclectic filmography includes: The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain, and West Side Story) The Day the Earth Stood Still is a cautionary tale born of early cold war anxieties of 1951. In the film, The United States is visited by a being from outer space called Klaatu. Klaatu has brought with him not only greetings from outer space but also a stern warning that if the people of the Earth attempt to bring their atomc weapons into space, the residents of neighboring galaxies will not hesitate to destroy them. Although the film is campy by today’s sci-fi tastes, it does offer some dharmic intrigue of the highest rank.
Shortly after the film begins, Klaatu, our intrepid man from outer space, takes an alias so that he can inconspicuously move among the people of the earth and, he hopes, organize a meeting of world leaders who will agree not to take atomic weapons into outer space. In this low grade but, nonetheless, eyebrow raising hint of dharma to follow, the alias he chooses is “Carpenter”. Soon after, “Carpenter” asks his guide, a young boy named Bobby, to take him to the greatest person in the world. Bobby takes him to the home of a well known Math professor. Although the professor is not home, the pair finds an unsolved Mathematics equation on a blackboard in the home. As it turns out, the equation is a formulation of Newton’s Second Law of Motion: “The rate of change of momentum of a body is proportional to the resultant force acting on the body and is in the same direction”. So, a man from outer space called “Carpenter” happens to be an expert on cause and effect.
The most profound dharmic moment in the film was brought to my attention in a teaching from Lama Marut in Los Angeles. The teaching was on Nagarjuna’s “Wisdom: A Song on the Root of the Middle Way”. As Nagarjuna points out, and as Marut, reminds us, if reality really was an unchanging whole made up of separate entities with essences, time could not pass and the Earth would actually stand still. When asked to demonstrate his powers, Klaatu makes the earth stand still and offers the careful dharma student a direct look the impossibility of the incorrect worldview which holds that things exist essentially, that is, from their own side. Thank you Nagarjuna, Marut, Robert Wise, and Klaatu

 
     
DF
  The Game

In The Game, Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy tycoon who, despite his successes in the world of business, lives a life of lonely solitude estranged from friends and family.  In a surprise visit during Nicholas’ 48th birthday, Nicholas’ brother, Conrad, (Sean Penn) gives Nicholas a gift certificate for a “game” provided by a firm called “Consumer Recreation Services”.  Conrad insists that the “game” will be beyond Nicholas’ imagination and will make for radically positive changes in his life.   Although he is skeptical at first, Nicholas eventually concedes to curiosity and visits the CRS office.  Unsure what to expect, Nicholas returns home and the events of “the game” begin to unfold.  What ensues is truly a tour de force by an excellent filmmaking team.  Directed by David Fincher and photographed by Harris Savides, The Game is satisfying at every turn.  Beyond cinematic thrills and harrowing twists, The Game is a clear look directly at a character that is forced to confront the inertia of his past deeds.  As the events of the game progress and push Nicholas further in confronting himself and his past actions, we see that though the events themselves are empty, Nicholas is driven to near break down in suffering their consequences.  We see quite clearly in The Game that although we cannot control what happens in a particular moment, if we take a step back, and ask our selves where the events of that moment are coming from we may well be able to react in a way that will make for a more positive future.  In fact, we might even find that all the events in our life are part of an elaborate game constructed for our very own benefit, just maybe.

 
     
Beyond Rangoon
  Beyond Rangoon

With the tragic events of the last few weeks in Myanmar, I began thinking of Beyond Rangoon (1995), an American Film directed by John Boorman that gives an insight to the country’s political strife.

Beyond Rangoon was inspired by the history of political repression in Myanmar (formerly Burma). It tells the fictional story of Dr. Laura Bowman, an American who travels to Myanmar as a tourist, seeking to forget a tragedy at home. Confronted with the searing brutality of the ruling military dictatorship, she is transformed by the suffering of the Burmese people and the inspiring leadership of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi. To this day, Aung San Suu Kyi and the movement she heads still seek democracy and a government that recognizes basic human rights.

Dharmically, the film recalls a famous quote from Khen Rinpoche, “A dog wags its tail in Tibet the same as it does in New Jersey”. I take it that he meant something like, “Suffering in the U.S. can’t be escaped in Myanmar”. It’s no surprise that the suffering Laura finds suffering as soon as she disembarks in Myanmar but what makes the film especially worthwhile her discovery that wisdom and compassion are the only two things that can truly prevent suffering.

 
     
  Waking Life

As summer winds down and we return to life at work or school, we may find ourselves with the thought, wasn’t that retreat/vacation/get-a-away the way it should be all the time? Shouldn’t our “normal” lives be the exception? Well, if we work hard enough, and stay focused on the right endeavors, of course, all suffering will fall away and bliss will be ours. First though, we have to be sure which is which. Which is suffering and which is pleasure. It may not be as easy a question as it seems. On the way to figuring it all out, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life is a great, diversion…..it begins with the question: What are dreams? Are they an escape from reality or are they reality itself? Waking Life follows the dream(s) of one man and his attempt to find and discern the absolute difference between waking life and the dream world. While trying to figure out a way to wake up, he runs into many people on his way; some of which offer one sentence asides on life, others delving deeply into existential questions and life's mysteries. We become the main character. It becomes our dream and our questions being asked and answered. Can we control our dreams? What are they telling us about life? About death? About ourselves and where we come from and where we are going? The film does not answer all these for us. Instead, it inspires us to ask the questions and find the answers ourselves.

 
     

  The Incredibles

Fifteen years ago, superheroes walked the streets of Metroville, performing acts of great heroism and inspiring many to follow their example. But a string of lawsuits by disgruntled people they'd helped lead to political and public outcry, and the Supers are forced into retirement and government-funded anonymity. Bob Parr used to be Mr. Incredible, one of the greatest and strongest Supers. Now though, he lives a mundane life as a suburban insurance agent. Although his wife Helen (formerly Elastigirl) has moved on and is more concerned with raising their children than battling evil, Bob still yearns for the good old days - and his chance comes when he is approached by a shadowy government organization and asked to join their numbers. But all is not as it seems, and Bob will find himself trapped by an embittered enemy. In the end, the suburban Supers are forced into action to save their endangered father. The Incredibles is a great family movie for a warm summer evening at home. We can see in Mr. Super and later in his family that the spark of Boddhichitta is always present and no matter how removed we may sometimes feel from our highest selves, we always have the opportunity to achieve our potential with the simplest acts of kindness and compassion.


     
  Being There

Adapted from the novel by Jerzy Kosinski and directed by Hal Ashby, Being There is a Shakespearean comedy of errors meets a Buddhist meditation on emptiness. Being There depicts the story of a gardener named Chance (Peter Sellers) who grows up in the townhouse of a wealthy man in Washington, D.C. For reasons that remain unexplained, Chance has had virtually no contact with the outside world and no social interaction for his entire life. Apart from his limited relationship with Louise the maid (Ruth Attaway), Chance's cultural and social education is derived entirely from what he watches on the television sets provided by his employer. Chance’s situation takes a fantastic turn when he is emancipated from the house and, due to a well timed cough, is introduced as “Chauncey Gardinier”. The company present in this moment instantly begins to conjure extravagant notions of who this new and exotic man might be. With the wit and charm that we would expect from Peter Sellers, the rest of the film plays out as the blank screen of Chance the Gardner is seen as everything from a businessman down on his luck to a possible presidential candidate. Emptiness indeed!

 
     
  Dead Man

In Jim Jarmusch’s genre-bending classic, William Blake (Johnny Depp) disembarks from a train that has reached its terminus in a town called Machine. Normal enough, you might think, but it so happens that Machine is where civilization’s frail finger tip meets the great western wilderness. If Depp’s character’s name weren’t a clue to the major subterranean workings of the story, and the suggestive title of Depp’s destination didn’t get the wheels turning, true suspicions begin to arise when, in this town called Machine, Depp meets a native American named Nobody. Very quickly, the careful viewer begins to see that the tale unfolding is an austere but elaborate allegory. Where the allegory points though is mysterious. Jim Jarmusch has this to say about the swirling mysteries in his film, “Death is life's only certainty, and at the same time, its greatest mystery. For Bill Blake, the journey of Dead Man represents life. For Nobody, the journey is a continuing ceremony whose purpose is to deliver Blake back to the spirit-level of the world. To him, Blake's spirit has been misplaced and somehow returned to the physical realm. Nobody's non-western perspective that life is an unending cycle is essential to the story of Dead Man”. And there you have it; one of America’s renowned maverick filmmakers has gone and made a film about the Bardo. And with a great score from Neil Young to boot, Dead Man is not to be missed.

 
     

  Amélie

In another fantastic film by French director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) Audrey Tautou plays the lovable, Amélie, a waitress in Montemart who realizes that the best way to bring love into life is to help others find love in their own lives. We see Amelie grow up in an original, if slightly dysfunctional, family and interact curiously with her neighbors and customers. Through the course of the beautifully photographed movie and through the twists and turns of Amelie’s life we discover, as our heroine does, that the life of a Bodhisattva, though sometimes difficult to discover and maintain, is ultimately the best.

 
     

  Tuck Everlasting

With a great cast that includes Sissy Spacek, Ben Kingsley, and William Hurt, Tuck Everlasting is a quiet and subtle meditation on the value of life and the need to ask the question, “Am I living to my highest potential?” On one level, the film is a sweet adolescent love story that begins as Winnie (Alexis Bledel) meets Jesse Tuck, a 17 year old member of the Tuck clan who, like the rest of his family has become immortal by drinking from a hidden spring. In Winnie’s story we see how the value of life comes from the fact that it will end and that although impermanence can be painful it can also be a great motivator on the path.

 
     

  Peaceful Warrior

Along with such books as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Siddhartha, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, has become a classic contribution to the young-adult-with-burgeoning-spirituality literature canon. Based faithfully on the book, the film, Peaceful Warrior, is a poignant exploration of renunciation and overcoming obstacles. When we first meet Dan, he is a young athlete at the height of his powers poised for great accomplishments as a collegiate gymnast. When an accident strikes and all that he has worked so hard to accomplish as a gymnast, seems suddenly far out of reach, his is forced to look more deeply inside himself and to see that material achievements and achievements are not all they are made out to be. Dan is helped in this quest by Socrates, a very lama-like Nick Nolte, who himself has mastered the path of the peaceful warrior.

 
     

  Dekalog (aka The Decalogue [US title])

Only Communist Poland could produce a state funded TV series that interprets The Ten Commandments in ten 55-minute episodes. We should be happy though that the Polish Communists saw fit to make the films, as they are each beautiful explorations of human instinct running up against morality and law. Over and above the usual genius that we have come to expect from Krzysztof Kieslowski (director of the Three Colors Trilogy), Stanley Kubrik has called the Decalogue “the only masterpiece I can name in my lifetime”. Indeed, the films are so simple and direct that they somehow baffle the viewer in their ability to create the intense emotion that they do. With each episode a very digestible length and with each offering a great mediation on matters of the spirit, a DVD containing a couple of the episodes can be a great companion on a cold winter night.

 
     

  Imitation of Life

From one of America’s foremost directors, Douglas Sirk, Imitation of Life, at first seems like a just another melodrama from the 1950s centered on issues of domesticity. Looking more deeply into the film (and this is a wonderful characteristic of most of Sirk’s films) we see a story of complex relationships and identity. Set in 1947 Coney Island, the film begins as two single mothers, one in need of help in the home and the other in need of food and shelter, discover that by helping each other both of their needs can be met. However, the relationship becomes complicated when one of the daughters, Sarah, who is African-American, begins to look for acceptance in Susy’s (the white daughter of the other mother) community. Beyond the fact the fact that the film withstands critical scrutiny, like dharma itself, the particular situations of the characters is a powerful teaching in discerning which things in life will tie you to the world and which will set you free. Although these things may be easy to differentiate in theory, sometimes in life the distinction is not so easily made.

 
     

  Fearless

Adapted by screenwriter Rafael Yglesias from his own novel, Fearless explores the complex struggle back to mental health of post-traumatic stress disorder victim Max Klein (Jeff Bridges). One of few survivors of a fatal plane crash, Klein remains calm and assists other survivors out of the burning debris, earning praise as a hero by the media. After stoically departing the tragedy without a word to emergency officials, Max returns home with detached feelings towards his wife (Isabella Rossellini) and son, along with a bizarre, seemingly authentic belief that he is now impervious to harm. Bill Perlman (John Turturro), a psychiatrist for the airline, fails to reach Max about his newfound fearlessness, but asks for his help in aiding Carla (Rosie Perez), a fellow crash survivor filled with grief and guilt over the loss of her baby. In this film, filled with fantastic peformances, we can see several different levels of emptiness as they are being taught by Cliff this month in our Tuesday meditatons. First, of course, the film dals with impearmanence and, even more poignantly it deals with the lack of control that we have over our lives. Eventhough we feel like there is a “self” that oversees and drives all of our activities, Fearless points out that this is in fact not the case. Not only does the film make this clear, it tells a great story in the process.

 
     

 

Wheel of Time


Werner Herzog’s Wheel of Time is a unique and interesting documentary on the Kalachakra Ritual. Yes, that’s the same Werner Herzog of Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man fame. While this famously obsessive and, to some, maniacal, director may seem an unlikely voice to create a documentary on Buddhism, his voice here is characteristically incisive and unique. Ranging freely back and forth between a postponed Kalachara ceremony in Bodhgaya, the subsequent ceremony in Austria and fantastic footage from Mt. Kailas and the Tibetan Plateau, Herzog has given us once again, a provocative piece of filmmaking.

 
     
  Little Miss Sunshine

The humor that ensues when six very different family members climb into a marginally functional VW bus for a trip from New Mexico to Redondo Beach would be enough to highly recommend Little Miss Sunshine.  However, in light of what Lama Marut has said about the challenges of travel and the need to maintain a calm, happy outlook in the face of changing circumstances, this film is even more worth a view.  Filled with a wonderful cast and the pressing need to get Olive, the 10 year old daughter, to Redondo Beach in time for the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant, the film covers such topics dharmic as the folly of intellectual pursuit for its own sake and the joy of placing the needs of another before your own.  What really marked the film special is, as Lama Marut has mentioned, the need to slow down and enjoy the road because, as all of the characters of this film would attest, the destination we reach often looks far different than the one we set out for.

 
   

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Evita

This lavish musical drama, based on the hit stage production by Andrew Lloyd Webber and beautifully photographed by Darius Khondji, tells the life story of Eva Duarte (Madonna) who leaves her rural home for Buenos Aires in the company of Latin singer Agustin Magaldi (Jimmy Nail), eventually becoming the wife of President Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce) and a heroine to the people of Argentina.  Though Evita makes major changes in her life in a conventional sense and acquires great fame and fortune, she never attains true satisfaction.  In all, this is a beautifully made tragedy about the folly of placing too much faith in the possibility of attaining happiness through worldly ends. 

 
     
 

About Schmidt

About Schmidt is "part comedy, part tragedy, mostly masterpiece." Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) has arrived at several of life's crossroads all at the same time. He retired from a lifetime job and he feels utterly adrift. Furthermore, his only daughter is about to marry a man whom he does not like. And his wife dies suddenly. With no job, no wife, and no family, Warren is desperate to find something meaningful in his thoroughly unimpressive life. He sets out on an unexpected journey of self-discovery.  This movie is a hopeful story that suggests that it is never too late to look at our life and begin to make choices to reach our greatest potential. It is never too late to make a difference. Schmidt realizes that even if life has been meaningless, we need to make it meaningful. There are always opportunities to plant the seeds for a meaningful future that is in service to others.  In the end, Schmidt realizes he has immense opportunity to create the meaningfulness that he wants because everything is intrinsically void of any fixed meaning.  Sound familiar? I wonder if he had a pen with him…

 
     
 

Flatliners

Recommending Flatliners (1990) may be taking the risk of dating myself but what have I got to lose in recommending one of the pinnacles of eighties filmmaking which hosts a fantastic constellation of stars (Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt).  In the film five medical students at the top of their class embark on the ultimate scientific journey; to pierce the veil of Maya by seeing what lies behind the veil of death.  They hatch an ingenious plan that will allow them to lower themselves, one by one, into the afterlife and then to be revived.  Of course, piercing the veil of Maya cannot come without consequences and the students learn that actions in life do in fact carry consequences further down the line.  You can call it “erasing the apparent delay inherent in cyclical existence” or you can call it “a crash course in Causal and Resultant consciousness”, but I just call it a great movie that takes you way back to 1990 and makes you go hmmmmmmmmmm every time Mr(s). Karma catches you with your hand in the cookie jar.

 
     
 

My Dinner with Andre 

Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, apparently playing themselves, share their lives over the course of an evening meal at a restaurant. Gregory, a theater director from New York, is the more talkative of the pair. He relates to Shawn his tales of dropping out, traveling around the world, and experiencing the variety of ways people live, such as a monk who could balance his entire weight on his fingertips. Shawn listens avidly, but questions the value of Gregory's seeming abandonment of the pragmatic aspects of life.  A slight disclaimer should perhaps accompany this review if only to say that if the idea of sitting in on a two-hour conversation between two middle aged men, sounds like a trip to the gulag, this probably is not the movie for you.  On the other hand, if you think you can muster the attention required, you are in for a thought provoking and (all disclaimers aside) entertaining film that muses on the eternal conflict between reason and passion.

 
     
 

Capote

O.K. I know that you are saying, Capote?  Dude, where’s the dharma?  Maybe you are right.  In fact, you probably are.  But, nonetheless, here I am (as Elton John famously sang) putting it down in words.  Yes, Capote is it this month.  I could just sing its praises as a wonderfully made film with performances that take the respective performers to a new level but dharma is there, as promised.  As the title suggests, the film is about Truman Capote and the struggle that he faced in writing his novel, In Cold Blood. What is fascinating and what rings so brilliantly in Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance is the question of intention.  In the course of the film, Capote confesses to his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), that he is writing his novel to “rescue the humanity” of the two young men who sit on death row, convicted of killing an innocent family in cold blood.   It becomes apparent though that Capote’s true motivation is more likely the salvation of his own humanity.  Caught in the paradox of needing to have two men executed in order to have his “humanity saving” venture succeed, tragedy ensues.  When I look to see the dharma in the film, I ask myself, why did Truman Capote write the book?  Was he honest with anyone whom he met?  Was he honest with himself, even in his most personal moments?  Thanks to a wonderful film, none of these questions are fully answered but they are asked in a most satisfying way.

 
     
 

The Truman Show

Like last month’s entry for Implicit Dharma Flick, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Truman Show offers several paths to seeing how Buddhist ideas can be represented in a film.  In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, an abnormally normal guy in a normal town with a normal wife and a quintessential best friend who stops by from time to time with six-pack in hand.  What is not so normal though is that Truman’s entire world from the rain, to the sunset and even the death of his father is a staged event performed by elaborate special effects and a troupe of actors on the world’s largest soundstage.    Beyond being a wonderfully made and very entertaining film, this depiction of the reality show extraordinaire, is a wonderful Dharma Flick in the way that it asks the question, “What do you do when you realize every moment, every thought and every experience is based on a misperception?”  If you are like Truman Burbank, you undertake a great journey on the path to freedom.

 
     
 

It’s a Wonderful Life

With the holidays approaching, what better film to contemplate the teachings of the dharma than the classic, It’s a Wonderful Life?  As we know, the film tells the story of George Bailey (played in a great performance by Jimmy Stewart) who is deeply distraught over the loss of an $8000 loan and the cruel vindication that is sure to come from Bedford Falls’ evil millionaire, Mr. Potter.  As George contemplates ending his life in order to escape what he feels will be unending suffering, the guardian angel, Clarence, appears to reveal what the small world of Bedford Falls would have been like if George had never existed.  Dharmically, the wonderful thing about this film is that the archetypal characters allow us to place ourselves in the story and ask, which character am I most like?  The miserly Mr. Potter whose selfish ways and obsession with money cause suffering in others?  Or am I like George, the average person who forgets her or his immense value to the world?  Or perhaps we relate to Clarence, the guardian angel who, realizes that in order to earn his wings he must help George to see the value of his life and his contributions to the world and people around him. Chances are, we are all a bit of all three.

 
     
 

13 Conversations About One Thing

The Dalai Lama says that all beings want to be happy and all beings want to avoid suffering. 13 Conversations About One Thing speaks to this democracy of humanity. It is about happiness: the search for happiness, the envy of happiness, the loss of happiness, and the guilt about undeserved happiness.

On the surface this film is about the confusing experiences of life. There is an attorney who wins a big case, celebrates his success in a local pub, buys a drink for a pessimist he sees at the end of the bar, drives home drunk and almost kills somebody. There is a middle management person who needs to fire somebody, so he fires the happiest guy in the office because he will be able to see the silver lining in the situation. It's about a married man who seeks happiness in an affair because society says it is a way to happiness. It is about a woman who works hard for her clients who can only criticize her… It is about the connections between these unhappy people seeking to be happy.

The movie finds connections between people who think they are strangers, finding the answer to one person's problem in the question raised by another. Although one might need to take the longer view of karma to understand the seemingly random relationship between cause and effect in the film, the knowledge that life is suffering is clear. Even so, the yearning for personal happiness and the happiness of others comes through. Indeed, the film concludes there is a way to find happiness. No, it is not an introduction to the Lam Rim, but it is an attempt to foster curiosity about all of the interlocking events that add up to our lives. It is a call to notice connections, to understand the ways things work out… to seek real happiness.

 
     
 

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

As fog rolls through the Golden Gate, jewel green birds pluck cherry blossoms from trees on Telegraph Hill, their red heads emerging from the foliage as the birds chatter to each other and take flight.  As awestruck tourists watch, Mark Bittner holds up a palm full of sunflower seeds to the eager, noisy birds. Wearing Levis and a ponytail, surrounded by the jostling flock, Bittner is a Bohemian Saint Francis.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, tells the story of who Mark Bittner is, how he was drawn to North Beach by the music scene of the 50’s and eventually how and why he became the close with a wild and beautiful flock of birds.

In his Siksasamuccaya, Shantideva delivers a beautiful teaching on the significance of the Buddha having reached Enlightenment.  He comments that, metaphorically, we should all be dwelling in a quiet and serene place in our hearts and minds, even if we do not have the opportunity be in such as place physically.  In this respect, we see how Mark Bittner has so well achieved this goal in the face of huge personal and public obstacles.  In addition, Mark takes this precious kind of solitude and uses it to care for a group of beings that otherwise would have no help in a large and very inhospitable city.

 
   

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Explicit Dharma

 
       
   

A Zen Life - D.T Suzuki

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870–1966) was one of the 20th century’s most important writers and thinkers. During his long and extraordinarily fruitful life Suzuki became a preeminent voice of Japanese Zen Buddhism. He traveled and lectured widely. His impact on religious, artistic and philosophical thinking  continues to this day. Figures of the 20th century who acknowledged Suzuki’s impact on their work and thought include Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Martin Heidegger, Merce Cunningham, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, John Cage, and Alan Watts. A Zen Life is the first documentary film to present the extraordinary life of D.T. Suzuki. This vivid portrait of the man and his times includes rare footage of Suzuki himself and reminiscences by many whose lives and thinking he influenced, including poet Gary Snyder, religious philosopher Huston Smith, author Donald Richie, psychiatrist Albert Stunkard, and Suzuki’s long-time assistant Mihoko Okamura and many others.

   
   

The Words of My Perfect Teacher

From the streets of London and New York to the World Cup in Germany to the mystical mountain kingdom of Bhutan, Words of My Perfect Teacher follows three students on a quest for enlightenment. These students are ready to be taught the path except that they have no idea that their very teacher may seem the greatest obstacle. Dzongsar Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche may be one of the world’s most eminent Buddhist teachers, but it’s a job description he seems to reject at every turn. A citizen of the world and as fascinated by soccer and filmmaking, Dzongsar Khyentse constantly confounds all attempts at easy categorization.

Taking its title from the writings of 13th-century Tibetan Lama Patrul Rinpoche, the film’s point of view is inspired by Buddhist wisdom.  The mind is the starting point of all suffering and the source of closed hearts and entrenched views. Dzongsar Khyentse teaches by defying easy definition, forcing his students to turn inward and confront their own expectations and desires.

When filmmaker Lesley Ann Patten informed Dzongsar Khyentse that she wished to make a film about him, he performed a “mo” or spiritual divination, to predict the outcome. The result he reported: “barely enough grass to feed a goat for half a day.” Patten sets out to make a film about her teacher, but he quickly turns the tables on her, and the film becomes part of the filmmaker’s own quest for spiritual growth. Words of My Perfect Teacher lets us share this quest as we accompany Patten on a delightful and intimate adventure.

   
Unmistaken Child
 

Unmistaken Child

Unmistaken Child follows the 4-year search for the reincarnation of Lama Konchog, a Tibetan master who passed away in 2001 at the age of 84. The Dalai Lama charges the deceased monk's devoted disciple, Tenzin Zopa (who had been in his service since the age of seven), to search for his master's reincarnation. Tenzin sets off on this unforgettable quest on foot, mule and even helicopter, through breathtaking landscapes and remote traditional Tibetan villages. Along the way, Tenzin listens to stories about young children with special characteristics, and performs rarely seen tests designed to find the reincarnated master. He eventually presents the child he believes to be his reincarnated master to the Dalai Lama so that he can make the final decision.

   
   

Doing Time Doing Vipassana

Doing Time Doing Vipassana documents the story of Kiran Bedi, the former Inspector General of Prisons in New Delhi, who transformed the notorious Tihar Prison by offering inmates the opportunity to practice Vipassana. The film is inspirational in its depiction of prison inmates who were lead to see that life is a precious gift and that the causes for happiness can be cultivated even while in prison. We see too how their success leads to the Indian Government deciding to allow Vipassana into all the country's prisons. Through the moving depiction of the inmates changes we see directly the powerful force of the dharma and that impermanence can be employed to our greatest advantage.

   
   

Crazy Wisdom: The Life & Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Crazy Wisdom explores the life, teachings, and "crazy wisdom" of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a pivotal figure in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Called a genius, rascal, and social visionary, 'one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the 20th century,' and 'the bad boy of Buddhism,' Trungpa defied categorization. Raised and trained in the Tibetan monastic tradition, Trungpa came to the West and shattered our preconceived notions about how an enlightened teacher should behave - he openly smoked, drank, and had intimate relations with students - yet his teachings are recognized as authentic, vast, and influential. Twenty years after his death, Crazy Wisdom looks at the man and the myths about him, in an interesting and unflinching way.

     
   

Eliminating Inner Anger/Kundalini Yoga: The Yoga of Awareness Series

Following on Lama Marut’s theme of “living simply and happily,” I have decided to point out this yoga series presented by Yogi Bhajan. This is a live class taped in the late 1980's with Yogi Bhajan and his students. Summer is indeed a great time to shed all the unnecessary elements of life and to get down to basics. Hopefully this yoga series by Yogi Bhajan can help.

     
   

Dalai Lama: Renaissance

At the cusp of the new Millennium, forty visionaries and innovative thinkers left the United States with high expectations of changing the world. They set off for India to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence at the mystical foothills of the Himalayas. Expectations were very high for this five-day series of discussions about how to change the world and solve some of its most crucial problems by creating solutions from a "synthesis" of their varied disciplines. Artists, scholars, physicists, astronomers, business leaders, doctors and authors all longed to meet and speak directly with the Dalai Lama. His Holiness became a mythic figure who could and would transform each person and bring about the kind of alchemy and action that all expected to occur. All participants, including the Dalai Lama, were taking the gathering very seriously and holding high hopes of affecting real positive change in the world on a profound level. What happened surprised them all.

     
Mahabharata
 

The Mahabharata

Following the wonderful teachings on the Bhagavad Gita by Lama Marut, I would be remiss not to recommend the interesting screen adaptation of the Mahabharata by Peter Brook. The epic poem was first condensed by Mr. Brook to a nine hour stage version and then further reduced to a six hour version for theatrical release. The version available to us now is a four hour program for broadcast and DVD release. In Mr. Brook’s version, the elusive concept of dharma suffuses all. In one of his commentaries for this television version, Mr. Brook explains how the story focuses on a remorseless conflict between cousins, the Pandava and the Kaurava. That conflict, he notes, is "not between good and evil, but between order and chaos, between dharma and its opposite." He adds: "Everything that preserves dharma is of essential value. Everything else merely helps the world slide deeper into darkness." Indeed.

     
    The Dalai Lama: Peace and Prosperity

With the New Year right around the corner, many of us will begin to think about the year ahead. Often, in these times, we think of how our next year might be more filled with peace and prosperity than the last. In 2007, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appeared to a sold-out crowd at Radio City Music Hall to discuss the ways that individuals can best cultivate virtuous qualities within themselves to bring about these very goals. In his address, His Holiness the Dalai Lama further expands upon his desire to promote religious harmony and tolerance among all the countries and peoples of the world. The film includes a question and answer session with candid responses from His Holiness on such topics as achieving inner peace in the chaotic environs of New York City, the difficulty of converting the practice of patience from a theoretical teaching to an everyday reality and the challenges of remaining hopeful in a violent world. Hopefully this film will help you to bring about whatever resolution you may have. No matter what resolution you may have, may you have a very happy New Year!!!

     
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  Kumbh Mela: Songs of the River

The Kumbh Mela is a four thousand year old festival which erects temporary cities along the Ganges River in order to enact the "Festival of the Urn" where the gods are said to pour out the nectar of immortality to Humanity. In Kumbh Mela: Songs of the River , this great festival is depicted during the super auspicious 2001 event that was not just the final Kumbh Mela in a 12-year cycle of festivals. It was the final festival of 12 cycles - the conclusion of a giant 144-year cycle, making it "Maha" Kumbh Mela. The 2001 Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India was the largest gathering of humanity in recorded history. Even the planets and stars joined in, providing heavenly alignments not seen for 144 years. Here, East joined West at the opening of the 21st Century. Roughly 70 million people came from all over the globe to pray for peace and rebirth for self and the world, truly a meeting of ancient and future in a remarkable moment. During this spectacular and auspicious festival, the viewer is given great insight into a different culture's rituals and a chance

 
     
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  Call it Karma

Call it Karma tells the story of the friendship between filmmaker Geoff Browne and a young Tibetan monk, Gyalten Rinpoche. Early in his life, Rinpoche was sent by his Lama to walk 1,000 miles across the rooftop of the world and into the sacred lands of India. After six years and the founding of a Buddhist center in Vancouver, Rinpoche befriends Geoff Browne. The two then embark on an emotional return to the Rinpoche's village. The journey has inspired Geoff to retell his friend's remarkable life story and to share with audiences a wonderful tale of devoted practice.

 
     
    Dalai Lama - Discourse On The Heart Sutra

What more is to be said? In this very simple DVD, director Zazuo Kikuchi, asks the Dalai Lama about the Heart Sutra. His Holiness responds with explanations that will help the new Dharma student and the experienced practitioner alike.

 
     
    Recalling a Buddha: Memories of HH Karmapa XVI

Written and directed by Gregg Eller, Recalling a Buddha: Memories of HH Karmapa XVI, tells the life story of His Holiness Karmapa XVI. The film is compellingly comprised of stories from the generation of teachers that he trained, and many others that he touched. The film looks closely at HH Karmapa XVI's very special qualities and frames them amidst historical events and the cultural context of Buddhism's migration to the West.

 
     
DF
  Ikiru

Ikiru is Akira Kurosawa's version of "It's a Wonderful Life". In it, Kanji Watanabe is a longtime bureaucrat in a city office who, along with the rest of the office, spends his entire working life doing nothing. He learns he is dying of cancer and wants to find some meaning in his life. He finds himself unable to talk with his family, and spends a night on the town with a novelist, but that leaves him unfulfilled. He next spends time with a young woman from his office, but finally decides he can make a difference through his job. After Watanabe's death, co-workers at his funeral discuss his behavior over the last several months and debate why he suddenly became assertive in his job to promote a city park, and resolve to be more like Watanabe. For the Dharma student who seeks to bring their practice more fully into his or her daily life and who would like to revel in yet another wonderful film by Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru is a great choice.

 
     
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  The Dhamma Brothers

The Dhamma Brothers documents the extraordinary convergence of an overcrowded, understaffed maximum-security prison and an ancient meditation technique. Within the walls of Donaldson Correctional Facility, considered the end of the line in the Alabama Correctional system, a network of men began to gather to meditate on a regular basis. Hearing of this, Jenny Phillips, a cultural Anthropologist, becomes interested in the possibilities that she knows meditation might offer the inmates.   After visiting Donaldson herself and speaking directly with the inmates, Jenny contacts the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. After a year of planning between the prison and the Vipassana staff, Donaldson Correctional Facility became, in January 2002, the first prison in North America to hold a 10-day Vipassana retreat. The film, Dhamma Brothers, opened in Los Angeles on April 9 th .   More information can be found at the website: www.dhammabrothers.com

 
     
    Visioning Tibet

Visioning Tibet chronicles the passion of two San Francisco based ophthalmologists: Marc Lieberman MD, founder of the Tibet Vision Project and Melvyn D. Bert MD, director of Lhasa Eye Program. Their mission: to end preventable blindness in Tibet - which has the highest rate of untreated cataract blindness in the world - by 2020. Bringing light where there was once darkness, Lieberman's work has been recognized by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which named him 2003 Humanitarian of the Year. The film is built around the stories of two Tibetans - Karma (a farmer from a small village in Northern Tibet) and Lhasang (patriarch of a nomadic family from the Tibetan plains) - who make the arduous journey to a remote clinic in the hopes of having their sight restored by Tibetan doctors trained by Dr. Lieberman and Dr. Bert.

 
     
DF
  Gandhi

Although this category is usually reserved for non-fiction titles, Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, is a tale so well told that even in its fiction it arrives at a truthful portrait of a great man, leader, and saint. Thanks in addition to a marvelous performance by Ben Kingsley in the title role, Gandhi faithfully portrays the journey of the English educated lawyer who begins his fight against social injustice in South Africa and eventually turns his attention to the mistreatment of the Indian people at the hands of the occupying British power. In the film, we see directly how wisdom and compassion will always triumph over ignorance and hatred and that when one is armed with an honest love for justice and the good, there is no adversary that cannot be overcome, even the mighty British empire.

 
     
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  A Path to Happiness

In this 4-hour DVD set, the Dalai Lama discusses thoroughly not only the philosophical foundations for happiness but also the actual means for achieving this sometimes elusive state.  Beginning with meditation, His Holiness discusses ways to develop the compassionate mind.  Once we begin to develop a basic awareness of compassion, our minds begin to understand bodhicitta, or compassion based on correct view.  Once we begin to develop even the slightest amount of bodhicitta, our minds seem an entirely new place and we are able to see the actual cause of happiness.  As Shantideva famously writes, “All suffering comes from the wish for your own happiness” and, as the Dalai Lama points out, all happiness comes from the desire to alleviate the suffering of others.

 
     
    The Yatra Trilogy

In this series of films by John Bush, the viewer is treated to three powerful journeys into Buddhist Culture and other wisdom traditions in Tibet, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Bali. For those of you in Los Angeles, all three films are being shown this weekend at The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. For others interested in the films, you can find more information at: http://www.directpictures.com/trilogy.html. Enjoy!

 
     
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  The Saltmen of Tibet (2)

In Tibet's Changtang region, nomads harvest salt to buy barley. A clan prepares four of its men for an annual trek to Lake Tsento, where they rake salt from shoals into piles, then into bags, and onto their yaks to return, 90-days in all. After picking an auspicious day to depart, they feast, sing, tell stories, and race horses. All is ritualized: Margen cooks, Pargen prepares burnt offerings and distributes meat, Zopon cares for the caravan of 160 yaks, Bopsa bends his strong back to arduous work. To each other they speak the secret language of saltmen; they pray and observe exemplary behavior and hope that the goddess of the lake will smile upon them.  In this true life depiction of the salt trade portrayed in the fictional film, Himalaya, we see the life of rural Tibetans and the ways in which dharma imbues their everyday actions with a sense of purpose and reverence.

 
     
Buddha's Lost Children
  Buddha's Lost Children

In the borderlands of Thailand's Golden Triangle, a rugged region known for its drug smuggling and impoverished hill tribes, one man devotes himself to the welfare of the region's children. A former Thai boxer, turned Buddhist monk, Phra Khru Bah Neua Chai Kositto (also known as the Tiger Monk), travels widely on horseback, fearlessly dispensing prayers, health care, education and tough love to villagers far from the protection and support of governments or non-governmental organizations. With his Golden Horse Temple he's built an orphanage, school and clinic - a haven for the children of the region, who see him as a shaman, father figure and coach. Buddha’s Lost Children gives great insight into a region and a culture that is often not represented outside of tales of the Golden Triangle and shows the tremendous power of one individual motivated by compassion.

 
     
Amongst White Clouds
  Amongst White Clouds

American director Edward A. Burger takes us on his unforgettable journey into the hidden lives of China's forgotten Zen Buddhist hermit tradition. Amongst White Clouds is a look at the lives of zealous students, gaunt ascetics and wise masters living in isolated hermitages dotting the peaks and valleys of China's Zhongnan Mountain range. As we learn, the Zhongnan Mountains have been home to recluses since the time of the Yellow Emperor, some five thousand years ago. It is widely thought though, that this tradition was wiped out by the events of the last century in China. Amongst White Clouds shows us this is not the case. One of only a few foreigners to have lived and studied with these hidden sages, Burger reveals to us their tradition, their wisdom, and the hardship and joy of their everyday lives. With both humor and compassion, these inspiring and warm-hearted characters challenge us to join them in an exploration of our own suffering and enlightenment in this modern world.

 
     

  On Life and Enlightenment: Principles of Buddhism with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In this gorgeous cinematic tour-de-force by Ron Fricke, the meaning of the word “Baraka” (Arabic for “spiritual wisdom or blessing transmitted from God”) is explored within the ancient spiritual traditions of the world. In places as diverse as the Canyon Lands of Utah, the cityscapes of New York, the Zen Monasteries of Kyoto, and the Ghats of Banares, the images of the film (accompanied only by music) make for a poetic meditation on the sublimnity and preciousness of each moment of our lives and the delicate balance that grants each of us our place in the world. (Note for Los Angeles based readers: This film screens semi-regularly at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in its original 70mm format. It is an experience not to be missed!)

 
     

  Baraka

In this gorgeous cinematic tour-de-force by Ron Fricke, the meaning of the word “Baraka” (Arabic for “spiritual wisdom or blessing transmitted from God”) is explored within the ancient spiritual traditions of the world. In places as diverse as the Canyon Lands of Utah, the cityscapes of New York, the Zen Monasteries of Kyoto, and the Ghats of Banares, the images of the film (accompanied only by music) make for a poetic meditation on the sublimnity and preciousness of each moment of our lives and the delicate balance that grants each of us our place in the world. (Note for Los Angeles based readers: This film screens semi-regularly at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in its original 70mm format. It is an experience not to be missed!)

 
     

  10 Questions for the Dalai Lama

Could it get more explicit than this? In his film, 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, filmmaker Rick Ray answers the famous dinner party question, “If you could meet any one in the whole world, who would it be?” Fortunately, his answer is more than just idle dinner party conversation. In 85 minutes, Ray weaves together observations from his own journeys throughout India and the Middle East, and the wisdom of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The film also contains rare historical footage as well as footage supplied by individuals who at great personal risk, filmed with hidden cameras within Tibet.

 
     

  A Brief History of Time

“I wanted to understand how the universe began.” With this simple goal, Stephen Hawking set upon his work as an astrophysicist. Luckily for us, the accomplished documentarian, Errol Morris, wanted to understand how the great physicist, Stephen Hawking, began this quest. Much less dense than the book of the same name, the film A Brief History of Time is a great accomplishment and an interesting way to see one man’s journey into the largest scientific questions of our day.

 
     

  Into Great Silence

Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world's most ascetic monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks' quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light.

 
     

  Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy

Four years in the making Tibet: a Buddhist Trilogy played to international acclaim following its release in 1979. Now made available in the US by Festival Media, it includes additional materials and a new commentary. Greeted by very positive reviews at its release, the trilogy brings you face to face with the unbroken continuity of Tibet's ancient culture. In 1977, when the film was made, the Tibetan way of life was still resonant with its ancient past and the Dalai Lama relatively unknown on the world stage. From a portrait of the Dalai Lama to an unprecedented revelation of the mystical world of monastic life this film takes you on an intimate journey deep into the heart of an ancient Buddhist culture.

 
     

  Lion’s Roar, The Life and Times of His Holiness Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa

This film gives an excellent opportunity to become familiar with the lineage of the Karmapas, the leaders of the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The Kagyu trace their lineage directly through Tibet‘s great teachers Milarepa and Marpa to India‘s Naropa and Tilopa all the way back to the Shakyamuni Buddha. Although the current 17th, Karmapa is a more quiet (but fiercely wise) incarnation, the 16th Karmapa is a famously charismatic figure who was responsible for the first experience that many Westerners had of Buddhism as they came East in the 60’s and 70’s.

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, was born in Tibet in 1924. During the 1959 invasion by the People‘s Republic of China, the Karmapa left Tibet and settled in Rumtek, Sikkim, India. The construction of his new Rumtek monastery was completed in 1966. In 1974, the Karmapa set out on his first world tour; he undertook a second tour in 1977. While traveling in 1981, he died in Zion, Illinois, north of Chicago. He was returned to Rumtek for cremation.

The film journeys with him in North America where he visited the Hopi Nation, offered teachings and performed the Black Crown Ceremony (Vajra Makut), enjoyed everything from zoos to video arcades, and initiated the construction of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York, the seat of his lineage in North America.

 
     

  The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus

In this documentary, the Dalai Lama gathers with notable Christian theologians at a four day conference in London to discuss the similarities and differences in Christianity and Buddhism. Hosted with the usual charm and endearing spirit of His Holiness the film is a very informative and interesting teaching on how we can take the teachings Of Jesus and understand them in terms of a Buddhist practice. Being as that he’s “the reason for the season” it seems like a perfect time to spend a little time contemplating the good qualities of this very important teacher.

 
     

  Peace Is Every Step

Speaking of mastering the art of living with the truth of impermanence, Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh has had a profound impact not only on contemporary thinking and social action but also on the lives of many practitioners. His efforts to achieve an early peaceful end to the American war in Vietnam earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a forty-year exile from his homeland. Peace Is Every Step is an intimate and direct portrait of a monk who has lived through war and fought back with meditation, love and grace under fire. The fine documentary shows what can be achieved by living mindfully and with an insight into the inescapability of change.

 
     

  Water

Deepa Mehta’s Water is set in the 1930s during the rise of the independence struggles against British colonial rule. The film examines the plight of a group of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi. It focuses on a relationship between one of the widows, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a man who is from a lower caste and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. In Water, the tension between the past and the future is beautifully and tragically played out in the lives of the widows whose misfortunes in the past seem to ensure a tragic future. However, both in the film and the mind of the practitioner, the misfortune of the past need not predetermine future misfortune.

 
     
 

Samsara

During a routine trip to bless the harvest of a local community, Tashi, a dedicated and well respected monk, becomes attracted to the daughter of a local farmer.  In the story that follows, Tashi is lead to choose between the monastic life that he cherishes and the life of a layperson and the ‘samsaric’ joys therein.  The classic conundrum of choosing between the inner and the outer life is framed interestingly in this film as a sort of reverse tale of the Buddha’s own choice between life as a renunciate or as a lay person.  Made in the Ladakh region of India, this is a beautifully made film.

 
     
 

We're No Monks


OK, this is not so much explicit dharma as it is explicit Tibetan culture with explicit dharma questions. The film plays out in McLeod Ganj- a village tucked away in the foothills of the North Indian Himalaya that is the hub of Tibetan activities and the home of the Tibetan government in exile. It is a place where many Tibetan refugees live with hopes of returning to Tibet... But it is also a place where a new generation of Tibetans has grown up in exile. This is a changed generation and their dreams, desires and aspirations are different. We're No Monks is their story.

It follows four friends as they find solace from family and societal expectations. Their place of refuge is not a temple, but a café. It is a perfect little place for unemployed and rejected youth to share and vent their emotions. But, the local community looks at Shiva cafe in contempt. They think it is the source of all things illegal. This culture of contempt shadows the boys as they organize a party to raise funds for a woman who has just arrived from Tibet and needs immediate medication. After the party and some drunken pranks, and the excessive bullying by a manipulative police officer, one of the boys gets pushed to a violent mission for Tibet's freedom. Can Tibetan freedom come through violence? Can an individual find peace through manipulation? Can we escape the mental afflictions that govern our actions in this life? Do they end with death?

 
     
 

Himalaya

Originally released in Asia under the name Caravan, Himalaya is both a fascinating portrait of traditional life in the Dolpo region of Nepal and wonderful drama that portrays the conflict between a village’s elders and its youth.  In this remote region of Nepal, the annual caravan where one village trades its barley for another village’s salt is a vital part of the village’s survival through the winter.  As the film begins, the ripening barley shows that the fall is quickly turning to winter.  When the date to begin the annual caravan is not granted by the village’s oracle, members of the younger generation defy the elders and, citing the approaching winter, decide to undertake the caravan despite the oracle’s advice to wait.  As the younger, less experienced generation makes its peril filled way, many of the subtle traditions and ways of life of the remote regions of Tibet and Nepal are reveled in a very satisfying blend of beautiful cinematography and poignant drama.

 
     
 

The Burmese Harp

Based on a novel by Michio Takeyama, The Burmese Harp was the first film that brought director Kon Ichikawa to international attention. It is the story of Mizushima (Shoji Yasui) a Japanese soldier in Burma at the close of World War Two who is sent on a mission by his Captain to inform another unit of the Japanese surrender and to convince them to surrender. When the unit does not surrender and is destroyed by the British Army, Mizushima must come to terms with his nation's defeat. Pretending to be a Buddhist monk, he finds true renunciation as he travels across the region in search of his unit and comes face to face with the staggering amount of death and destruction brought by the war. Determined to honor and bury the dead, Mizushima is conflicted about remaining in Burma to live a life of service or returning to Japan to help rebuild his own country.

The film takes its name from a Burmese harp acquired by Mizushima. He has become an expert harpist and plays while the soldiers sing beautiful chorales. While the depiction of the soldiers may be idealized, The Burmese Harp transcends its limitations to become a universal testament not only to the madness that prevailed in Burma, but also to the unspeakable horror of all war. Ichikawa, in spite of the fact that film became a classic, loved the story so much that he filmed it again in 1985.

 
     
 

The Saltmen of Tibet (1)

Shot under extreme conditions in one of the world's most remote locations, The Saltmen of Tibet is a work of sublime beauty and epic scale. Documenting the ancient traditions and day-to-day rituals of a Tibetan nomadic community, filmmaker Ulrike Koch transports us into a realm untainted by the tides of foreign invasion or encroaching modernity. Observing age-old taboos and steadfast homage to the deities of nature, four men meticulously plan their grueling three-month yak caravan to fetch "the tears of Tara," the precious salt from the holy lakes of northern Tibet. The Saltmen of Tibet is a breathtaking collage of image and sound-a majestic tribute to the purity of a landscape, people and tradition facing extinction.

 
     
 

The Yogis of Tibet

Before 1959, there were 6,000 monasteries in Tibet, and one in every six males was a monk.  Many of these monks not only studied science, philosophy, the arts, and medicine but also often perfected spiritual disciplines in remote retreats.  It is these rarely discussed and often hidden practices that this film describes. Realizing that their tradition and impact on the future is now threatened, H.E. Choje Togden Rinpoche, H.E. Garchen Rinpoche, Ven Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche, H.E. Chetsang Rinpoche, and H.H. the Dalai Lama discuss teachings passed down through the generations about meditation, controlling the mind, and eliminating suffering for all beings.

The last section of the film focuses on the spiritual practice of compassion. The Dalai Lama tells about a Tibetan monk imprisoned by the Chinese who felt that the only danger he experienced was when he stopped loving his enemies. American Buddhist teacher Robert Thurman has called Tibetan monks and yogis "supreme artists of life." No wonder they are spreading the dharma all over the world. Yogis are now teaching in the United States, and their mind control techniques and example of inner freedom and peace continue to earn the respect of their students. This inspiring and edifying film allows an even wider audience to appreciate the special spiritual gifts of the yogis of Tibet.

 
     
 

The Cup

While the world is following every fast break, goal, and penalty of the World Cup in France, two young Tibetan refugees arrive at a monastery/boarding school in exile in India.  Unknown to the monastery these young boys are bringing much more than the average young novice; they carry with them a heavy case of soccer fever.  The primary culprit in spreading the fever is Orgyen who sets out to organize the rental of a TV set for the monastery when he is prevented by various circumstances from seeing the Cup finals on television.  The enterprise becomes a test of solidarity, resourcefulness and friendship for the students, while the Lama contemplates the challenges of teaching the word of Buddha in a rapidly changing world.

 
     
 

Travelers and Magicians

In this film by Khyentse Norbu (The Cup), two men embark on parallel, if separate, journeys. Their yearning is a common one--for a better and different life. Dondup, delayed by the timeless pace of his village, is forced to hitchhike through the beautiful wild countryside of Bhutan to reach his goal. He shares the road with a monk, an apple seller, a papermaker and his beautiful young daughter, Sonam. Throughout the journey, the perceptive yet mischievous monk relates the story of Tashi. It is a mystical fable of lust, jealousy and murder, that holds up a mirror to the restless Dondup.   The cataclysmic conclusion of the monk's tale leaves Dondup with a dilemma, can one find happiness by finding it in the outside world?

 
     
 

Ong-Bak

This wonderful Thai film is a great summer diversion with a fairy tale premise and more than enough martial arts action to satisfy even the most demanding Hong Kong aficionado.  When the head of Ong-Bak, the sacred Buddha of a poor village is stolen, the town’s young hero (Ting) is sent to Bangkok to retrieve it from a notorious crime gang.  While new to the city, Ting is no usual country lad.  Ting is not only an incomparable martial arts master, but he has a special affinity with the statue.  In the dangerous pursuit that follows, martial arts scenes that go beyond the standards set by Bruce Lee always impress and Ting’s selfless discipline as he risks his life for the good of his village is a great example of the power that comes from doing good with the best interests of others in your heart.

 
     
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