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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Movie review -- "Daughters of Wisdom"

May 19, 2008

All work ­ and some joyful play ­ in a utopian monastery
By Tom Keogh
Special to The Seattle Times
May 16, 2008

"Daughters of Wisdom," a documentary written and directed by Bari
Pearlman. 68 minutes. In Tibetan with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.

"Women are born into suffering," says a Buddhist nun in Bari
Pearlman's mesmerizing documentary "Daughters of Wisdom."

No doubt. But for the Tibetan holy woman voicing that observation,
the statement has a profound double meaning. The nuns of Buddhist
monastery Kala Rongo ­ set in an Edenic valley in Nangchen, below
monolithic peaks oof white-and-pink rock ­ believe the labors and
burdens of women in  the ordinary world are major distractions from
the pursuit of enlightenment.

Yet Kala Rongo is no picnic, either, despite many scenes in the film
of spontaneous joy suggesting the happy, Tibetan-like paradise of
Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon" was really onto something. Women of all
ages live an austere if colorful existence at Kala Rongo, working
outdoors, building additions to the monastery, cooking and cleaning.

On top of that daily, chop-wood-carry-water ethic, the more ambitious
seekers of a clear mind ­ trying to become free of the cycle of
reincarnnation ­ spend years in intense meditation. Cut off from
family and  friends, they can spend most of their days painfully
cross-legged in tight boxes.

But perhaps the greatest trial for the nuns of Kala Rongo is their
uniqueness. Before the Communist Chinese army banned Buddhism and
began destroying spiritual and education centers in Tibet, Nangchen
was a haven for such places, serving men and women alike.

With the crackdown beginning in 1958, the lama who created and guided
Kala Rongo fled to America. It took many years for the Chinese
government to approve the reopening of the monastery, and even then
the nuns had to work against a cultural bias claiming women are unfit
for the discipline of their practices.

Pearlman's remarkable access to events at Kala Rongo ­ including thhe
emotional return of its founding lama a few years ago ­ dismissess
such silly arguments. The rigors of meditation and communal living
are hard but not harsh. The nuns who speak to Pearlman in humble,
hushed voices clearly have a sense of freedom living beyond the wants
of mainstream life. One nun even received permission from the lama to
live in a cave.

The film's subject matter is compelling enough. But what really makes
"Daughters of Wisdom" a magical experience is the way Pearlman
captures life in that valley. Open and expansive, the endless green
fields and hills below those bold peaks have a utopian quality, full
of the laughter of people engaged in work and play (a tug-of-war
contest with a long rope is an unexpected treat). Kala Rongo and a
couple of other structures, including a new monastic college, blend
gracefully with the fantastic, natural backdrop.

If this is what slowing the cycle of existence looks like, one could do worse.
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