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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Insight or parody?

January 16, 2009

Decide for yourself as 'Dalai Lama Renaissance' opens the Guelcher Film Series on Wednesday.
Review by Floyd Lawrence
Contributing writer - Erie,PA, USA
Jan 15, 2009
Critical response to "Dalai Lama Renaissance" covers a broad spectrum. The reviewer for the Montreal Gazette described it as "a provocative, even enlightening film," while Film Threat magazine's critic wrote that it "plays more like a Monty Python parody of new-age workshops."
See it on Wednesday and make up your own mind. I have seen it and, at the risk of sounding like a waffler, I can see reasons for both responses.
Produced and directed by Khashyar Darvich, the documentary tracks the course of a five-day meeting of 40 people at the Dharmasala, India, residence of the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political Buddhist leader of the Tibetan people.
Invited to this place in the foothills of the Himalayas by the man referred to as "His Holiness," the group consisted of artists, scholars, physicists, astronomers, business leaders, doctors, and authors -- even a radio-show host.
No explanation is given as to why these people were selected, but it's soon obvious that they weren't picked for their mutual compatibility. They often express a wish to be fair and compassionate, but dissension erupts over a host of matters, including objections to the rigid structure of discussion imposed by facilitators.
Flip charts get crammed with information. Individuals express their wish to have their own audience with the Dalai Lama. Guests of the invitees object to being cut out of discussions. Chaos seems to lurk around the corner. It's actually quite amusing to watch a roomful of egos jostling for dominance, much like an NFL game sans the taunting and big hits.
But when the Dalai Lama himself presides over the group, the tone of the proceedings loses its fractious nature. Attendees appear to be dedicated to arriving at a "synthesis" of thought that would presumably solve some of the world's problems.
Consequently, a few of them inquire about the potential efficacy of an economic boycott against China. He responds by saying that such an action would bring too much suffering to people. Instead, he advises members of the group to first bring about change within themselves.
That's precisely what attendee and Mercyhurst religious studies faculty member Tom Forsthoefel also calmly endorses during one of his appearances. This makes him one of the more rational, insightful, and sympathetic folks there. Less sensible, perhaps, is a woman in the group who says that she'll stop wearing the comfortable made-in-China shoes she bought at a K mart. Good luck with the American shoe hunt.
Narration by Harrison Ford (where's Richard Gere when you need him?) is perfunctory, even unnecessary. Of far more interest is archival footage of the Dalai Lama walking into exile in northern India following the 1950 invasion of Tibet by China.
Images that reveal squalor and poverty appear at relevant moments in the film, but we aren't told where they were shot.
It's impossible not to view the Dalai Lama as a charismatic simple man, a shrewd thinker, capable of expressing humor in his responses and frequent giggly laugh, but equally capable of cutting to the core of a topic.
Captured by an 18-person, five-camera film crew, the beautifully photographed and edited film may raise more questions about Buddhism than it answers. I felt that way as I watched scenes that included prayer wheels and the stylized debates between monks.
But such matters belong in a different film. This one enables viewers to glean much about a man who wishes to be considered as a simple Buddhist monk -- and who just happens to have won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
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