Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Okay, so the Dalai Lama may not be the prophet Jesus was, but he plays on a much wider stage, and in real time, and he speaks English. So he’s about the best we’ve got, the one person in the world who can be looked up to for moral authority, in a world that needs nothing so much as moral authority. While Roman Catholics and Thai Buddhists are embroiled in sex scandals that can no longer be explained away with a shrug of the shoulders and a “comes with the turf” attitude… and fundamentalist Muslim mullahs and imams tempt the gullible to travel heavenward by a shortcut that includes self-annihilation… and equally fundamentalist US Southern Baptists and Mormons mix their religion and politics instead of mixing their drinks… and Jewish leaders give the nod to Israeli aggression… it’s nice to know that someone- at least one major religious leader in the world- is quietly concentrating on the business at hand… individual happiness.

For those religious skeptics out there, the process by which the Dalai Lama is chosen/non-chosen must be as exasperating as religion itself. After all, how is a Dalai Lama simply reincarnated/reborn/manifested out there in the countryside somewhere, only later to be confirmed by testing and rigorous examination of details about which only the One would know? Such things defy reason… but that’s the point. Now maybe they just got lucky, and happened to choose someone who turned out to become a religious master, or maybe he’s just a very adept student… but that’s a win/win situation, not a victory of nurture over nature. Or maybe he really IS the reincarnation of something/someone who is more spiritual than material. It’s no accident that Jesus came along right as we were losing our instinctual spirituality and trading it for a philosophical one. And it’s no accident that the Dalai Lama is on the world stage at the same time that China completes its dialectically materialistic rebirth/return to prominence after a long self-imposed detour into self-doubt.

‘Dalai Lama Renaissance’ is the award-winning documentary- produced and directed by Kasyar Darvich and narrated by Harrison Ford- that resulted from the Dalai Lama’s meeting a decade ago with the so-called ‘Synthesis Group’ of forty Western ‘renaissance’ thinkers, and some of the thought that resulted. But even more than their thought, it documents the simple direct yet thorough religious thought of the Dalai Lama himself, vast yet disciplined… like the sea (‘Dalai’) itself. The Western thinkers, after all, came with their own viewpoints and prejudices, and though certainly well-intentioned, also full of opinions not always without controversy, and not always accepted by their peers in their respected sciences. These are, for example, some of the same physicists featured in What the Bleep Do We Know?, a documentary similar in message, that caused much controversy by its misrepresentation of scientific opinion, especially the continuing efforts by some to postulate a ‘quantum religion’ that dates back at least to The Tao of Physics. Despite harsh denials by physics’ best minds, this is an effort that somehow tries to elevate physics’ Uncertainty Principle into a metaphysical category. The distinction is simple, if often missed. Religion is about certainties, and the belief systems that are both cause and effect of that. Science is about theory, and the testing that produces it and results from it. The two activities are not the same thing. To ‘believe’ in science is a contradiction in terms.

Fortunately the Dalai Lama is disciplined enough to stay within his field and domain, which is the place of the individual- and his happiness… or not- in the world. His social message is fairly simple, similar to the Four Noble Truths themselves, and can be summarized as such: 1) change is constant, 2) man’s nature is essentially good, 3) bad things happen, 4) society can become corrupt, 5) change it.

Best of all, you can dance to it, or just listen in contented bliss. What Kasyar Darvich has accomplished cinematically, Michael Tyabji has seconded musically, pulling together a group as diverse as it is accomplished. This includes guitarist Larry Mitchell, composer Medicine Bear, The Yoginis, Heyraneh, and… the list goes on. Though incorporating many different instruments and sounds of Nature, too, the soundtrack leans heavily on classical sitar and the voice of the Dalai Lama himself, offering choice helpings of Buddhist wisdom mixed with good ol’ common sense. When the music starts to drift off into trance, the Dalai Lama’s voice brings it right back down to Earth. And if that’s not enough, you can hear Harrison Ford apparently teaching William Shatner how to rap in ‘Drops of Gold’: “words, words, words are mere bubbles of water… but deeds are drops of gold… you, yourself, must make the effort… the Buddhas are only teachers.” Cost of the soundtrack album: not so much; value of hearing Harrison Ford do Buddhist spoken word with the Dalai Lama: priceless. The release is timed to coincide with the Dalai Lama’s speaking tour of the US May 12-23. Is there Tibetan politics behind all this? Probably so, and that’s where it’ll stay. Hardie K says check it out.

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