A film by Jennifer Fox.
This film is the story of the son of Namkhai Norbu who as a tween has everything else on his mind than to accept his heritage – the spiritual tradition of his father. The film wants at least partly tell the happy ending of Yeshis refusal to accept his role as a reincarnate lama. Despite of his critical stance in younger years in the last scenes we see him jetting the world like every other famous dharma master.
But the film tells also another side of the story and this is maybe far more interesting from the point of view of an unbuddhist. Jennifer Fox does not show the usual stereotypes of western tibetan buddhism, the kitsch which is well established in the film industries and which is a defining moment of what buddhism is today. Fox shows a skeptical young italian who wants a good life in the modern world and who has no interest in tibetan culture at all. A young man who since his childhood is told that he is the reincarnation of the teacher and uncle of his father but has absolutely no intention to follow in the footsteps of his famous father. Fox shows also Namkhai Norbu in very private settings, being with his early followers in Italy, during his cancer treatment, with his family, swimming at the beach in Margarita, relaxing… and she lets a good deal of the normalness filter through. What she does not show is the usual buddhist mumbo jumbo sweetened with strange voices from the snow-lands pretending to guide sentient beings through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. She let us see very normal people with very normal problems.
The majority of the public will interpret this film different and perhaps this is, I think, part of the intention of the filmmaker and the protagonists. The larger part of the indoctrinated onlookers will see this as a proof of reincarnation. And really there is a lot in this film to make this point. Namkhai Norbu definitely says the mind survives the death of the physical body. So for the true believers this point is beyond doubt. But like any good documentary the film refrains from commenting and gives room for the audience to think for itself. It shows the development of the young man who grows into his role as the inheritor of a rich culture which his father holds and from which he is alienated in western Europe. It shows his skeptical mind which sees the difficult role his father grew into as a refugee who is seen by the western public as a savior. And at last it shows how he accepts his role.
Maybe this part is the one, one wishes that there might be a follow up to this film in ten or twenty years. Khyentse Yeshe, as he is called now, might be one of those people who are able to see the role which buddhism is playing in our society – a sedation. But for now it seems like he succumbed. At this crucial point the last part of the film is too superficial. One can not follow the thinking process Khyentse Yeshe is going through from being a young western european sceptic to becoming the reincarnation and stakeholder of an old tradition on which so much irrational wishful thinking is projected.
In one of the last scenes of the film we see Khyentse Yeshe talking in front of a large audience about the nature of the mind – the one central theme of dzogchen. In this scene one fears he might now just be one more lama talking something about what he has no understanding. The film has a lot of room for the protagonists to present their view. There could have been time for some talk by Khyentse Yeshe about this point – to see if he has an understanding which differs from the hoi polloi-lamas with their pseudomodern magical world view or if he falls victim to the role x-buddhism has reserved for him.