“THE LAST DALAI LAMA?”— What Matters

“THE LAST DALAI LAMA?”

What Matters

Amos Lassen

Mickey Lemle’s documentary, “THE LAST DALAI LAMA?”  looks at what is truly important for the 14th Dalai Lama who is now eighty-years-old. We hear what he has to say about the ongoing confrontation between Tibet and China; his influence in political and spiritual spheres; his work with educators and neuropsychologists; and his personal feelings on aging, dying. Of course there is the question as to whether there will be a fifteenth Dalai Lama, or if he will be the last Dalai Lama?

We meet the Dalai Lama as he is full of compassion, humor, and even anger and we meet those who have been touched by his influence including George and composer, Philip Glass who wrote the music for this film. Director Lemle also directed “Compassion in Exile: The Story of the 14th Dalai Lama” and uses some of the footage from that film which he adds to the newer more contemporary film we have here. Included are intimate interviews with the Dalai Lama and then questions that have arisen from those earlier interviews. We also hear from family and close friends and from those he has inspired since his exile from Tibet in 1959.  We are certainly aware that the Dalai Lama’s impact on the West has grown over the 25 years since Lemle’s earlier film. In the new film, we see teachers in British Columbia incorporating “Emotional Intelligence” and non-violent conflict resolution in grade school classes, and “neuropsychologists and behavioral therapists who have begun using cutting edge technology to research how to overcome negative afflictive emotions like anger and hatred”. 

The Dalai Lama has lived most of his life in exile and we can suppose that the reason he has such longevity and such good friends is the result of good karma. But then we must consider that due to the worsening human rights situation in his Tibetan homeland, he might be the final Dalai Lama to reincarnate. He has been on the world stage since he was a teen and when he was only nineteen, he led a delegation to meet with Tibet’s Chinese occupiers. Initially, he thought he had persuaded Mao and Zhou to allow his people greater freedom of conscience, but that was not the case. Eventually, he was forced into exile. In doing so, he became one of the world’s great statesmen and spiritual leaders. Ironically, in exile he would spread Tibetan Buddhism farther than it had ever reached before. His commitment to emotional health and awareness always transcends faiths and religions.

The first half of the film is largely devoted to various educational endeavors that promote healthy mindfulness rather than Buddhist doctrine. However, the title of the film asks a larger question and we have heard directly from him that he does not expect to reincarnate again—and if he does, it will absolutely not be in Tibet. China insists that the Communist Party must play an active role in “selecting” the reincarnate Dalai Lama, just as they did with the contested Panchen Lama, whom virtually all Tibetans consider an illegitimate puppet. The Panchen Lama officially recognized by the 14th Dalai Lama has been held incommunicado since 1995. He was six years old at the time.

The film does not give us a great deal about China’s systematic violation of human rights in the captive nation or their ruin of the once pristine environment. However, the film does directly address the surge in Tibetan self-immolation to protest the occupation and this deeply pains The Dalai Lama . It also starkly contrasts the militarism of the invading Communists with the humanistic, nonviolent principles of Tibetan Buddhism.

The 14th Dalai Lama is a warm, charismatic, and witty person and has stated that if China’s communist party now believes in reincarnation so strongly, they should go find the reincarnated Mao. Lemle, was able to secure first-class access and continued to share a real rapport with his subject that began with his earlier film.

The film will open in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica Film Center on August 11, and at IFC Center in New York on July 28. A national release will follow.

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