Tricycle Film Club

Buddhist films and discussion for the
Tricycle Community

April Film Club: Monte Grande

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Monte Grande combines interviews and rare archival footage to explore the life and legacy of Chilean biologist, philosopher, and neuroscientist Francisco Varela. After becoming a Tibetan Buddhist in the 1970s, Varela became an integral figure in the burgeoning dialogue between modern science and Tibetan Buddhism, resulting in his cofounding of the Mind and Life institute with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and entrepreneur Adam Engle. The documentary combines narrative accounts and reflections from Varela, his family, and leading scientists, friends and thinkers, including the Dalai Lama and Heinz von Foerster, the father of cybernetics. The result is a meaningful integration of Varela's innovative ideas and ambitions with the self-effacing humanist, lover, and family man behind them. Varela spent his life building bridges: between Western science and Eastern wisdom, neurobiology and philosophy, abstract theory and day-to-day life.

Through the rest of the month, director Franz Reichle will be available to answer questions about the making of the film. Post a comment below and he will get back to you. You can also read his statement about filming Monte Grande here.


PLEASE NOTE: If you are having technical difficulties watching the film, please do not leave a comment below. Instead, call our support services at 1-800-873-9871 or email them at They will address your concerns promptly.

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jagoseo's picture

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oliverhow's picture

Absolutely stunning! Thank you....richard

kkdarricau's picture

I am troubling accessing the version with subtitles. Is is still available and what can I do to access it?

Andrew Gladstone's picture

This film's run ended April 30th so it is no longer available. But check back August 5th for the new film!

-Andrew Gladstone

yourneighbor57's picture

What is the book that is shown on screen - the words are "ask yourself a questions using only four words" and then "breath in, breath out" all the way down the page?

Franz Reichle's picture

this is not a book but one paper by francisco varela and his wife amy cohen varela, as participation to a art project/exhibition of ulrich obrist.

yourneighbor57's picture

Thank you. I was hoping it was something available to the public - it looked so intriguing!

jahinman3003's picture

Touching, moving, and inspiring. Thank you

Zane's picture

Thank you so much. This came at the perfect time for me, as I have been wrestling with many of these ideas particularly strongly recently.

I had come across several of Varela's ideas a couple of decades ago, such as autopoiesis, but I had never really given attention to the person who communicated these ideas. After seeing this film, it really gave me many immediately usable ideas, as well as an immense appreciation of and respect for Varela as a person, who I had basically not known about. Sort of Bateson 2.0. I immediately found and ordered a 2nd hand copy of The Tree of Life, which is the recommended introductory text for the non-specialist reader. I also signed up for the Mind and Life Institute newsletters.

But seeing and hearing him speak is really something else. The immense clarity and perceptiveness of his mind. And his ease with so many systems of thought, and that sense of play and interplay that he has with all of them, no attachment or rigidity or dogma in sight. An authentically scientific attitude, in his self-described sense of science at an ultimate level, putting technology aside, being an act of pure contemplation.

His ideas are so pertinent right now, and deserve such a greater audience. Although it seems that many colleges and universities, especially in Chile, do assign Tree of Life as required reading. So maybe they are getting that audience, just that it is more low-key. And being dead maybe isn't so useful from a mass-marketing point of view. (Joke!)

Again, thank you so much for this beautifully shot, and very sensitively and holistically constructed film. I am so very excited for when my book arrives, and I can begin my exploration of his ideas, and of his particular take on the world. Thank you!

Zane's picture

Apologies, the book is called The Tree of Knowledge, not The Tree of Life. My mistake. The glitch was from too many years of having the other phrase iterated in my brain! A perfect example of the cognitive scientific view Varela was comfortable with and critiqued, and of its potential pitfalls.
What a brilliant little book this is! It softly takes the reader's hand and leads one, gently, into a totally transformative way of viewing, experiencing, living in, and co-creating the world.
If you didn't know about Varela before, and if this film touched you, then I hugely recommend getting the book:

jboureston's picture

I loved it. Thank you for showing this film.

I'm still feeling the deepness of many of the teachings that it embodied. Such wisdom from a truly inspired and inspiring human being.

May we find a way within ourselves to keep our minds open and continue to question our lives appreciate it all as it unfolds to us.

- Jack

wilcuneo's picture

An inspiring life.... When one thinks about it, science is just the observation of phenomena within the bounds of the senses, Buddhism and the like does the same thing, but free from the boundaries set by the senses. Thank you for making this movie available. I found Mr Varela's life story inspiring and can't help but think that he would have been a fine person to call a friend :)

jdungan's picture

Does someone know whether the "subtle consciousness" that Francisco mentions at one point in the film (while discussing in a very interesting way the notion of a continuous flow of consciousness that he says is poorly translated into "reincarnation") is the same thing that Alan Wallace (who it was delightful to see speaking Tibetan in another portion of the film) calls "substrate consciousness?"

Eternal Sunshine's picture


Daisymom's picture

Loved this film, what a wonderful man! Thank you for showing it!

bradykath1's picture

An inspiring film about a man I had never heard of before. I felt I didn't quite catch the deep truths he was pointing to, something tantalisingly out of reach but deeply profound about the nature of life. Perhaps that's for another film and this was more about him and the context he was working in. Thanks to all who made the film.

thinkpaz's picture

Through this heart-warming and inspiring film, I met another teacher in my life, Francisco Varela. I was very moved by his passion, intelligence and commitment to focusing his mind on the most essential questions and mysteries of life. A remarkable achievement by the producers of Monte Grande. From my heart, I thank you. Namaste...

jeanetteslinger's picture

Thank you for introducing me to an inspiring individual! The film was very touching and I am grateful to Francisco, his family, friends and colleagues for sharing their story.

jterrasa's picture

Very beautiful and moving. Thanks!

miklos.gonda's picture

Thank you for this moving and thought-provoking film.

frodden's picture

Very much enjoyed this glimpse into an extraordinary life - thank you

kielasm's picture

What a sweet and wonderful man. His heart and mind were such a reflection of the way he experienced his existence. Thank you for sharing this film on Tricycle.

flamez's picture

This was such a moving and inspiring documentation. Thank you so much for the opportunity to watch it on tricycle film club. Much better than any program on television!

mpuenteduany's picture

I found this film too conceptual, philosophical, academic. Too much like a lecture in a college philosophy class, but I guess there are all flavors of Buddhism. I prefer a more experiential approach...masters who have transformed their lives and used their deaths for spiritual advancement.

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Hi Everyone,
Our apologies, we had previously uploaded a version of the movie without subtitles. The video file has been fixed and now includes English subtitles for the non-English interviews.
Emma V.

Hanny2's picture

no worries, emma et al. i think most of us just figured it was in connection with the underwater retreat!

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Haha, now when we make mistakes we'll just say "it was a joke!" regardless of whether it's April or not :)

mattbard's picture

... nice film, great guy. even though i speak only english.. the various languages used were ok ... reminds me of my travels about the planet.. wish i was more conversante with our world citizens.... the mind body/consioucness topic is pert much part of the modern conversation these days, thanks to Mr. Varela, and others. good work filming-thoughtful, creative editing....... matt

jackelope65's picture

Thank you for introducing tho beautiful, compassionate, brilliant man to me. I am intrigued so much that I will research and read some of his work in origination of things. However, many of the interviews were lost to myself and others, and I wonder why subtitles were not used?

dosmers's picture

Thank you so much for this precious documentation. For the opportunity to listen to such meaningful words from an exceptionally human being. A gift beyond measure.