Filed in Books & Media

Mixed Media

Carol Dysinger

Cassette Tapes

Your Buddha Nature
Teachings on the Ten Perfections
Jack Kornfield
Sounds True, $59.95

An introductory program of meditations and mindfulness techniques. Therapist and meditation instructor Jack Kornfield draws on an eclectic pool of teachings from various traditions but structures his curriculum on the ten paramitas, or “inner perfections” of Buddhism, stressing their immediate applicability to the challenges of daily living.

Noble Heart
A self-guided retreat on befriending your obstacles
Pema Chodron
Sounds True, $59.95

American-born acharya, or master teacher, Pema Chodron is the director of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery Gampo Abbey. In this course of teachings, designed to enable the listener to create his or her own retreat at home, she identifies an unexpected source of spiritual strength: vulnerability. Emphasizing the shedding of psychic defenses as a way to cultivate the “noble heart” of the bodhisattva, her program includes English-language chants and five complete meditations.

The Science of Enlightenment
Teachings & Meditations for Awakening through Self-Investigation
Shinzen Young
Sounds True, $99.00

Investigating the accessibility of “inner technologies for awakening,” meditation teacher Shinzen Young offers a guided tour down a variety of contemplative paths, including Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Taoist, and Sufi traditions. Six meditation sessions and discussions of practical and scientific perspectives on the attainment of enlightenment are also provided as part of Young’s promise to enable the listener to choose his or her own meditation practice.

Compact Discs

Voice of Tibet
A Treasury of Sacred Mantras and
Prayers gathered from the Great Masters of Tibet
H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche
Chagdud Gonpa Foundation, $15.98

Recordings of mantras and prayers transmitted to Chagdud Rinpoche by his own teachers. The accompanying melodies, inspired by visionary experiences of Tibetan masters, are considered a particularly effective conduit for blessings. The collection concludes with Tibetan folk songs.

Film and Video

Directed by Paul Wagner
35mm; 97 minutes; in Tibetan and Chinese with English subtitles
American Focus Inc.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana
Directed by Ayelet Menahemi and Eilona Ariel
VHS; 52 minutes
Pariyatti Book Service, $29.95

Without knowing the extraordinary production background of Windhorse, one might not watch it with the attention it deserves. It has all that we have come to expect from a movie about the tragedy visited upon Tibet—worthy monks and nuns brutalized by the chain-smoking Chinese—but in the film these archetypes are employed by people who have suffered these indignities, rather than filmmakers and actors imagining what that suffering might be like.

Windhorse is a story set in the aftermath of the invasion. Two disaffected Tibetan youths living with their parents in Lhasa try to carry on with life under Chinese rule, one (played by Dadon, a Chinese-Tibetan singer now living in America) by picking up a Chinese boyfriend and a Chinese recording contract, the other (Jampa Kelsang) by drinking and smoking nearly as much as his oppressors. Their cousin, a nun, is arrested and tortured by the Chinese and then sent home to die. There’s a beatific American girl who videotapes everything, and a crusty but lovable grandmother.

In many ways it seems formulaic, bad guys and good guys, a right way and a wrong way, plain for all to see—but there is more going on. Paul Wagner, a documentary filmmaker, wrote the script with Thupten Tsering and Julia Eliot and cast it with a mix of Tibetan actors and non-actors, some of whose names are withheld in the credits for fear of the Chinese persecution. Much of the film was shot on location in Tibet without permission from Chinese authorities; footage shot in this clandestine fashion, on a high-end digital camera donated by Sony, is mixed with scenes shot in a studio in a safer place. It has already caused a stir: the Chinese Embassy asked that the film not be shown at the Washington International Film Festival and will probably continue to make it difficult to see. Windhorse is a simple film, but its simplicity is that of a real dilemma and real feelings. Other, more sophisticated films on the topic exist, but they were shot in other countries. Windhorse was filmed, at great risk, in Tibet, with the earnest involvement of Tibetans, and that makes it a film to respect.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana is a film about the establishment of vipassana meditation in Tihar, an infamous a maximum-security prison in the suburbs of New Delhi. The story follows a former policewoman, Kiran Bedi (fondly known as Crane Betty for her habit of towing dignitaries’ limousines, on her search for an answer to the desperate state of the prisoners placed in her care when she becomes the first woman to head a prison. After a guard tells her of his experience with vipassana, a letter is dispatched, a teacher found, a class set up, and the results are recounted in Doing Time, Doing Vipassana.

The observation made at the beginning of the film—that we are all in the prison of our minds and that all freedom comes from within—is brought home again and again. How bad conditions were before the classes began and how much better they became is treated in general terms, but the meditation practice is gone over in very accessible detail. This is without a doubt more a film about vipassana than it is about a prison. The idea of a thousand prisoners, all religions, all ages, all crimes, sitting together silently for ten days is hard to believe. The reality of these men coming out of the experience to weep and embrace the superintendent of jails is in itself an extraordinary image, though given the unfairness and slowness of the Indian justice system it is a complicated one. Much is made of how prison culture changes with vipassana and how wonderful it is that the superintendent of prisons allowed vipassana inside; the relief it has brought to the people they interviewed who needed to confront themselves and their deeds is clear. But after all this wishing to change the prisoners, who is going to change the system? The film does not address this and other complicated questions, but for the chance to meet Crane Betty, much is forgiven.

Carol Dysinger is an independent documentary filmmaker and a professor at New York University’s Graduate Film Program.

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