Spirituality & Practice
November 12, 2012
“An astonishing documentary…”
This fascinating documentary directed by Mark Elliott follows the life and experiences of a Tibetan Buddhist boy from age four through eighteen. The child is recognized as the reincarnation (Yangsi) of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a revered meditation master from Tibet who escaped the Chinese occupation, settled down in Bhutan and Nepal, and passed away in 1991; at 18 the young man is expected to assume the responsibilities of a spiritual leader of his tradition. With great respect for Tibetan Buddhism, the director has fashioned a lyrical and accessible glimpse into what he calls “a coming of age story set between two worlds.” The narration in English by the Yangsi adds intimacy and poignancy to his compelling spiritual journey.
The opening sequences revolve around the very cute little boy about to leave his mother, father, and older brother to enter the care of Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, a disciple of Dilgo Khyentse Ripoche whom His Holiness the Dalai Lama regarded as one of his major spiritual teachers. The Yangsi (the one who has come again into existence) is a playful and spunky child who has a smile that lights up the room.
His parents express their mixed feelings of joy and sadness as they bid goodbye to their son. Thousands of colorfully dressed and elated Tibetan Buddhists (monks and laypersons) and patrons from all over the world gather to celebrate the boy’s impressive enthronement ceremony. His eyes are wide with wonder as he tries to take in the energy of the people, the place, and the attention. He also reveals his playful spirit as he flirts with the crowd.
The next step for his mentor, surrogate parent and friend is to orchestrate the Yangsi’s education. The growing boy describes himself as a bit of a joker and having a stubborn streak. But he does strive to please his teachers. The rich traditions of Tibetan Buddhism offer him plenty of resources to serve as antidotes to any excesses he encounters along the path of his development. We see his enjoyment of basketball, his delight in his best friend, and his mastery of traditional monastic study. The Yangsi is also fortunate in learning English and much about the West from an American teacher.
As he reaches maturity, this reincarnation of the Tibetan lama is required to travel and to teach. We see the Yangsi’s tour through Europe and North America where his messages and meditations are very brief and simple. At one point, speaking to a audience packed with young people, he wonders why his teachers chose this “weird young boy” to carry on the legacy of one of the great Tibetan masters of the twentieth century.
Robert Thurman, a prolific author and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, salutes the evolution in Tibet of an inner revolution consisting of nonviolence, optimism, concern for the individual, and unconditional love. Arising from the bodhisattva spirit incarnated by Tibetan monk scholars and lamas, he envisions a society of enlightened beings who are supreme artists of life and agents of compassion. After watching this documentary, we’re convinced that Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche will rise to the challenge of bringing these important teachings to a new generation of young people around the world who are seeking peace and happiness.
December 14, 2012
“A brilliant character study”
Voluntarily choosing the life of a monk is one thing, but being reincarnated as one – that too as one of the most revered Tibetan Buddhist masters of the 20th century – is quite another altogether. For Yangsi Rinpoche, recognized as the reincarnation of the great Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, this realization dawned fairly early in life. “At four, I sensed that my life was changing,” Yangsi says. “The simple life with a father, mother…I thought that was the only world that I would live in. But then they said that you are the reincarnation of this teacher…things changed after that.”
The weight of the emotions in his voice, running over visuals of a cute little boy blessing visitors with a naughty tap on their heads, can bring a lump to your throats. But even as you begin to gather your thoughts on the life ahead for young Yangsi, his mischievous antics and toothless laughter can make you laugh with him and forget that he was born to be something different, something greater than mere lay people.
Peppered with many such light moments, “Yangsi”, an 82-minute documentary film by British filmmaker Mark Elliott, is a rare, intimate peek into the high-profile life of young Yangsi Rinpoche as he embarks on a journey of coming to terms with his unique existence. Made over a fourteen year period, with unprecedented access to his growing up years, the film chronicles his life from his enthronement at four, through his academic and ritual training, interspersed with cherished family visits and transmission of tantric practices by teachers who had received them from him during his former life.
Elliott, who has himself been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for many years now and who had previously made several documentaries on it, was first called upon by the Shechen Monasteryin Nepal to film Yangsi’s enthronement. “At that point I didn’t really have a film in mind,” he told ARTINFO India. “But then I made this immediate connection with this little boy and I thought it would be really interesting to come back every three years until he matures and see how the young chap turns out.” He chose the three year period from an idea he got from the English TV Series “Up” directed by Michael Apted, the first film of which “Seven Up” follows a dozen seven year old kids over seven year periods in their lives. Elliott decided to complete the film and release it this year, when Yangsi has turned 18, because “it needed to reach some kind of fruition.” “Initially I thought it would be a good point to finish the film with the world tour he went on in 2010. But that would have been a cliché to end the film with him at this big auditorium in New York, coming out into the world…that seemed a little contrite,” he says. “So a year later in 2011, I did a long interview with him that forms the voice over for the film. I thought it would be nice to end the film with him back at his home with some reflections of himself on his life.”
Filming Yangsi over the years had developed a personal bond between him and Elliott, a fact that reflects in the maturity with which the chosen one’s life has been depicted in the film. “I’m a father and the film kind of reflects a little of my journey as a father as well – of seeing how a kid is growing up, going through ups, downs and transitions,” says Elliott. Perhaps, it is this reason that the film does not focus so much on the religious aspect of it as it does on the personal, more human parts.
Thus, it presents a brilliant character sketch of a humble, shy Yangsi who gives as much importance to modernity as he does to tradition, who grows from a naughty kid to a reserved teenager with a unique sense of humor, who loves to watch TV and play basketball. It paints a vivid picture of the apprehensions, the confusions and the dilemmas young Yangsi faces over his fate and the questions he has that finally propels him on his path to enlightenment. “I didn’t choose myself at all. My teachers chose me but sometimes I wonder why did they choose such a weird boy like me?,” Yangsi leaves you to ponder over.