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DVD Review: Journey Into Buddhism-Vajra Sky Over Tibet

By Edited Mar 9, 2014 0 0

Pros

Beautiful cinematography and scenery

Authentic music

Decent amount of information about the Tibetan Buddhist faith

Unique perspectives from real Tibetans

Cons

Sensitive political topic featuring a viewpoint that perhaps not all will agree with

Special dance feature is silly and needless

Full Review

This DVD is the third installment of the Journey Into Buddhism trilogy by John Bush. This film is a little different than the previous two, in the sense that it focuses only on one specific area, namely, Tibet. Because of this narrower focus, the DVD can go into greater depths about the history and culture of Tibet, in addition to discussions of the region's unique form of Buddhism.

"Vajra" can be interpreted as "thunderbolt of truth", and is an appropriate title for this DVD since the school of Buddhism practiced in Tibet is known as Vajrayana Buddhism. This is an intricate esoteric tradition that overlays Buddhist thought on top of native Tibetan beliefs. The film touches on the ways in which the Communist regime of China has tried to stifle this tradition through various means, including exiling the spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama, installing puppet spiritual leaders to replace those exiled, and infiltrating monasteries. There are several narrators for this film, two of whom are themselves exiled Tibetans. One of the narrators is the nephew of the current Dalai Lama, who now lives in the United States, and with whom there is a short interview in the Special Features section. His perspective lends even more authenticity to the DVD.

In this film, the viewer is granted exclusive access to the insides of temples, monasteries and nunneries in places like Shigatse, Gyantse, Lhasa, and Shalu. Within these sacred places one can marvel at the elaborate paintings of Tibetan deities that are incorporated into Vajrayana Buddhism. This form of Buddhism uses depictions of angry gods as tools to overcome the egoistic self. Many of these gods appear as demons or sometimes even resemble rabid wild beasts, but in Tibetan Buddhism it is taught that these are merely the ego's projections. We also see scenes from the yearly Tibetan Opera Festival, held in the summertime, and a ritual in which the monks unfurl a large tanka, a colorful flag or banner with the image of the Buddha painted on it, over the side of a mountain, drawing pilgrims to see it and to pepper it with prayer scarves. This is rare footage that few people in the West will get to see in person.

The stirring and thrilling Tibetan music is played throughout the film, ranging from plaintive vocals to deep resonant throat-singing that is reminiscent of the sound of a didgeridoo, to the characteristic gong and dungchen trumpet sounds of Tibet that are both mystical and jarring.

One issue that people may take with this film is that it is heavily biased toward holding the Tibetans and their struggle in a positive light. Anyone who is sympathetic to the Chinese side will likely be irked by the film, so bear that in mind before watching it. There is also a dance routine done by the film's choreographer in the Special Features section, which struck me as sort of ridiculous and unnecessary. My recommendation is not to bother watching it.

In Closing

As a rare glimpse into Tibetan life, this DVD is extremely valuable.

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