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Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Unmistaken Child" Documentary on PBS is Worth Your Time.

I was recently sent an advanced copy of an upcoming documentary on PBS titled, "Unmistaken Child." It follows the journey of a young monk in Nepal looking for the reincarnation of a great lama who also happens to be beloved friend. This documentary was as much about finding the courage to believe in yourself as much as it was about finding the reincarnated Rinpoche.

As a Zen Buddhist, I try not to follow my mind down the rabbit hole into the realm of what happens after death too much because it is keeps me from staying in the "now," which is really the only moment available to us. It is where our practice takes place. So I have been taught that if I concentrate too much upon what might happen I miss what is happening. However, for the sake of conservation I have no problem with the idea of death and dying. I also have no problem with the idea of rebirth and suspect that it happens. Likewise I have no problem with the possibility that nothing happens after you die.

However, reincarnation of a specific person or "soul" seems counter to what the Buddha taught but I'm no expert. As a skeptic of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of reincarnating lamas I must admit though that this documentary really makes me reconsider the possibility again. I truly marveled at how accurate the process was. Look for a cameo from the Dalai Lama.

It truly was remarkable to follow the journey of the young monk seeking his reincarnated teacher and watching his struggles, his triumphs, courage and undying patience and respect for his mentor. The documentary did a wonderful job in showing us the intimate process of testing children to reveal the new body of this master. The dialogue was minimal, which seemed fitting for such a sacred and serious mission. I didn't realize how intricate the process was for finding a reincarnated lama. I had some idea from the movie "Kundun" as to how the Dalai Lama was found but I didn't know that the process involved divination of the ashes of the cremated teacher, astrological charts and dream interpretation.

It was fascinating to discover just how deep Tibetan Buddhism is intertwined with the metaphysical. After watching this movie and getting even more insight into the heavily ritualized nature of Tibetan Buddhism, it really does seem like its own branch of Buddhism. So instead of the traditional recognition of only two main branches of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana, it makes sense that some say there is a third--Vajrayana, because Tibetan Buddhism is so unique. While there is some overlap with Mahayana schools, Tibetan Buddhism has such a distinct nature, which is probably due to its development in such an isolated region of Asia.

Anyway, the documentary was enthralling, inspiring, educational and revealing. The scenery of the Nepalese highlands is stunning and worth viewing this film for that alone. The high mystical peaks seem so very fitting for such a otherworldly exploration. I highly recommend you watch it when it airs on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) here in America on April 7th at 10p.m. (check your local listings).

~Peace to all beings~

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Brian said...

It's streaming on netflix too. Haven't seen it but it is in my que.

生氣 said...

You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.............................................

Vajramate said...

A group of us, including 2 Tibetan monks, watched this 2 days ago. Everyone from the children of 8 or 9 to old timers like me were deeply moved. There was so much compassion, love, humility and humour (particularly HH the Dalai Lama) that we all left the evening in a most joyful state of being. This is one to watch and learn, even if you are not inclined to Buddhism.

jwiser said...

I was disturbed by this film - the young disciple of the late Lama was obviously in deep grief, felt alone and unprepared for this responsibility. I felt his superiors showed little compassion towards him, the youngster's parents or the youngster, himself. Perhaps there were in-depth conversations with the parents about the importance of the reincarnated Lama's contributions he could make in later life, but the film showed nothing of this. And, the film raised virtually no questions regarding the ethical/moral issues of making this momentous decision for the child. Perhaps knowledgeable Buddhists already know the answer to these questions but the film surely left many less-knowledgeable people more concerned than joyful, and left me feeling much as I have after watching other films about sects. And, I'm VERY interested in Buddhism. Assuming that Unmistaken Child was produced for a fairly wide audience of documentary-lovers and people interested in spirituality, I was surprised that it was missing so much information and clarification and, therefore, surprised that it won Best Documentary film.

They call him James Ure said...


I understand your misgivings. I personally don't believe in reincarnation as that involves a soul, which Buddha taught against.

So, I disagree with pegging children as a reincarnated master but overall I think Tibetan Buddhism is still beneficial.

One thing to keep in mind is that even outside Tibetan Buddhism where children aren't seen as reincarnated masters, children being sent to the monasteries is often a compassionate act.

Often these families don't have enough resources to care for all of their children but they know that they'll be well cared for at the monastery.

I'd rather they be sent to the monastery than the orphanage.

Daína Chaviano said...

This is an impressive documentary. I do believe in reincarnation (I've had glimpses of some of my previous lives), so this issue was not as important to me as the loving and spiritual relationship between those two souls that can continue their learning process almost uninterruptedly. The devotion of the young monk for his deceased master is one of the most unforgettable and moving issues in this film.

Anonymous said...

am watching it now and it is a wonderfully filmed documentary. Beautifully done

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