lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
conquers all, at least in Hollywood. How many movies have we
seen where men and women turn themselves inside out, make fools
of themselves and pine over the object of their affections only
to be rewarded by living happily ever after? The movie Samsara
offers a refreshing and decidedly Buddhist take on the joys
and perils of love.
screened in 2001, Samsara is the debut feature film
by director Pan Nalin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tim
Baker. Nalin was born in India and grew up with a deep connection
to spirituality. After studying fine art he discovered that
the best film school was life itself. His directorial credits
include the feature length documentary Ayurveda: Art of
is set against the vast sky and sweeping mountain valleys
of Ladokh, India. Here we meet Tashi, played by Shawn Ku, a
young monk who is gently brought back to his monastery after
spending three years, three months, three weeks, and three days
in deep meditation.
after opening his eyes to the world around him, Tashi’s
passions are stirred. His sexual desire is further fueled when
he meets a beautiful village woman, Pema, played by Christy
begins to question his spiritual path.
to a wise monk in a cave maps out both the pleasure and pain
of desire. The monk, with a mischievous smile and twinkling
eyes, unfolds pictures of couples in Tantric poses that become
corpses when held to the light of the fire. The last scroll
he unravels reads, “All experiences are opportunities
to practice the Way.” Even the Buddha experienced the
world before he renounced it.
sheds his robes by the same river where the monks bathed him
a short while before, and dons the clothing of laymen. He begins
his new life in search of Pema.
is a compelling narrative with stunning cinematography. The
landscape seems to cradle the characters and allows their lives
to unfold before our eyes, and coupled with Pema and Tashi’s
story, is a wonderful metaphor, reminding us of the pleasure
of intimacy and the wider view of the world around us.
has not gotten lost in the overwhelming demands of every day
life which can seem so important? Yet in the larger world, we
are but a drop in the ocean.
and repeating themes are skillfully used throughout the film
and bring to mind how the world is a reflection of our inner
lives and can often mirror our experiences. While the film’s
ideas are clearly based on Buddhist ideology, the central dilemmas
are universal: the quest for love and the desire to be free
of suffering. All we need to do is turn on the radio to hear
a never ending playlist of songs about broken hearts. However,
Samsara does not offer a direct solution but instead
explores the question. I like this more open ended view, especially
in light of the 1,000 Cinderella stories or the other extreme
of Fatal Attraction type scenarios.
the director’s credit, the story is not obscured with
meandering dialogue (especially since I saw the subtitled version);
but rather the spoken words do what good dialogue should do:
give us insight into the character’s nature and support
is a movie that will appeal to those who love exotic locations,
those with a philosophical or spiritual inclination, or anyone
who cares to tackle the question Tashi’s beloved teacher
Apo asks: “What is more important: satisfying one thousand
desires or conquering just one?” Indeed, this is a question
our leaders might ask the next time they decide to invade another
we ever be satisfied?
DVD is available in the foreign section of most video stores.