Milarepa Tankga

Milarepa is in the center in green. His skin was tinged this color because for years he lived only on nettles, refusing to leave his cave for anything more substantial

Milarepa is another great movie in my ten favorite Buddhist/Spiritual movies collection.

Milarepa is one of the great Buddhist masters of 11th century Tibet.  His story is particularly inspiring because he was able to overcome the serious misdeeds of his youth (including mass murder), and become a buddha.

As young adult, Milarepa studied sorcery in order to take revenge on his Uncle and Aunt that had swindled him out of his inheritance.  Indeed, he ended up killing a great many people with black magic.  Then, he turned away from such activity.  He learned it brought him no lasting satisfaction.  He went, instead, to study with the great Buddhist master Marpa.  Marpa put him through many trials before he gave him proper instruction.  Milarepa then went off to the mountains to meditate and realize nirvana.

The movie Milarepa is part one of two parts.  This first part details his youth:  his misfortunes and his revenge.  The second part has not been produced yet, but you can watch the storyboard on YouTube.  It is incredible!  It shows his devotion to his teacher and his enlightenment.


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Seven Pounds

Seven Pounds movie with Will SmithSeven Pounds is another movie in my top ten list of Buddhist theme movies.  This movie brings to mind the activities of a bodhisattva.  A bodhisattva is defined as someone that has bodhichitta.  And bodhichitta is the wish to become totally enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings.  One of the activities of a bodhisattva is the perfecting generosity. Generosity is perfected when one gives without self-concern at all.

Although Will Smith is not motivated by bodhichitta, his role in this movie reminds me of the following quote from Master Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

To begin with, Buddha, the Guide, encourages us to practice giving such things as food.

Later, when we become used to this, we can gradually learn to give our own flesh.

This may seem a little startling, but there are many stories of bodhisattva’s being asked to give of themselves and they do so without hesitation.  Indeed, one story of Buddha’s past lives has him coming upon a starving tiger and her cubs.  He sacrificed himself in order to save their lives.  Since the mother was too weak to eat,  he first cut himself and fed her his blood so that she would become stronger. Then he offered her his entire body and his life.  It is said that the cubs reincarnated and became his first disciples after his enlightenment.

In the movie, Will Smith gives up “seven pounds” of body parts in order to save people in need.  It is an interesting movie to stimulate thought regarding the practice of extreme generosity.

The Truman Show

The Truman Show, a movie released in 1998, demonstrates a couple of Buddhist and/or common spiritual ideas. These include how insight experiences mature to insight and how deceptive reality will eventually be illuminated and overturned by Truth.

In the movie, Truman (Jim Carrey) is adopted at birth by a corporation The Turman Show movie coverand becomes part of a reality TV show featuring him that airs worldwide 24 hours a day.  His world consists of a man-made set, Seahaven, which is an island populated by actors.  Every once in awhile he may get an idea that his world is peculiar, but the participants in the deception work to support his view that Seahaven world is real.  The movies depicts Truman, in his third decade, becoming suspicious and trying to break through the veil of deception.  While the Truman Show director and producers are trying to keep him trapped, the viewing audience is rooting for his escape.

I was originally introduced to the movie by Geshe Michael Roach, who suggested it illustrated the idea that buddhas are all conspiring to get us enlightened.  However, it seemed to me, that the most active participants in Truman’s world were working to keep him in his trapped state.  Albeit, the viewing audience was on his side, they were powerless to help him.  This is much like the idea that we have to do our own work to reach enlightenment.  Buddhas can help by teaching, but they cannot create our enlightenment for us.

The movie, however, does seem to illustrate quite nicely the idea of deceptive reality.  In the Buddhist model, the world we live in is quite real, but the reality of it is deceptive.  This is similar to how Truman’s world was real, but not the way Truman thought it was.

Our normal reality, or conventional reality, does not work the way it appears to work.  For instance, it appears that when we do something wrong (e.g. lie to our boss that we missed work because we were sick when we were not) that good comes from that (e.g. we keep our job and get a day off). This apparent cause and effect is a deception.  Only the unpleasantness of being lied to or being deceived can come from telling a lie.  This is not obvious because of the time delay between the action and the fruit of the action.  This is how we can act in ways that harm ourselves – the cause and effect connection is not obvious.

Truman had experiences in his childhood and as a young adult that could have led to insight into the reality of his world, but it wasn’t until he got older did enough of these experiences mature into true insight.  When he got the idea that his world might not really be as he thought, he began to test that insight and it was validated.  This realization then caused him to renounce the world. In fact, he was so done with the world that we was willing to die as opposed to living the lie anymore.

This is similar to any spiritual quest.  One starts with a dissatisfaction with the world and a seeking for something better.  This causes one to examine their world more closely.  In Buddhism this culminates in a realization that the impermanence and suffering in the world are truly not satisfying and feeds the drive to reach a “state” that can provide lasting satisfaction.

In Buddhism we say that samsara will have an end and that all beings will become enlightened because truth is a powerful antidote.  We see that manifest in Truman’s world.  Despite his world continuing to feed him lies, he recognizes truth and goes after it.  In the end he reaches freedom and the Buddhas (viewing audience) cheer.

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