My main quibble with Khashyar Darvich's documentary Dalai Lama Renaissance is with its marketing campaign. Understandably film promoters emphasize His Holiness, the 14 th Dalai Lama—he's the reigning "rock star" of all things spiritual and occupies center stage for the film. But the exiled Tibetan leader's role parallels Harry Lime in The Third Man, as forty some scholars and intellectuals undertake a pilgrimage to his Darmasala abode to solve the world's problems. Their deliberations take up the bulk of the film's running time, yet we are continually aware of the Dalai Lama's presence—like celebrity groupies, various intellectuals express their determination to present their solutions to His Holiness directly.
A pre-Millenium New Age inspiration, facilitators organized the 1999 conference as a brainstorming session for innovative thinkers from various disciplines—most recognizable are two quantum physicists from What the Bleep Do We Know (Fred Alan Wolf and Amit Goswami) and Dr. Michael Beckwith from The Secret. Their mission was to identify and address some global problems and come up with solutions that will transform the world. Noble and ambitious, but anyone with spiritual insight knows beforehand that this collection of self-centered scholars inevitably will bog down with massive ego tripping and vain imaginings.
It doesn't take long for spiritual problem-solving to degenerate. Facilitators are sacked, many "synthesizers" wallow in self-importance and continuously compete for verbosity, and silent witnesses are left to roll their eyes and chuckle to themselves during the mental masturbation sessions. Meanwhile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has to be laughing behind the scenes.
He realizes that the only viable transformations that can take place during the week will be personal; this is evident during the two-hour period that the conference participants schedule to present and discuss their findings with the Dalai Lama. True to form, His Holiness humorously remains humble and self-deprecating—laughing frequently while expressing himself quite simply. Even so, his words still sail right over the heads of many. When one expresses the idea of initiating an economic boycott of China to demonstrate support for Tibet, the Dalai Lama expounds on the complexities of such an action and urging them to take a bigger and long term view—explaining that all humanity must be considered and that harming the Chinese economy would hurt many poor people. Still, co-organizer and friend of His Holiness Wayne Teasdale asks if this means a cautious "yes" while another misguided soul later tells how she's going to stop buying Chinese shoes.
The other main idea brought forth is for this group to act as a spiritual catalyst for the world with the Dalai Lama spearheading the campaign—to which His Holiness promptly squelches, proclaiming his long held claim that he wishes only to remain a "simple Buddhist monk." Compassionately crushing the huge egos in the room, the Dalai Lama deftly laughs off the pretentions of the gathered scholars, so they are left to conclude that they must transform themselves before tackling the world.
It's a simple truth that many know before the film starts, but the Dalai Lama serves as human exemplar for the lesson. Khashyar Darvich's beautifully photographed film also provides valuable glimpses of northern India and Tibetan culture that make the ponderous musings of the egocentric quantum physicists more tolerable. Personally, I’d rather see 90 minutes of the Dalai Lama only, but I can see that the film will have some value for people less familiar with his teachings.