Some of the best - if unintentional - comic scenes in any new film out there right now come from an unlikely source, a documentary about the Dalai Lama. Strictly speaking, Dalai Lama Renaissance, as itâ€™s called, is not about the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, but he is certainly the key figure. The documentary deals with a week-long brainstorming session of self-styled global thinkers who had no doubt they could put their heads together, collectively come up with a means to â€œtransform the worldâ€™â€™ and present it to the Dalai Lama.
It is just possible that the Dalai Lama is already aware of at least one such means of transforming the world, but they were intent upon giving him their own ideas anyway. About 40 of them made a pilgrimage, with the Dalai Lamaâ€™s blessing, to his compound in northern India to formulate â€œa solution to some of the worldâ€™s problemsâ€™â€™ and identify â€œthe transitions we must make if weâ€™re going to survive.â€™â€™ Lots of luck.
Sometimes exhibiting more ego than brains, however, these great thinkers could not even agree on a format for their discussions, or â€œsyntheses,â€™â€™ as they preferred to call them, let alone solutions. Variously bickering, interrupting, show-boating or simply lost in wishful thinking, the participants on one occasion even completely misinterpreted what the Dalai Lama had just told them. The Dalai Lama appeared to be the only sane person in the room.
â€œSometimes brilliant minds are like thin-shelled eggs,â€™â€™ one observer put it. â€œThey can crack easily.â€™â€™ A participant in one pointed discussion, apparently mindful of the auspices, declared, â€œIâ€™d like to feel a little compassion here.â€™â€™
It was left for the Dalai Lama himself to bring the foundering gathering into focus, and at this point the documentary, from filmmaker Khashyar Darvich, shifts gears and becomes an extraordinary portrait of His Holiness at work. The Dalai Lamaâ€™s compassion extends to all, including self-deluded intellectuals.
Participants in the group included, by my count, at least two quantum physicists, writers, a psychiatrist, religious scholars and so forth, but for all their exalted status they could be reduced to wannabe Dalai Lama groupies, and no wonder. The Dalai Lama, from the moment he hops out of the back seat of a workaday car, is buoyant, cheerful and very canny.
When one participant asked if he would support an economic boycott of China, the Dalai Lama gave a thorough answer that included the statement that humanity was the â€œNo. 1â€™â€™ consideration and â€œharming Chinaâ€™s economy would do no good.â€™â€™ Nonetheless, most members of the group didnâ€™t seem to understand that he was saying â€œno.â€™â€™ One woman displayed her Chinese-made shoes and volunteered to stop buying them. The documentary actually had to spell out in the final credits that â€œthe Dalai Lama does not support an economic boycott of China.â€™â€™ Another participant wanted him to assume the mantle of â€œleadershipâ€™â€™ of a world movement, which he also refused, saying he wished to remain a simple Buddhist monk.
Dalai Lama Renaissance will be shown at the Roxie, at 16th and Valencia in the Mission District, beginning Friday, May 23. It is narrated by actor Harrison Ford, whose ex-wife was prominent in American Buddhist circles. Fordâ€™s participation was a giveaway that the film would go beyond the initial dysfunction of the group, however comic.
What makes them so comic is how seriously they take themselves. The Dalai Lama, who must teach by example, is the one with the sense of humor.