Let us imagine that we are born in a cinema and all we know is this
screen in front of us.
We do not recognize that we are looking at a film and that
the events in the movie have no true existence. Everything
we perceive on that screen–love, hatred, aggression, suspense,
thrills–are in fact just the effect of a projection of light through
film. But no one tells us this. We are sitting there watching, fixated
on the film. If somebody tries to divert our attention, we say, “shut
up!” We are so engrossed. Yet we are blind to the
futility aspect of this projection.
But if somebody in the next seat suddenly tells us: “Look, this
is just a film. This is not real. This is not really happening. This
is really only a projection,” then there is a possibility we may
realize that it is essenceless.
This does not mean that we get up and leave the cinema. We can now
relax, and simply watch the intensity, the love affairs, the suspense
of the crimes, or whatever is going on. If we are confident that this
is merely a projection, we know we can rewind or fast-forward or leave
whenever we like, or watch a double feature. Sometimes a sequence in
the movie can overwhelm our emotions. A tragic part might hit our
soft spot. We now know that this is not a real thing, not a big deal.
Until we see that this projection has no
inherent existence we will be carried away, seduced by all the glory
and beauty of this world, by apparent success and failure. Which is
not to say that once we see the truth of the projection, we run off
to Nepal or India, and become a monk or nun. We may still keep our job,
wear a tie and a suit, and still go with a briefcase to our office every
day. But somewhere inside us we know that this is essenceless.
Now, it could happen that we don’t hear the person in the
next seat whispering, “Hey, this is just a film,” because
we are too engrossed. Maybe there is a big car crash in the movie, or
loud music, so we do not hear the message. Or we might hear the
whisper but our ego interprets this information so that we remain
confused, believing something in the movie is true. What does that mean?
That means we lack merit. Without merit, we are like an illiterate beggar
who wins a multi-million dollar lottery but does not know what to do
with such wealth and loses it immediately.
If we have the merit to hear the whisper, then as Buddhists we have
different options. In Theravada and Hinayana Buddhism we leave the movie
hall, or close our eyes, so we are not carried away by the movie. We
put an end to our suffering in this way. In the Mahayana, we understand
that the movie is not real, that it is a projection and empty, and we
do not suffer. We don’t stop watching the movie, but we see it
has no inherent existence. Moreover, we are concerned about the others
in the cinema. Finally, in the Vajrayana, we know it is just a movie,
we are not fooled, and we enjoy the show. The more emotion the movie
evokes in us, the more we appreciate the brilliance of the production,
and the more we share our insights with our fellow viewers.
People ask: “What are the similarities between teaching and directing?”
I can say there is a big difference and yet it can be very similar.
It all depends on the motivation. I could be teaching dharma purely
for worldly gain and in that case I might as well ride in a limousine
half-doped like some directors do. But the question still comes up:
“You are a Buddhist lama, why do you make film?” This question
is a bit puzzling. It indicates to me that from certain standpoints
this work is viewed as almost sacrilegious, like I am breaking some
kind of holy rule. At the same time, I understand. People automatically
associate film with money, sex and violence because there are so many
such films coming out of Hollywood
But if only they had access to films by the likes of Ozu, Satyajit
Ray, Antonioni, people would understand that filmmaking doesn’t
have to be
like that. In fact it is a tool. Film is a medium and Buddhism is a
You can be a scientist and you can be a filmmaker, a salesperson or
a politician at the same time.