Director: Pan Nalin
Cast: Shawn Ku, Christy Chung, Neelesha BaVora, Lhakpa Tsering, Tenzin Tashi
Duration: 145 min
“What is more important: satisfying one thousand desires or conquering just one?”
What is “Samsara”? For the Buddhists, Samsara is the wheel of rebirths. More specifically, it means rotation and change. Its rotation comes from the force of a primal cause, a cause that creates the wheel of successive causes and effects – this is also known as the law of karma – in continuous motion and leads the Monad, the Spirit, into the ocean of births and deaths. Its ultimate aim is that each soul will no longer produce karma; it is liberated from the shackles of Samsara and the need for rebirth. Nonetheless, every soul is forced by karma to enter the realm of matter, to gain needed experience to realize its divine origins and to attain Enlightenment. Having achieved this, it has no need to reenter the material world.
The Buddha is the paragon of an incarnated man that achieved divinity, as he broke free from the bonds of Samsara. To achieve this, he had to first abandon his riches and fame (he was the prince of a small kingdom) and then he left his wife and child to seek Dharma. He put his body through terrible privation and hardships, but still he did not find peace in his heart; until one day, sitting under the tree of Bodhi (the tree of wisdom), he heard a song from a woman who saved him by offering him a humble meal:
… when the vina’s strings are too taut, they break. When the vina’s strings are too loose, the vina cannot play.
He was enlightened and discovered the Four Noble Truths that lead to the Middle Way, the Way of the Law or Dharman.
1) The First Noble Truth refers to Pain. All things manifested are subjected to Pain
2) The Second refers to the Cause of Pain; this is the Maya of this World; it takes things as real and eternal; that are in truth impermanent and deceptive.
3) The Third truth refers to the elimination of pain, which can only be achieved when the thirst for life is transformed into a higher level of conscientiousness.
4) The Fourth Truth is how to accomplish this task. It is called the Eightfold Noble Paths, which leads to the elimination of pain and includes the following steps: Correct View, Correct Intention, Correct Speech, Correct Action, Correct Livelihood, Correct Effort, Correct Thoughts and Correct Concentration.
The movie is about pain and pleasure. Love and lust vacillate between these two conditions. And, it is due to love that a soul from heaven descends down to earth, the realm of Maya. Pain and pleasure are, in many occasions, two sides of the same coin. Can there be one, without the other?
The protagonist is a monk, who joined a monastery at the age of five and secludes himself in a cell for three years, three months, three weeks and three days. The Number 3 is sacred in Buddhism. It represents the highest Spiritual Entity, the Triple Solar Logos. The Triple is the expression of Unity, as Will, Love and Intelligence. Three years later, his teacher and other monks visit him. They find him in a deplorable physical state; he is little more than a skeleton. But, he has dominated his body and prevented it from hindering his meditation exercises. Nonetheless, his body functions continue, despite the absence of consciousness. So, his hair has grown long and greasy, his finger and toenails were big and filthy. The priests clean his dirty body so that the spirit can return from the spheres of its quest and find peace. The other monks honor and respect him for his efforts.
Suddenly, none of this matters to him, as he sees a woman breast-feeding her baby. The lust within him overflows and no matter how much he wants to drown it, it shows up in his dreams and slowly casts shadows of doubt on him.
For Buddhists, the manifestation of the spirit is not prevented uniquely by the physical body. There is also the astral body of emotions (linga sharira) and the mental body, the mind of desires (Kama Manas). The monk may have tamed the functions of the physical body temporarily, but this does not mean he has defeated matter, for there are more subtle forms that imprison the spirit. He feels the needs from these bodies so intensely that he cannot fight them back.
Even He (the Buddha) was allowed a worldly existence until he was 29! But since the age of five I’ve been…disciplined to live like Buddha after He renounced the world. Why? How do we know that His Enlightenment…was not a direct result of His worldly existence, too?” he asks his master.
“…where is that freedom promised to me, after a strict monastic discipline? Where is the promised satisfaction from our vow of celibacy?”
So speaks the imprisoned soul, full of a thousand desires. It wants to live, to feel, to love, to be hurt. He recalls Buddha’s words:
“You should not accept my teachings on hearsay, unless and until you understand it from your own point of view”
He decides to abandon monastic life saying “There are things we must unlearn in order to learn them. And there are things we must own in order to renounce them.”
The meaning of evolution, as Buddhism understands it, is hidden in this sentence. The soul forgets its divine origin in order to learn by experience. When it enters into matter and possesses things, it becomes its prison; but only then can it denounce and break free from it, for then, it knows. It knows its divine origin consciously. It has conquered its goal.
So the protagonist abandons his monastery at night, leaving unnoticed, as Buddha had once left his palace. But, unlike Buddha, he does not leave to save his soul, but to find it. He marries, has a child, becomes a farmer, fights for a living, faces exploiters who seek to deceive him, experiences every good and bad moment of an ordinary person’s life. And then, he falls into a common “sin”: adultery.
This act leads him to a second crisis. He is disappointed in himself, in his bad choices; he feels he is not progressing and that he has forgotten the fight against desire and his mistakes. Once again, he decides to leave. He abandons his wife and child, leaving one night unnoticed to return to the monastery, to the peace of mind, under the protection of the spirits and the guidance of his master. He has gained experience; now, he knows…
However, at a turn of the road stands his wife, waiting for him. He has created karma, he has created bonds and such things cannot be severed in one night.
“Yashodhara… Do you know that name? Prince Siddhartha, Gautama, Shakyamuni, Buddha. Everybody knows these names. But “Yashodhara”?
Yashodhara was married to Siddhartha. She loved him dearly. One night, Siddhartha left her and their son, Rahul, to seek Enlightenment and to become Buddha. He did not even say a word when he left. Yashodhara had shown compassion for the sick and ailing long before Siddhartha was even aware of suffering! Who can say if he owed his Enlightenment to her? …”
These words tear his soul apart, making his choice even harder. He has not repaid the karma he created and is called back. He regrets and understands his debt, but his wife releases him from it. She leaves speaking a great truth.
“If your thoughts towards Dharma were of the same intensity as the love and passion you have shown me, you would have become a Buddha in this very body, in this very life.”
She is no longer his wife; she is the symbol of our soul’s wisdom. No-one can hide anything from her. So, what one desires one must control? Perhaps it is the desire of satisfying one thousand desires…
Thus, the movie ends, but the protagonist’s real quest has only begun.