September 6, 2007

Cinema’s Festival Debuts Dalai Lama Documentary

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Cornell Cinema, in collaboration with the Namgyal Monastery, kicked off the Dharma Cinema film festival yesterday with the screening of the new documentary 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama. The film festival is just one of many events being held in preparation for the upcoming visit of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s Oct. 9 visit to Ithaca.
The film premiered in the nearly sold out Willard Straight Hall Cinema, with the director Rick Ray giving a brief statement before the film and holding a special question and answer session following it. Ray emphasized the importance of seeing the Dalai Lama while he is still with us.
“I think this is a film that could be a document of what could be the last true Dalai Lama,” Ray said. “People should really come see him. He’s 70; we don’t know how much longer he’s going to be with us. We could definitely learn something from him.”
According to Ray, the Chinese government has taken over the process of selecting the future Dalai Lama, who is believed by followers to be the next living reincarnation of Buddha. With the Chinese controlling the selection, there are widespread concerns that the next Dalai Lama may not be the true Lama.
Ray remarked upon the Dalai Lama’s warm sense of humor, apparent from his frequent laughter during the interview.
“It’s a higher sense of wisdom to be that playful with what can be very depressing issues,” Ray said.
Ray also remarked upon the intensity of meeting such a highly regarded religious figurehead
“It was a sense of awe … I’m just a backpacking filmmaker,” Ray said. “He is known as the ‘presence’ — he is fully present with whoever he is with at that moment. It doesn’t matter to
him what your station in life is.”
In addition to the upcoming films, Ted Arnold, a member of the Board of Directors for the Namgyal institute, has helped arrange a series of lectures that started Aug. 31 and will continue through Nov. 15.
“We wanted to hit a wide variety of the Dalai Lama’s interests,” Arnold said.
The lectures cover everything from the involvement of contemporary sciences in Tibetan Buddhism, to an overview of the basic teachings of the Buddha.
The monastery first received word of the Dalai Lama’s intention to visit last spring.
“Initially the monastery — because we’re building this new monastery — had made a request that he could give the monastery a name. Also we asked if he could, during his other travels throughout the state, drop in for an hour and do a land blessing event. He said he could come for a couple of days instead,” Arnold said.
“Obviously we were very excited. We knew right away that Cornell had to be involved, given the size of Barton Hall … Even that’s not big enough. We also wanted to involve I.C. and the local people.”
The Dalai Lama will be in Ithaca Oct. 9 to 10, giving hour-long talks at Barton Hall, the State Theater and Ithaca College. Arnold expressed his desire for those who are curious about the Lama’s interests to come to the preceding lectures to learn about the issues that will be under discussion during his visit.
“I hope that people who are interested in the things that His Holiness is interested in, whether it be the religious aspects, the historical aspects or how religion has a place in the modern role and its relation to science … that they come to some of these things and ask questions; there will be good answers to come forward,” Arnold said.
He expressed his wish for the community to “spend the next 6 to 8 weeks taking in what is probably new for a lot of people.”
According to Arnold, one of the most interesting lectures will be the special event held on Sept. 18, titled “Seeing Kalachakra, Being Kalachakra.”
According to a press release from the Cornell Store and the Namgyal Monastery, the lecture focuses on “the exploration of the role of creativity, cognition, and embodiment in contemporary sciences and Tibetan Buddhist tantric practice.”
The lecture is a collaboration of several prominent scholars, including William Bushell from the surgery department at Columbia University, Prof. Vesna Wallace religious studies from U.C. Santa Barbara, and Prof. Kavita Bala, computer science.
The upcoming visit has also caught the attention of numerous students on campus, testament to his reputation for giving unforgettable lectures.
“There are still people from ’91 who remember him being here,” Arnold said.
Both Ben Riccardi ’08 and Lindsay Zimmerman ’10 plan to attend the series of lectures that are being held in preparation for the Dalai Lama’s arrival.
“We found out about him coming last spring,” Lindsay Zimmerman ’10 said.
“I wish there were more tickets to go see him,” said Ben Riccardi ’08.
With sold out tickets and attendance at preceding events such as the film screening, some Cornell students have expressed that the Dalai Lama’s visit will be an event not to be missed.