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Buddhist Documentary Geshe Wangyal: With Blessing of the Three Jewels Receives Widespread Acclaim

Film poster and Ella Manzheeva at the Rafael Film Center. Images courtesy of Ella Manzheeva

“Manzheeva’s unquestionable masterpiece of a film” is the way the celebrated scholar Prof. Robert A. F. Thurman, founder of Tibet House US, describes the new documentary Geshe Wangyal: With Blessing of the Three Jewels in a letter dated April 2023. Prof. Thurman’s letter, along with expressions of appreciation from Jeffrey Hopkins, founder and president of the UMA Institute for Tibetan Studies, and from Tenzin N. Tethong, former representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, were shared with BDG by Ella Manzheeva, the film’s director and producer.

On the day of the film’s premiere on 16 November 2022, BDG had the privilege of interviewing Manzheeva to discuss the inspiration for the movie, how it was shot, as well as gaining insights into Geshe Wangyal’s far-reaching Dharmic contributions.* After this successful showing at the Asian World Film Festival in Los Angeles, the documentary, which highlights the life of one of the preeminent Tibetan Buddhist teachers in the early stages of American Buddhism, Geshe Wangyal was screened several times in India and the US, provoking great interest and inspiration among the audiences.

Live-streamed introduction by Prof. Robert Thurman and Ella Manzheeva during Tibet House US screening. Image courtesy of Ella Manzheeva 

The film was screened at the Seven Inn Hotel in Bodh Gaya, India on 31 December 2022 for Buddhist pilgrims from Kalmykia, Tuva, and elsewhere, who had gathered to attend teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was subsequently presented in-person and online by the Tibet House US on 4 February this year, with a live-streamed introduction by Prof. Thurman and Ella Manzheeva. During the screening, Manzheeva addressed the Kalmyk audience and especially newly arrivals in the US, saying: “I want to dedicate this show to all Kalmyks who have just arrived in the United States and are beginning their journey. May things work out for you and as Geshe-la said: pure thoughts open any doors! Have a safe journey!”

The Kalmyk diaspora in New Jersey was also able to view the film on 13 May. A few days later, on 21 May, it was screened at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, California, with the cooperation of the Buddhist Film Foundation, the world’s leading resource for Buddhist-themed andBuddhist-inspired cinema. The screening includedalive-streamed introduction by Prof. Thurman and a discussion with Manzheeva.

During the Tibet House US screening. Image courtesy of Ella Manzheeva

In his appreciation letter, Prof. Thurman writes that Manzheeva has done the world a great favor by directing and producing the first-ever comprehensive, informative, and moving documentary on the life of Venerable Geshe Ngawang Wangyal. Prof. Thurman also shares his personal experience as a close student of Geshe-la, who “saved his life in many ways,” and acknowledges his accomplishments:

It’s in Manzheeva’s skillful inter-mixing of Geshe-la’s “religious” life with his “political” contributions to the future dissemination of Tibetan Buddhism in his adopted land that we can more closely compare his accomplishments, especially in helping the Dalai Lamas’ work for sentient beings, with those of his illustrious mentor and guru, Lama Dorjiev. In that way, and many others too long to recount for our purposes, naturally I think people should know what a great, eminent man he was, a true tzaddick, a hidden saint and sage, or in zen-speak, “a true man of no rank,” perhaps one of the most important individuals of the 20th century.**

Ella Manzheeva with members of the Kalmyk diaspora for the screening in New Jersey. Image courtesy of Ella Manzheeva 

Jeffrey Hopkins writes impressive letter of commendation, providing an historical analysis of the details of Geshe Wangyal’s life and delving deeply into the moments when his life intertwined with that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Hopkins summarizes Geshe’s accomplishments, presented in the documentary: 

Ella Manzheeva’s film poignantly depicts Geshe Wangyal’s remarkable life journey that, among other notable accomplishments, helped His Holiness the Dalai Lama escape from Tibet; inspired and advised a successful behind-the-scenes political campaign to bring the Dalai Lama to America; and, posthumously, brought the Dalai Lama to Geshe Wangyal’s own birthplace to help instantly revive Buddhism where it had been decimated during his 70-year absence.***

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In his own appreciative thoughts, Tenzin Tethong provided valuable historical insights related to Geshe Wangyal and his relationship with the Dalai Lama, and highlighting the outstanding qualities of the documentary:

Ella Manzheeva has produced a wonderful and important film about the very productive life of Geshe Wangyal. In the final act of this pioneering work, Manzheeva illustrates how Geshe Wangyal, posthumously, reconnects his homeland Kalmykia to the Tibet of the Mongol Khans and, in a mysterious and circuitous way, tells how his introduction of Tibetan Buddhism to America eventually resurrected it in his own homeland, by his “friend” the Dalai Lama. Geshe Wangyal not only advanced a spiritual tradition completely decimated in his homeland, but also resurrected a consequential Mongol-Tibetan relationship that has stood the test of time, political persecution and attempted ethnic cleansing. I urge all my friends to view this excellent film depiction of one of His Holiness’s first friends in America whose relationship’s origins stretch back eight centuries to some semi-enlightened Mongol Khans of the 13th Century.****

Screening at the Rafael Film Center. Image courtesy of Ella Manzheeva 

Without a doubt, Manzheeva’s incredible film sheds new light on the dramatic story of the Buddhist monk and scholar Geshe Wangyal, who became a pivotal figure in the spread of Tibetan Buddhism to the West and in the establishment of a spiritual bridge spanning Tibet, India, Russia, America, and the world.

* An Interview with Ella Manzheeva, Director of the New Documentary Geshe Wangyal: With Blessing of the Three Jewels (BDG)

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