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Words of My Perfect Teacher

This is a film about a Buddhist teacher from Bhutan, Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche, and his western followers: a Canadian engineer, an English fortune teller, and an American filmmaker who made this movie. Lesley Ann Patten has created an entertaining film about this inspiring Buddhist teacher through a journey of the students along with their teacher. The initial intention to make a film about her teacher turned out to be a documentary of the various trips following and meeting her teacher together with a few others. The interaction and communication of the teacher with his students brought out teachings of the Buddha. The viewer goes on a delightful journey accompanied by an exotic soundtrack of lively music by Sting and a score of other talented artists. Through this story, the contemporary role of Buddhism is discovered and it shows how the teachings of Buddha can benefit many people in general.

Khyentse Rinpoche is a renowned teacher in Tibetan Buddhism and he is famous for being a filmmaker as well, an unconventional role for a lama. He began his movie career by working with Bernardo Bertolucci in ‘Little Buddha’, before going on to produce ‘The Cup’ (2000), and ‘Travellers & Magicians’ (2003). He claimed in the film that the Rinpoche like him painted Tangka thousand years ago to express the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha, and here he was doing the same thing with the up-to-date modern technology of filmmaking.

Lesley Ann Patten introduces us to Khyentse Rinpoche while in residence in London, following him to the World Cup in Germany, the United States immediately following the 911 attack, and finally to Bhutan where we witness Khyentse Rinpoche assuming his traditional role. Along the way, Patten made a sidetrack to Los Angles to meet Gesar Mukpo, son of Trungpa Rinpoche and action-movie star Steven Segal who are two recognized reincarnated tulkus in the Western world.

What is a perfect teacher? And what does a perfect teacher look like? Growing up in the background of traditional monastic training, Khyentse Rinpoche manages to apply a completely modern way to help his western students, but does not deviate from the profound teachings of Buddhism. At the same time, the Rinpoche demonstrated his solemn respect for his lineage guru and traditional teachers that are so highly valued.

The teachings of Buddhism that were taught in the film were introduced as parts of day-to-day life. The film also explored the role, behavior and importance of a teacher in Vajrayana Buddhism. The significance of devotion and the teacher-student relationship were revealed in their conversations:

“He has to be a mirror to see yourself, but also an assassin, the man or woman you have hired to completely dismantle ‘you’ … and a student should be like a patient, a teacher like a doctor…”, explained the Rinpoche.

I will be not surprised if one is overwhelmed by the loads of enlightened words in the film uttered with a funny smiling face. However, this lama is so ‘ordinary’ to the dismay of his students. He cooked, he drank, he watched football games, and he showed up late. As the computer engineer commented in the film, ‘If he is enlightened, why doesn’t he act like an enlightened being?’

“When you don’t have obsession, when you don’t have hang-ups, when you don’t have inhibition… what more enlightenment do you want?”

In the watching of the film, we see the teacher-student interaction, the conflict of fans in the World Cup match, the episode of the New York terrorist attack, and as a result the mind as a master of happiness and suffering was depicted clearly. The film also gives a glimpse of Tibetan Vajrayana tradition and the Buddhist country of Bhutan where the traditions and panoramic scenery contrast greatly with the rest of countries on the globe.

The movie ended on a note when the Rinpoche entered a meditation retreat and the students returned home. He concluded by praising the Buddha:

“Lastly, how wonderful it is, even he did not stay on as immortal being”

An ultimate display of impermanence.

Lesley Ann Patten, the Director.

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