Seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)
Directed by Neten Chokling (2006)
"If you lose all differentiation between yourselves and others, fit to serve others you will be."- Milarepa
Milarepa, the first feature by Neten Chokling Rinpoche, tells the story of the formative years of Milarepa, an 11th century Tibetan poet and mystic and his journey from seeking revenge to enlightenment. Set in the magnificent Spiti Valley close to the border between India and Tibet, the film has spectacular cinematography and convincing performances from a cast that includes Jamyang Lodro, the obstreperous football-obsessed youngster in The Cup as Thopaga, the young Milarepa. The cast and crew also include monks from the Pema Ewam Choegar Gyurmeling Monastery in India and Tibet of which Chokling Rinpoche is the spiritual head. In the process of making the film, Chokling took in some 40 destitute young boys, many of them orphans, and used his film to help feed, house, and care for the boys.
Milarepa (1052-1135) is one of the most widely known Tibetan Saints. According to a blessing Milarepa uttered towards the end of his life, anyone who but hears the name Milarepa even once attracts an instant blessing and will not take rebirth in a lower state of existence during seven consecutive lifetimes. In Part One of Chokling Rinpoche's biography, Thopaga, which means delightful to hear, grows up in a happy and prosperous environment. His father is wealthy in relation to the other villagers and the family lives in a large stone house consisting of three stories held in place by a large central pillar and supporting columns.
When his father, Mila-Dorje-Senge, is near death, he calls the family together to inform them that he has placed his entire estate in the care of Thopaga's Uncle Gyalsten (Gonpo) and Aunt Peydon (Tsamchoe) until Milarepa was grown and married to Zesay, his arranged partner. Happiness and wealth is not to be for Milarepa, however, as his Aunt and Uncle divide the estate between them and force Milarepa and his mother Kargyen (Kelsang Chukie Tethong) and sister Peta to work in the fields. The family, once the envy of the village, now become objects of derision.
Using Thopaga (Milarepa) as an instrument of revenge, his mother sells some property to raise money to send the young boy to study with Lama Yongten Troygal (Orgyen Tobgyal), known to be adept in the arts of sorcery and black magic. Using sorcery learned from masters, he exacts revenge on his Aunt and Uncle by producing a storm that brings death and destruction to his own people, but it is a Pyrrhic victory and leaves Thopaga in a state of remorse for his evil deeds. His transformation from revenge seeker to inspired saint will be the subject of the second part of the series, scheduled for release in 2009.
Milarepa has all the entertainment value of The Cup and Travellers and Magicians, plus it is filled with Buddhist spiritual teaching that is never heavy-handed. As Chokling Rinpoche states, "His (Milarepa) story shows that the path to enlightenment is accessible to all and can be anyones aspiration and realization". Choklings production company, Shining Moon Productions, is now showing the film in festivals, a series of benefit screenings hosted by Sharon Stone, and limited commercial engagements. A DVD release is scheduled for November. After recovery of the film costs, Neten Chokling has pledged to use proceeds for the benefit of his orphans and monks. Highly recommended.