Recalling a Buddha: Memories of the Sixteenth Karmapa
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The life story of the Sixteenth Karmapa is told by those close to him in Tibet, the generation of teachers that he trained and many others that he touched. This feature-length film looks closely at enlightened qualities and examines them in the context of historical events such as the fall of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism's migration to the West.
How Karmapa lived and how he died gives us the example of an awakened being: a person with a noble heart.
The DVD includes two hours of Extras material:
1. Interview with a Buddha: Karmapa XVI, Jamgon Kongtrul and Karmapa's retunie appeared on a half hour talk show. The entire program is the extra.
2. The Ceremony of the Vajra Crown: In 1980, a director who would later be nominated for an Oscar filmed the Black Crown ceremony in beautiful 16mm color.
3. The Line of Karmapas: Thrangu Rinpoche, senior teacher of the Karma Kagyu lineage, eminent scholar Gene Smith, and Beru Khyentse Rinpoche share thoughts on the previous 15 incarnations of Karmapas.
4. Preserving the Dharma Texts: H.E. Shamar Rinpoche and Gene Smith recount the partnership between the Sixteenth Karmapa and the U.S. Library of Congress to reprint sacred texts brought out of Tibet and made available to the newly forming monasteries in Asia.
5. Rumtek: various "alumni" of Rumtek monastery, seat of the Karmapas share memories of living in a high concentration of realized masters.
6. Connecting to Karmapa: Westerners who entered the mandala of the Karmapa share how they came to relate to the Sixteenth Karmapa.
About the Director
Recalling a Buddha: Memories of HH Karmapa XVI is Gregg Eller's first film. He is the producer of Pema Chodron's teaching website and received an undergraduate degree in rhetoric from the University of California at Berkeley.
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This is a documentary film about the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpei Dorje, within the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. 'Karmapa' is the title for the head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of four main schools. The sixteenth Karmapa lived from 1924 to 1981, and is universally recognized amongst Tibetan Buddhists, and particularly practitioners within the Kagyu school, as one of the most important and influential teachers of the modern age. He played an extraordinary role in the development of Tibetan Buddhism within the West, by traveling to the U.S. at the request of his student, Chogyam Trungpa, and conducting the sacred 'Black Crown' or 'Vajra Crown' ceremony for thousands of people.
In Recalling a Buddha, interviews with those who studied with or knew the Karmapa are entwined with historical commentary, photography, and documentary footage of him to create a complete history of his life and influence on the West. Many of those interviewed are now well-known within Tibetan Buddhism, such as Tenzin Palmo, one of the first western women to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun, and subject of the popular book by Vickie Mackenzie, Cave in the Snow: Tenzin Palmo's Quest for Enlightenment. The interviews cover both individuals' personal reactions to the Karmapa upon interacting with him, and events from his life history, including his exodus from Tibet in 1959.
The most fascinating part of the documentary for me was the footage of the Black Crown ceremony, performed by the sixteenth Karmapa. The Black Crown is a sacred hat and symbol of the Kagyu lineage. According to legend, in a prior lifetime the Karmapa attained one of the highest levels of bodhisattva-hood, and 100,000 dakinis created a crown from the hair on their heads and gave it to him as a gift. On the historical level, the crown is said to be a gift from a Chinese Emporer, who was able to see the field of enlightenment and power residing above the Karmapa's head, and had a physical replica of what he saw created.
The Black Crown ceremony is an empowerment and blessing ceremony consisting of prayer and chanting. The Karmapa places the hat on his head while reciting a mantra and meditating on the Buddha of Compassion, Chenrezig. It is said that anyone witnessing the ceremony has the opportunity to attain the first level of bodhisattvahood within three lifetimes. The sixteenth Karmapa performed this ceremony several times in the United States during his visits for thousands of people, and it is considered to have been a powerful transmission of the dharma in the West. Invaluable footage of one of these occasions is included.
Overall, this film will probably be of most interest to those already somewhat familiar with Tibetan Buddhism, and particularly those interested in the Kagyu lineage. Although anyone interested in the history of Buddhism in America might also want to check it out, because the sixteenth Karmapa (and many of his students) were and are a major influence in the U.S. For those populations, this is a five-star film. But it is not an introduction to Buddhism or anything of that nature, so as long as you know what you're getting, you will appreciate this very much (and may watch that Black Crown ceremony over and over!)
My only small complaint was not with the film nor the filmmaker but the copy I received, which I believe was a copy of a copy--- a bootleg in my estimation. It omitted the "extra footage" which was the reason why I purchased my copy to begin with. I didn't know it when I purchased, but found out only when I went looking for it on the DVD. I did confer with the filmmaker directly and he promised to correct the problem.
It's remarkable to hear the stories of those who followed, supported and learned from Karmapa on a daily basis. Each person interviewed reflects so graciously and openly on the film maker's open ended questions. I felt as they spoke, seeing the expressions on their faces and the depth of their eyes, it was almost as if they were in Karmapa's presence again as they relived those moments in this colorful, informative and touching story. Clearly this peaceful, funny, enlightened man has had a tremendous and lasting effect on many, many lives.
The photographs and video collections are priceless - I also felt the music and narration were perfectly suited to the subject.
I recommend this film to anyone interested in learning more about the spread of Buddhism in America and certainly to anyone who was living at the time when Karmapa was traveling Europe and the states. Also to those who are studying Buddhism in school or in a spiritual group. We're planning a group screening for our Sanga. Enjoy it!
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