Mo’ Reviews: Science And Spirituality Merge In Fascinating Doc ‘The Dalai Lama–Scientist’

The Dalai Lama--Scientist

This film is publicized by Bunker 15 Films (www.bunker15films.com) . Bunker 15 helps connect indie films to entertainment journalists and critics in order to provide said films with press, something that can be hard to receive when you are a small film crew.

Written and directed by: Dawn Gifford Engle

Starring: The Dalai Lama, Laurel Harris, Paul Enkman, Matthieu Ricard

Synopsis: Eighty five years ago, a little boy was born in a remote corner of Tibet. One day, miraculously, he was discovered to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, and he was soon carried away to the capitol city of Lhasa to become the political and religious leader of the vast kingdom of Tibet. But the little boy had a secret, locked inside his heart. In “The Dalai Lama — Scientist”, the Dalai Lama tells the unknown story, in his own words, of his lifelong journey into the world of science and technology, and how the world has changed as a result. With extensive, rare, and never before seen footage, this film tells the very human story of the Dalai Lama that no one knows.

Monique’s Review: The Dalai Lama—Scientist, the first time the Dalai Lama’s forays into science have been documented,debuted at the Venice Film Festival last year, and since then, the film has garnered 16 Best Documentary awards, 10 awards for Best Director, two awards for Outstanding Achievement, and two Best of Fest Awards. After watching the film, it is easy to see how.

The documentary chronicles over 30 years of the Dalai Lama’s interest in science, which resulted in his decades-long practice of holding scientific salons with some of the brightest scientific researchers in his palace. The salons have created an unexpected bridge between the spiritual and scientific worlds, and the bridge has allowed both worlds to realize not only that they aren’t so different, but that they can also work together to create new strategies and breakthroughs to benefit mankind.

As someone who sees themselves as a spiritual person with a scientific mind, it was fascinating to learn about this side of the Dalai Lama that people don’t ordinarily see. Through the documentary, viewers can understand how the Dalai Lama isn’t an esoteric being, but a spiritual and scientific investigator seeking knowledge and truth. For those that aren’t of the spiritual mindset, this might come as a surprising revelation, as it did for many of the scientists featured in the documentary. Personally, I feel like some of the surprise the scientists elicited is mired in prejudicial Western skepticism, which refuses to believe that other modes of thought can provide the same truths.

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Regardless, Western skepticism, when allowed to be challenged, generally falls away with the scientists who are invited by the Dalai Lama. Instead, they come away with the humbling knowledge that Western science is hundreds of years behind Buddhist thought, which has already theorized about the cosmos, psychology, genetics and neurobiology. For instance, the current focus on neuroplasticity within the psychology community was already a concept within Buddhist teachings, but taught within the concept of meditation and mindfulness.

Even better, the film gives examples of some of the advancements the intersection has created, such as SEE Learning, which focuses on teaching emotional wholeness to children and The Atlas of Emotions, which gives people opportunities to learn how their relationships to emotions and actions can cause or alleviate their mental suffering. Through these and other real-world examples, the film showcases how the relationships between the two disciplines can be used together to create technologies that facilitate a more empathetic, conscious world.

While informative, the documentary might seem a little dry to those who would like for these big concepts to be shown with more movie magic rather than through the stiffness of a college professor’s presentation. The big draw to documentaries are their ability to emotionally connect with audiences and inspire them to action. If you are someone who likes your documentaries with a little more emotional flair, there is the potential for you to zone out at times as you hear scientists talk about certain concepts about the Big Bang or neurons. While the ultimate goal the film wants its audience to come away with is to embrace both spirituality and scientific reasoning, there is no immediate goal. For instance, with a documentary like Blackfish, the immediate goal was clear—boycott SeaWorld—and the overarching goal—protecting wildlife—was heavily alluded to throughout the film. In this film, perhaps the closest we come to an immediate goal is to not write off the teachings of other cultures, which is definitely a great goal to have, but it’s not overtly stated enough as a goal every audience member should instantly adopt into their lives.

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Animation is utilized to flesh out some of the memories the Dalai Lama recounts of his own scientific explorations in childhood and young adulthood. This could have been used to add more emotional weight to the documentary, and I wish that type of narrative technique was used as a bigger way to expound upon the Dalai Lama’s lifelong personal journey into scientific investigation. While there are certain other moments in the film in which graphics are used to explain certain theories or discoveries, they’re used in a way similar to a Discovery Channel series, which is less about artistry being used to enhance a story as much as it is about a utilitarian use of a medium to convey a point.

Also, I would have loved to hear more from His Holiness himself about why he became interested in joining forces with scientific groups from around the world. Of course, I know the answer is heavily alluded to in the documentary—to bring about world peace and prosperity through utilizing science for the common good. But I would have loved to have more footage with the Dalai Lama discussing his personal philosophy behind tackling the world’s issues with an interdisciplinary approach.

Even though there are certain areas where The Dalai Lama—Scientist lacks some emotional punch, the film is still an achievement of compiling a little-known look at a spiritual leader who wants to be seen as less of a pope and more of a philosopher-scholar. We also get to see how the Western world is finally waking up to the wisdom of ancient practices, realizing that sometimes it is actually better to learn from the knowledge of those in other fields, other cultures and with other ideologies. What the audience can learn, just like the scientific community did within this film, that spirituality can be seen as just another form of science, since both are searching for the answers to humanity and ultimate truth.