Fellow "Travellers & Magicians" of Samsara

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, May 5, 2007

Dharma-Inspired Movie Review: www.travellersandmagicians.com

Singapore -- Sypnosis from Official Web: In the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, nestled deep in the Himalayas, two men seek to escape their mundane lives. Dondup, an educated university graduate decides that he will be better off picking apples in the US than working as a government officer in a remote rural village.

Tashi, a restless farm youth studying magic, cannot bear the thought of a life consigned to his village. Through a trick of his brother, he is delivered into a dream world of seduction and intrigue. The two mean embark on parallel, if separate journeys. Their yearning is a common one - for a better and different life. Dondup, delayed by the timeless pace of his village, is forced to hitchhike through the beautiful wild countryside of Bhutan to reach his goal. He shares the road with a monk, an apple seller, a paper maker and his beautiful young daughter, Sonam.

Throughout the journey, the perceptive, yet mischievous monk relates the story of Tashi. It is a mystical fable of lust, jealousy and murder, that holds up a mirror to the restless Dondup, and his blossoming attraction to the innocent Sonam. The cataclysmic conclusion of the monk's tale leaves Dondup with a dilemma - is the grass truly greener on the other side? (Two men, one chasing love, ends up in a dream. The other, chasing a dream, leaves love behind.)

Of Dondup's Journey

Perhaps we are somewhat like Dondup, the first protagonist in the film - motivated, yet trapped by our yearnings. Are we not sometimes like him, fretting for a "miracle", in his case, for a vehicle to hitchhike, while rejecting the sweetness of the moment, of being able to savour a kindly offered apple or even music. Dondup's outward journey to the land of his dreams (an illusory dreamland formed by his clouded perceptions?), turned out to be an inner journey, or rather an accidental spiritual pilgrimage of sorts, as he discovers the kindness and beauty of strangers and their companionship, and most of all, of the potential happiness that could be found where he already was.

Buddhists watching the Buddhism-inspired movie made by a Buddhist master might naturally think they were all manifested Bodhisattvas on a road trip of teaching Dondup the essential lessons of life. Dondup transforms from a self-centred unappreciative seeker of the elusively sophisticated (and often complicated) "American dream" to one who learns to love a simple country girl of his homeland. He begins to generously offer what he craved to others - an available seat on rare passing vehicles, and decides to quit smoking. He learns to see precious inner beauty in the innocence and filial piety of Sonam, overriding his "classic" fantasy of wild blonde sexy rock chicks. The monk utters, "What is hoped for yesterday is dreaded today." Indeed! How fickle the unenlightened human heart can be! But as long as we change for the better, let us change.

Catch "Travellers & Magicians" at the Asian Buddhist Film Festival 2007 (Singapore): www.AsianBuddhistFilmFest.org

If we can only be here now, where else can the ideal place be? As Dondup feels less and less stranded as his journey progresses, it struck me that we are always "stranded", yet free, in the here and now. Why then, do we not make the best of it? Why fret the future or regret the past? Our dreamland, or Pureland is not far away - it is where you are the very moment you are free of greed, hatred and delusion.

The monk tells Dondup, as he anxiously awaits for a vehicle to come by, "There is no use staring at an empty road", waiting for what you want to arrive, when your karma will take its time to ripen, after doing all you can. Hope can cause pain, even when your hope is for happiness, if it is seeked in the wrong place or way. Is our hoping realistic or in vain? Many of us define True Happiness wrongly in the first place. How then can we get what we do not know? One of the characteristics of True Happiness is contentment in the here and now; happiness is not something out there to be attained or a place to be reached. "People become edgy when waiting for something", said the monk. Hoping with anxiousness never helps - it only worsens the quality of "now", in which "we might as well relax." As Shantideva said, (also uttered at the end of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's previous movie "The Cup", "If there is nothing we can do? why worry and get upset over it? Things will not get better with anger and worry."

Of Tashi's Journey

Perhaps we are somewhat like Tashi, the other protagonist. He finds himself lost in a forest, manifested from the thicket of his desires. In the middle of nowhere, in the thick of Samsara, he could not fathom a way out. He becomes lost in space and time, infatuated? forgetting he was in reality already trapped, forgetting that his real home, his true refuge is elsewhere. Seems pretty similar to many of us seemingly going somewhere, though in circles of rebirth, trapped by our own craving for sense pleasures. Giving in, he decides to make the forest home, succumbing to adultery and murder, repaying kindness with evil. He shows us how easily an unguarded mind renders us savages when intoxicated by selfish passion. In the end, it was but a dream, of a potential future, as he repents. Likewise, every moment is a chance to repent, to choose a different and better future - for the dreamlike past has already passed.

Of Travellers & Magicians, Bodhisattvas & Us

The last line of the film goes, "Peach blossoms are beautiful because they are temporary." Because things change, flowers wither. But because of change, they can also blossom. Oh, is parting such sweet sorrow? Oh, of "the bitter and sweet of temporary things..." Whether the temporal tastes sweet or bitter is up to us. The temporal is sweet and only sweet if we treasure it in the moment, letting it go when it goes. The temporal turns bitter when we are attached beyond its span of sweetness. As Stonepeace put it,

Because everything changes from moment to moment,
we should treasure everything in this moment.
Because everything changes from moment to moment,
we should not be attached to anything in this moment.

Since all we have is now, may we learn to stop and smell the roses, to taste life as it is. Because we all change in the moment, because our defilements are temporary, we can choose to grow more and more beautiful spiritually.

Karma, Tashi's brother, wisely concocted magic to trick Tashi to awaken him from his deluded dream, just as the monk skilfully used a fable to awaken Dondup. We are Tashi and Dondup now and then. We are travellers journeying through life and death, time and again, in the hope of attaining True Happiness. And the Bodhisattvas - all the kind teachers we meet on the way, are like magicians, conjuring skilful means and tricks to "entertain" yet enlighten us. But what is the greatest magic? The Buddha says the greatest miracle is not any magical feat, but the spiritual transformation of a defiled mind to a pure one. Travel on, if you must, and may the many you encounter bring magic to your spiritual life.

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