JOURNEY INTO TIBET with Robert Thurman
For the twentieth anniversary of our trip to Mt. Kailash, I’ve gone through the film and added subtitles — trimmed some of the longer scenes, and tried to let the audience experience directly what it was like to take a trip to Geographic Expeditions, go to Lhasa and travel with Robert Thurman across Tibet. (For more info: THUS.ORG)
This film exists because I was making a Bollywood movie in Mumbai (My Bollywood Bride) when I got a email from Robert Thurman inviting me to join their trip around Tibet and Mt Kailash. I left the hot sound stages of Juhi and found myself in Katmandu, then in Lhasa.
From there we visit the Jokhang temple, take a trip to Sera, Drepung and the Nechung Monasteries, then to Samye monastery, then off to Shigatse and Tashi Lumpo monastery, then to Gyantse and the Kumbum… from there it’s a trip to Darchen, and then to a kora around Mt. Kailash, a visit with a saddhu Bikash Giri who lives in a cave overlooking Lake Manasarovar.
This is two hours of a four week trip, funded by Geographic Expeditions out of San Francisco, and created for Menla, Tibet House in NYC. Robert Thurman is a former Tibetan Buddhist monk who became a professor at Columbia University, is the emeritus chair of the Jey Tsong Khapa studies at Columbia, and its the best person to travel to any Buddhist shrines in Asia to hear the history of the place.
For this 20th anniversary I focused on listening to every word that I could translate, and some that I may have erred in translating. But I can tell you that watching this film, which takes us deep into the heart of Tibet, has an overall affect on the viewer that is mind bending.
For those who are interested in the subject, Tibet House in NY is the place to donate any money or to find further information. https://thus.org/
I can’t thank Nena and Robert Thurman enough for allowing me to bring a camera on this trip — there are more clips online of Robert giving meditations in Tibet — you can find them on this page, or searching for them online.
We decided to offer this film for free to the audience — mainly because of how difficult it is for people to travel to Tibet, how difficult it is to go there, or travel in this fashion. For some this will be too esoteric, because Robert knows the names and identities of all the statues that we see — but I don’t think one needs to know who they are in order to experience a benefit from seeing them. Artists created these over the past thousand years, and in the case of the Jokhang a statue that was begun or created in the lifetime of Buddha, and has been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. It still is an object of great veneration.
There’s something pure about Tibet that can never be diluted, never be taken away — for centuries it was a place where people used a philosophy of the mind to study the mind, to examine the nature of reality. While Tibet continues to struggle, this is not a film that talks about the country’s current struggles. There are many others who can discuss that.
In one instance, I was filming Robert in Shigatse, and he goes into be blessed by a monk who puts a large stick on his back, and one of those monks came up and whispered in my ear “Thank you for not forgetting us.”
That is why I made this film — and why it is free to the public to view. So we remember these people, the country that they are from, the history and monasteries that were built to honor a profound philosophy of insight into the human condition, where people have fought and died for their right to speak freely about their philosophy.
That’s something that’s worth showing to the planet. If one only watches and listens, there will be a benefit.
In terms of my own story it was on Mt. Kailash, at the North Face where Robert told us “if you make a wish here it will come true.” I planned to ask for money, but out of my mouth came “I want a son.” I had no connection to the sentence. Then two years later, I asked my son if he knew me “from before.” He said “Yes” and I asked from where?” and he said “Tibet.”
Later, he picked up Robert Thurman’s book “Circling the Sacred Mountain” when he was 4, showed it to his mom and said “this is the important book.” He opened it up to a photo of the spot where I made the wish and said “This is where I found daddy.” (He couldn’t read or write at the time.)
Mt. Kailash is a sacred place for four major religions — the Buddhists, the Jain, the Hindus and the Bon all consider it the “center of the universe.” So here’s a way to visit this sacred mountain, without risking one’s life. I offer this gift to the planet, courtesy of my friend Robert Thurman, from Sanjay Saxena who helped lead the tour, Brent Olson, from Josh Davidow who edited the film, (later made his own films with Robert in Nepal) from all those tour operators from Geographic Expeditions who allowed me to film in return for a copy of the footage for promotional material.
To all the people we met in Tibet who opened their hearts to us. Thanks. Taishe Delek. (apologies for typos in the subtitles — “lightning beings” should be “enlightened beings” “sorry” should be “worry” etc will fix for the next edition)