Siddhartha story updated
Director Pan Nalin brings the Siddhartha tale full circle. Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, abandoned great wealth and his family to meditate in poverty. In this way he found enlightenment. Tashi decides to travel the path to Buddhahood by returning to everyday life.
Nalin told IndiaGlitz that this “simple love story about choices” derives its power from more silence and less dialogue.
Tashi’s great longing
In Samsara’s dramatic opening, Tashi is retrieved by the lamas after meditating in solitude for three years, three months and three days. The devotee is covered with dirt. With long hair and nails grown into talons, Tashi can’t move or open his eyes.
Slowly regaining his strength, Tashi finds that his heart has grown. He longs to leave the lamasery, to become fully human in samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
Tashi pleads with his superior Apo (Sherab Sangey): “Even Lord Gautama was permitted to live as an ordinary man for his first 29 years!” The lamas try to dissuade him. Nevertheless he sets out to experience love, sexuality and fatherhood.
World and spirit meet
Samsara reveals how our souls grow through both spiritual and worldly experience. We are souls having a human experience, always connected with the Divine.
The Ladakh region of the Himalayas comes alive in Rali Raltchev’s cinematography. Serenity and drama unfold in colorful scenes of prayer, meditation, devotional dance and rural farming.
Love and destiny
Tashi and Pema make love in a field. When Pema’s family finds out, they beat Tashi until they realize who he is. An astrologer is called in to decide Pema’s destiny.
The two marry and have children, including a son Karma (Tenzin Tashi). Tashi prospers as a farmer, bringing the harvest to town himself rather than yielding to a dishonest middle man Dawa (Lhakpa Tsering). In retaliation, the family field is set ablaze.
Satisfy 1,000 desires or just one?
Neighbors help the family extinguish the fire. Tashi lusts after a field worker Sujata (Neelesha BaVora). He betrays Pema.
Learning that Apo has died, Tashi reads a message from the teacher: “What is more important: satisfying one thousand desires or conquering just one.” He decides to leave Pema and return to the lamasery.
Paradox of enlightenment
Pema confronts her fleeing husband. Chung gives a memorable speech, comparing herself to Siddhartha’s abandoned wife Yashodhara.
Pema lives in every moment. She pursues Buddhahood as a devout wife and mother, very much like Mary, Christ’s mother.
Tashi has the luxury of walking out on his family. Pema does not. Lamaseries were only open to men at that time, so the path to enlightenment seemed closed to women.
All paths lead to the Divine
Pema argues eloquently for the marriage of everyday life and devotional practice. She loves the Divine as much as he does.
Tashi sees a question inscribed on a rock: “How can one prevent a drop of water from ever drying up?” He learns the answer. Poised in time and timelessness, he looks to the sky. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Samsara, you might enjoy: Dalai Lama: Renaissance.
Samsara 2001 / R / 2 hours, 18 min
Cast Overview: Shawn Ku, Christy Chung, Naleesha BaVora, Lhakpa Tsering, Tenzin Tashi, Jamayang Jinpa, Sherab Sangey, Kelsang Tashi, Tsepak Tsangpo
Director: Pan Nalin
Language: Tibetan, Ladakhi with English subtitles
Genre: Drama, Spirituality