Lobsang Phunstok is sort of the Father
Flanagan of Tibetan Buddhism. At the foot of the Indian Himalayas, he founded
Jamtse Gatsal, or “The Garden of Love and Compassion,” an orphanage and school
for abandoned children. He might be a former Buddhist monk, but he has the
patience of a saint when it comes to difficult children like Tashi Drolma.
However, you have to feel for the five year old, considering how much she has
already faced up to in her young life. Lobsang Phunstok and his staff will help
her find her place in Jamtse Gatsal and start to heal her trauma in Andrew
Hinton & Johnny Burke’s Tashi and the
Monk (trailer here), which
premieres this coming Monday on HBO.
Drolma’s alcoholic father abandoned her sometime
after her mother died at a tragically young age. That is more than any kid
should have to deal with, so it is hardly surprising her behavior tends towards
the aggressive. There is no question she is disruptive, but when you hear her
make-up revealing stories about little girls just like her that are haunted by
ghosts, it is easy to see she is hurting. Lobsang Phunstok understands only too
well. He was also abandoned during childhood. That is why he will not give up
on a trouble-maker like Drolma, even while he wrestles with difficult
administrative dilemmas, especially his admissions process.
Clocking in well under an hour, T&M is comparatively brief, but it
pummels viewers’ heartstrings. The disarmingly innocent looking Drolma will
activate every protective instinct the audience might have, so it is rewarding
to see her finally settle in, thanks in large measure to Raju, her “big
brother.” However, the film also makes it painfully clear the good monk simply
cannot save every child in need, showing us the tragic consequences for one
child he was unable to admit.
We often think of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries
as exotic places of spiritual sequestration. In contrast, T&M and Frederick Marx’s Journey to Zanskar paint a dynamic portrait of Tibet Buddhism as an activist faith,
very much engaged with the welfare of the young and desperately disadvantaged.
Both documentaries capture deeply moving human stories, while acting as a
corrective to Lost Horizon-style
After watching T&M for forty-some minutes, you will
ardently care about what happens to both Tashi and her guardian. Hinton & Burke
also have a good eye for visuals, giving viewers a vivid sense of the stunning
Himalayan environs. It is a truly inspirational film that never feels
saccharine or manipulative. Highly recommended for those interested in
Himalayan culture and faith in action, Tashi
and the Monk airs this Monday (8/17) on HBO.
Labels: Buddhism on film, Documentary, HBO