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The art of making a true to life reel of Karma

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By Suryamithra Vishwa 

The belief that each act of ours has a reaction that will affect us is something that most humans may have an element of belief in, even subconsciously, whatever their religious orientation, but it is somehow slips away from our everyday focus. The fact is that we nevertheless live with the repercussions of our decisions and actions. For example if we take humanity as a whole, we today live with the repercussions of what we have done to this earth. We have inundated it with plastic, with chemicals, we have cut the forests, we have introduced industry oriented food patterns that drastically affect the environment and us, and we have to live with the result. 

Last week we featured in this page Karma Lhatrul Rinpoche (36), a Bhutanese film maker who had used the premise of Karma to create a simple fable of love. He currently heads a self-help community initiative he started few years back in Sikkim where the focus is inculcating the value of growing trees and recycling on the philosophy that recycling and growing trees is good for one’s Karma. Working with the community in the area waste paper is used to make bags and sold for low amounts to facilitate income and children are often involved in the tree growing initiatives. His self-help centre called in Sikkim is called Kunzang Thugtik (Practicing to perfection) located in the land offered by the Nepali Gurung community.

“We take used paper and paste it until it is thick like wood and we make bags with it that can hold a lot of weight. These bags are sold for low amounts and facilitates income for the rural community. Caring for the earth and growing trees is another key aspect we focus on, so that correct awareness is reached on how we have to nurture our surrounding,” he says. 

As someone who had started treading his spiritual path at the age of three when he was entrusted to a Lama after recalling his past lives at the age of three, Rinpoche later spent much of his life in forest based monasteries in various locations being trained in Buddhist meditation techniques such as Vajrayana but after the death of his guru Kunzang Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche, he left monastic life to travel the world to understand how the laity lived their life. His travels had taken him to many locations including Bali and Malaysia. Wherever he went he saw that there was a gap between what those in monastic life preached and the life lived by those in the world whose problems and aspirations were not often understood by someone living in meditative isolation. 

Having grown up in forests and in the natural environment he saw that there was a great need to develop different ways to speak some of the universal truths to people who are caught up in the everyday grind. Hence he decided to enter the field of film making. He had neither the training nor the finances to be a film maker. He had only the intention. The initial resource he possessed when he decided to be a sojourner in the world to understand it, was an ancestral piece of clothing given by his mother. 

This was the only valuable thing he owned which he disposed of and with that money began a journey that was not governed by material fear of lack which most of us sometimes are needlessly overwhelmed by. But 

curiosity, wonder and a sense that he must choose a medium to communicate the truths that he had spent nearly two decades understanding, was strong. His teacher had advised him that he must contribute to imparting wisdom to fellow humans and in 2006 he began the task. He soon decided that he would teach himself film making to give to the world in the form of cinematic parables.

“I never went to film school. Have never even seen a camera in my life until I left the monastery but I wanted to make a film. I was subsequently introduced to the Australian based cinematographer Ian Baker from whom I learnt about the well-known films and I spent many hours freezing the frames of different films I liked,” explains Karma Lhatrul Rinpoche.

His feature film ‘The Wind of Karma’, a Bhutanese version of a typical Romeo and Juliet tragic love story, was screened at the SAARC film festival held a fortnight ago in Colombo. The film has won several accolades from the Bhutan National Film Awards (BNFA) and was internationally screened for the first time at the 2019 SAARC film festival organised by the SAARC Cultural Centre and held at the National Film Corporation in Colombo. His short films include the Inner Call and Row (Row loosely translated as taste). The films deal with spiritual themes but which are encased in plots that speak of ordinary life. The short film Row is about a hunter who uses poisonous arrows to hunt his prey and finally who is killed because he accidentally drinks water which has been stored in an arrow carrier. 

Karma Rinpoche’s story on how he began making films without any formal training will probably be an inspiration for everyone whose only asset is the intention of doing something.

“I told myself that I am the first person to have ever made a film. I did not follow any rules that have been taught before. We did come up with a script for the Feature film but I did not follow it strictly. We were shooting on dangerous mountain slopes where we had to act a dangerous fall by the female actress that culminate for the purpose of the story in a life and death situation. We did this without any artificial shots. What was being attempted was dangerous but with pure intention and we just did it. As for resources I did not bother about what I did not have. I opened my heart to the idea and the people I should meet and the resources came my way. All the actors and actresses are highly paid ones in Bhutan but they virtually worked for free in my feature film. In the short films I act myself in the main roles.” Currently he is working on a film that looks at the concept of liberation. 

(Suryamithra Vishwa is part of the Earth Life Water Knowledge Trails initiative that attempts to show that much of what we call ‘education’ in the modern context, is information gathering, that needs introspective meaning and love, for our country, ourselves and others; for humans, plants, animals and water resources. ELW Knowledge Trails attempts to contribute to make education a journey of joy, curiosity, understanding, compassion and empathy through a series of diverse initiatives.)

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