As Vara: A Blessing, the forbidden love story of a hindu Bharatanatyam dancer and her Muslim sculptor, opened the Busan Film Festival in Korea on Thursday, its director was missing while the film cast took the red carpet.
Far away from stardust, Khyentse Norbu, recognized at the age of seven as the incarnation of the founder of the ecumenical Khyentse school of Vajrayana Buddhism, was entering the final stages of his month-long meditation at the centuries old Singye Dzong or The Lion Fortress in the Himalayas.The dzong is a three-day trek from from the remote Eastern Bhutanese village of Khoma.
Trekking up the narrow trail to an altitude of more than 3000 meters above sea level, hundreds of pilgrims have already reached the meditation site to listen and seek blessings from Khyentse Norbu as he leads the sacred drupchen, a 10-day-long long prayer to fight negativities that rule human life.
Most of his Bhutanese devotees would not have watched any of his movies. For them, he is His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. In him, they see the Buddha reborn into this world to allay suffering. For his western disciples, he is a teacher for the modern age, challenging their notions with his irreverent approach to Buddhist teachings.
“I think it’s better to understand the power of this influence, than to be its victim,” Khyentse Norbu once said on filmmaking. “Film has so much power because we’re conditioned primarily by what we see, and what we hear. Making a good film, I suppose, is a bit like doing good Buddhist practice. It all begins with an awareness of how we’re conditioned.”
Variety magazine writes that Khyentse Norbu’s film are spiritual. “Thematically, all three of Norbu’s films are meditations on temptation, transgression and transcendence, whether it’s young monks’ soccer fandom in “The Cup,” the allure of American pop culture and a voluptuous woman in “Travelers,” or the transporting ecstasy of sex and artistic creation in “Vara.” While Buddhism teaches one to let go of one’s attachments, Norbu’s films culminate in the fulfillment rather than the renunciation of desire, even as they acknowledge desire’s ephemeral nature. The idea that the human body is a temple of divinity is invoked in an opening quotation from the writings of Indian philosopher and social reformer Bassavanna, and it’s aptly illustrated by the characters’ sensual fascination with statues of their deities.”
As Vara: A Blessing begins its tour across film festivals and theaters this week, Khyentse Norbu’s devotees would be cherishing their once-in-a-life-time opportunity ; to listen to one of the greatest contemporary Buddhist masters at the sacred Singye Dzong – this is double Vara.