The Journey of the Seventeenth Karmapa
Directed by Mark Elliott
Bodhisattva portrays the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, one of the most important lamas in the world of Tibetan Buddhism, at a unique moment in his trajectory as a teacher: his first visit to the West, specifically, the United States. In this hour-long film, we meet not only the leader of the Kagyu Lineage, but also a young man of extraordinary warmth, humanity, and humor. The Karmapa speaks to packed auditoriums with a wisdom beyond his years, and explores with delight the many facets of a new world, from Coca-Cola to New York City, warmly engaging with all those he meets on his travels.
What this documentary reveals most clearly is the Karmapa’s disarming honesty and genuine faith in his role as a bodhisattva, or one born to benefit others. The film also tells us much about the fascinating question of transmission of religion, or belief system, from one culture to the next. “Bodhisattva” includes many short excerpts from teachings given on the tour, where the Karmapa addresses the social and environmental problems facing humanity today. He advises his audiences on the importance of thinking in new ways in order to face these challenging issues, emphasizing how we are all deeply interconnected, a core tenant of Buddhist philosophy. In viewing this film, the Karmapa’s teachings, indeed his very presence, gives us hope for regeneration in troubled times. As a sequel to Mark Elliot’s earlier The Lions’ Roar (1987), a documentary about the previous Karmapa’s first trip to the West, “Bodhisattva” continues to chronicle the life of this significant spiritual figure and his role in the transmission of Buddhism to the West.
Bodhisattva interweaves footage shot on tour, with superb background footage of the Karmapa’s childhood in Tibet, sequences in Dharamsala, India, and film of the previous Sixteenth Karmapa.