Friday, December 22, 2006

Lama Film Is Lame

File under: Gurus on the Screen

The Berkeley Daily Planet wasn't very impressed with Leslie Ann Patten's Words of My Perfect Teacher:
There are few things more nauseating than self-satisfied white westerners opining on the virtues of eastern religions and philosophies. Too often the opiner has been disproportionately impressed by a dollar-book summary of a major religion’s tenets and has taken that grain of truth and blown it up into a mountain of simplistic misinterpretations. Words of My Perfect Teacher suffers greatly from this malaise.

Reviewer Justin DeFreitas even frames the whole space-daddy phenomenon for us:
One of the first and seemingly most obvious of his teachings is the danger of idolatry, of looking upon a teacher as an infallible and unfailingly wise creature who can bestow wisdom upon his disciples like a gift. Perhaps we’re seeing these students at too early a stage in their studies, but this is one lesson they seem to have trouble learning. Throughout the film they persist in this indulgence, viewing Khyentse Norbu as an all-knowing, all-seeing master of their fates. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a glance from Khyentse Norbu is just a glance, and sometimes a guru who appears lost in an airport is truly just a man lost in an airport. No matter, Khyentse Norbu’s disciples prefer to treat him like a human Rorschach test, taking his every glance and gesture as a great lesson to be learned and every all-too-human error as a mysterious and profound teaching moment—though they can never quite convey to us precisely what they have learned.
A tip of the turban for Justin's insightful employment of sorely-needed critical thinking. It's a dead-on rendering of everything wrong with gurudom. Good gurus seem to attract it as much as the bad, all this in spite of their best efforts to mitigate the space-daddy effect. The bad gurus just grow it like a fungus in the minds of their marks, effectively putting a layer of mystifanatical nonsense between them and the spiritual understanding they believe they're paying for.


At 12/23/2006 11:27 AM, Blogger TheBlade said...

but this is one lesson they seem to have trouble learning. Throughout the film they persist in this indulgence, viewing Khyentse Norbu as an all-knowing, all-seeing master of their fates.

You picked out a gem there Jody.

Perhaps they are too early in their studies he asks? Well, yessir, but I'm afraid, in most cases, that mistake is made at some degree until both guru and chela dissolve in the loam. Don't expect too much on planet earth sir! :)

At 12/25/2006 3:25 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

I went to see "Perfect Teacher" yesterday. It's not bad. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (DKR) seems like a decent guy and teacher. It's true that the students you see in the movie might annoy some by the way they view him as space-daddy. It doesn't seem that DKR encourages this, but the results show that he doesn't clearly discourage it. Still, there are lots of gurus and teachers who, based on my bullshit meter, seem to really believe the adoration that the students give them. DKR doesn't seem to fall into that trap.

Some people are looking for space-daddies, so if they (space-daddys) didn't exist, we'd have to invent them. It's great to have teachings out there, like those sometimes expressed on Guruphiliac, that point to believing in oneself rather than being a follower. For people who aren't ready to go beyond following, some space-daddys seem much kinder and less deluded than others, and DKR is on the good end of that spectrum.

There's a nice essay by DKR at

(you might need to "sign up" to view this, but it's free, and you can use a fake name, email, and everything)

The essay has some clarity, e.g.:

"many [Tibetan teachers] have insisted that their Western followers adopt the whole cultural package along with Buddhism. It is this hodgepodge of Tibetan culture and Buddhism that many are having a hard time digesting. Even basic Buddhist teachings such as refuge are now being taken theistically because of inadequate explanation. When we chant prayers like 'I take refuge in the Buddha,' we barely mention - and we therefore ignore - its essential meanings, such as knowing that one's ultimate nature is the Buddha."



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