Published Sep 01, 2001
In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, samsara is the cycle of rebirth that we are all lodged in. It's the daily experience of longings and fears that we all familiar with. After 29 years of struggle the Buddha, through enlightenment, is said to have found the path to transcend this cycle.
A monk named Tashi (Shawn Ku) has just finished three years of hermetic meditation in a cave in the Himalayas, in Ladakh, India. In recognition of this accomplishment, a lama promotes him to the title of Khempo, but something is wrong. Having lived the monastic life since the age of five, Tashi is now troubled by erotic dreams and constantly distracted when in the company of young women. Eventually, when presented with the choice, he leaves the monastery, reasoning that even the Buddha had 29 years to experience life's pains and pleasures before renouncing them. Never one for moderation, Tashi leaps into his new life, discovering love, sex, infidelity, swindling, betrayal, fatherhood, confrontation, passion, and misery.
Pan Nilan (in his feature film debut) designed the evolution of the story intricately, including the five-stage journey through the symbolic colour pallet of Tibetan Buddhism, and sound design that involved 200 separate textures of wind, a great number for water that also track Tashi's passage. As Tashi careens through life from one extreme to another, from extreme abstinence and meditation to extreme involvement and participation in the world he doesn't seem to grasp what the Buddha called "the middle path." Is strict monastic renunciation the only path to enlightenment? Which is more significant or powerful conquering 1000 desires or satisfying just one? How does one prevent a single drop of water from drying up? Beautifully shot within the Tibetan community of Himalayan India, and the breathtaking landscapes that surround them, "Samsara" is a powerful film to be savoured and slowly absorbed. It offers no easy answers, but much to ponder on.