The Yogis of Tibet. Cincinnati, Oh.: Jehm Films, 2002. 77 mins. Executive Producers Phil & Jo Borack. Available in DVD, VHS, VHS Pal. This film can be ordered directly from: JEHM Films, 636 Northland Blvd #1, Cincinnati, OH 45240.
This fine documentary interweaves historical and cultural dialogue with rare footage of, and interviews with, contemporary Tibetan yogis. Among a veritable galaxy of great masters, one finds H. H. the Dalai Lama, H. H. Chetsang Rinpoche, H. E. Garchen Triptül Rinpoche, H. E. Choje Togden Rinpoche, Drupon Sonam Rinpoche, Lamchen Gyalpo Rinpoche, and not least Drubwang Konchog Norbu Rinpoche, the oldest living Tibetan yogi (94 years), who came out of long-term retreat at the Dalai Lama’s request and pledged to live until the age of 100 for the benefit of others.
The Kagyupas, who trace their Order back to the Indian master Tilopa via Milarepa, Marpa, and Naropa, are fond of long retreats, which they see as essential to making progress in meditation and inner growth. The producers, therefore, justifiedly focused on masters and practitioners of this Order, especially the Drikung Kagyu lineage founded by Kyoba Jigten Sumgon (1143–1217), even though yogis can of course also be found in the Nyingma, Gelug, and Sakya Orders. To be sure, great Yoga masters also still exist within the fold of Hinduism, and the dismissal of Hindu yogis as merely “performing contortions [of the body] for the public” at the beginning of the documentary is inaccurate, biased, and regrettable.
The producers were granted unprecedented permission to record on film and audiotape otherwise seldom-disclosed information. For instance, the viewer is treated to a rare glimpse of Milarepa’s meditation cave at Labchi, as well as an interview with two yogis (Nupa Rinpoche and Geshe Yeshi Chophel) who were on retreat there at the time. For those interested in Hatha-Yoga, the footage of Chenga Rinpoche performing a secret practice designed to awaken the kundalini (or candali) power within the body will prove fascinating and revealing.
With the elders of the Tibetan Buddhist community slowly departing from this Earth, many onlookers are concerned that the Tibetan Yoga heritage is doomed to become extinct before very long. This is also the recurring message of The Yogis of Tibet. Yet, perhaps, we may have confidence in H. E. Garchen Triptül Rinpoche’s comment in the film that the Buddha Dharma is very resilient. The fact that younger yogis are learning the secrets of Yoga from their teachers and are dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to mental discipline is encouraging. Nevertheless, The Yogis of Tibet is a timely reminder that the precious legacy of Yoga, like so many things in our modern world, is imperiled and that those who value its continuation must do what they can to support the work of the great Yoga masters via their respective organizations, notably monasteries.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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