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Hands Down One of My Favourite Aural-Spiritual Experiences of All Time

Kundun Original Soundtrack by Philip Glass

Perhaps, having been to Tibet twice, and having directly witnessed the Lhasa Uprising on March 10, 2008, the invasion of Sera Monastery by Chinese Special Forces to quash a massive protest by the monks as we arrived inside the temple gates, and having been under house arrest for several hours, and breaking that for that crazed hijacking of a nervous taxi to drive us into downtown Lhasa under occupation, right to the Potala and a tangka seller — seeing the troop carriers massed at major intersections, and sliding my big American nose and bald head down below the window line as we passed formations of PLA, that crazed trip I demanded to make in the deep of night to check what we could as witnesses to this (being among the only Westerners in Lhasa at that time), those emptied streets and shuttered shops, and memories still red-fresh of the monks being forced to kneel in rows outside the temple gates of Sera, facing the wall, hands on their heads, getting a rifle butt in the head unannounced every now and then, as we were processed to drive our bus of pilgrims away and back to the hotel, leaving the monks behind to their Fate once our Western eyes (four, to be exact) were escorted away (and the 80 or so Korean eyes, too, huddled behind drawn curtains, taught by totalitarianism to look away) — maybe this light taste of the Tibetan soul, the modern Tibetan predicament, eyewitness to just another step in its genocide, the Tibetans desperately reaching for their voice to be heard while the world’s eyes were trained on China in that March just four months from the Beijing Olympics, helps me to connect with this soundtrack, because Glass so perfectly captures the march of deluded nationalism and militarism as the invaders crush in. Yes, it is Philip Glass, and he is a longtime meditation student of some depth — this has the ethereal and the spiritual that we associate with the Buddhism of the Tibetan soul. But the tragic heft of this soundtrack really pierces me, and I have heard it some 100 times. (And this is from someone who doesn’t listen to music much, even the god Mahler.) Having seen the movie certainly informs some of Glass’s texture and mood-space here. But it is something far, far deeper — this touches something far, far more familiar, as if pressed into the very soul of the one who writes this. The monks we left behind at Sera Monastery — they fill my mind whenever I hear the piece here called “The Chinese Invade” (25:17 – 32:24), as I am now.

And the next piece — “Distraught” (34:3537:35). And what follows…

And what follows? I wish there was something to report to the monks of Sera. In what jails or camps do they now languish for that day.

. . .

(And a reader on Facebook sends me this clip — hands down, it should earn an Oscar itself, for The Best Closing Lines Ever for a Movie, Ever.):

Who are you?

I think I am a reflection,
like the moon, on water.
When you see me,
and I try to be a good man,
see yourself.


Such truth, such powerful true teaching of real Dharma, so powerful in speech and in a movie: “ I am just phenomena, passing. When manifesting this pure nature that witnesses phenomena passing, because always practicing, then you may see yourself. That is Buddha.”

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