Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review: Dalai Lama Scientist

Release date: August 31, 2019 (U.S. Release May 11, 2020)
Running time: 94 minutes

The current Dalai Lama was born eighty five years ago, in a remote corner of Tibet.  He was later discovered to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, after which he became the political and religious leader of Tibet.  Almost everyone knows who the Dalai Lama is and what he stands for, but it is much less known that he considers himself an avid scientist.  Dalai Lama Scientist explores the Dalai Lama's curiosity with science and his desire to blend the teachings of science and Buddhist thought.  With extensive, rare, and never before seen footage, this film tells the very human story of the Dalai Lama that very few knows.

I went into this documentary not really knowing what it would show and skeptical at how extensive the Dalai Lama's scientific interest was.  However, this documentary surprised me.  The Dalai Lama appears to have a lifelong interest in science, specifically cognitive science, neuroscience, and astrophysics.  Over thirty years ago, he invited leading scientists to Tibet to share their findings and begin a scientific dialog.  Although many were skeptical about this summit, they nonetheless came and presented their research and findings.  And what they were greeted with was a leader who was completely engaged in their findings and asked pertinent follow up questions.  The documentary has footage from many of these conferences, and it is a real treat to see this historical footage.  The film then splices this footage with current interviews where the scientists give their impressions and recollections of those times.  Surprisingly, many of these scientists say that their discussions and the ongoing dialogue from those meetings has helped them in their own research.  Especially in the areas of cognitive science, there is a natural interaction between cognitive science and Buddhist teachings, and many of the scientists were genuinely surprised by what they discovered through these conferences.

On top of great historical footage, Dalai Lama Scientist contains a lot of interesting scientific discussion about some complex topics.  And the film presents these in an easy to understand format.  From quantum mechanics, to emotion, to the wave vs. particle theories of light, these topics are presented in a way that is easy to understand.  And they are mixed with impressions from the Dalai Lama himself and the scientists presenting it.  The film also puts a very human face on the Tibetan leader.  He comes across as a curious observer who is genuinely interested in teaching and improving his own understanding of the world.  And these conferences brought about some changes that the Dalai Lama implemented for his own monks.  Young monks can now be taught scientific courses and even go to university to improve their knowledge.  And the historical breadth of the documentary is impressive, with footage from some of the first meetings all the way to the present.  

Dalai Lama Scientist is a surprising look into the Tibetan leader's little known interest in science, with wonderful historical footage and insights from top scientists and the Dalai Lama himself. 

Watch it.
For additional information about the film and to rent / buy it, check it out here.

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