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Tantric Yogi: Ultimately a frustrating experience

Tantric Yogi documents the migration of a yogi, his disciples, and some of his villagers to a celebration that occurs just once every sixty years, the One Hundred Thousand Gathering in Eastern Tibet. This celebration commemorates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet and the man who brought it there in the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche. The film features an exciting culture and the natural beauty surrounding Tibet, unfortunately the movie itself is anything but beautiful.

Best described as a combination of b-roll footage and infrequent narration by Jim Broadbent, Tantric Yogi lacks structure and direction. Leaving the theater I felt lost, but ultimately indifferent. It is such a simple documentary that doesn’t seem to focus on anything in particular. Sure, it follows a group of people on a journey, but what is the overlying theme? First, I considered that this film might be about the character of a yogi, bartering with street vendors and eating out of a human skull (to remind himself that this life is only temporary), but this character was quickly lost. Or perhaps it’s a focus on how these Tibetan women keep their villages running, but are expected not to attend the One Hundred Thousand Gathering on account of their “duties”. But, if I had to put my money down, I would say this video is a sloppy portrayal of the clash between deep-rooted customs and a changing world.

Beginning with a background of the One Hundred Thousand Gathering and a yogi’s responsibility to choose the group that will attend, Tantric Yogi shadows a village preparing to embark. However, as soon as they are on their way, we are able to sense this yogi’s “economical” nature as he barters with a street vendor, ultimately refusing to pay for anything. This seems to foreshadow a few decisions that may have caused the group to be late to the Gathering. First, they refuse to pay a fee to cross a reservoir, feeling that it is extortion. Instead, they decide to drive around, running out of gas and losing time. Continuing on, their driver requests more money on account of a denser population of people as they near Namzong, where the Gathering will take place. Again, this leads to the group to opt for option C, calling a coach, wasting more time, and inevitably walking part of the way to their destination. During the walk, we get some insight into Tibetan tradition after one of the pilgrims explains the belief that the more hardships you endure on your journey, the more purified your soul becomes.

The yogi and his villagers inevitably arrive late to the Gathering and begin to take part in the celebration. It is at this point that the documentary fails to capture the feel of the One Hundred Thousand Gathering. Being a westerner with little understanding of this practice, I was completely lost. However, the film does start to gain some footing, as word of the Great Master’s early arrival panics the pilgrims. Apparently, it is customary to greet this man before his arrival. Deeply respected, this character adds some much needed storyline to the mix. Eventually, a group of people greet him as he pulls up in his car. Sitting in the passenger seat, he insists that his people duck down in order to be properly blessed through his window. Whether this was so that he didn’t strain himself or it is a part of Tibetan Buddhist culture we may never know. At any rate, the Great Master’s presence culminates in his prediction of a rainbow that appears on a clear day. But as soon as he arrived, the Gathering seems to end, not to come back for another sixty years.

If I had the opportunity, I would feel privileged to discuss director Chenaktsang Dorje Tsering’s intentions in this documentary. If his aim was to give an unbiased representation of an interesting culture by remaining detached from the project, I would be extremely impressed. However, the style of his direction in Tantric Yogi left me unsatisfied; combine this with episodes of shaky camera work and sound that did not sync up with the video, and I was left frustrated. Little more than scenes of riddled information, the audience is required to piece things together for themselves, likely missing out on the truth.

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