Samsara–An Interpretation of a Way of Life

By M. Sattanathan (LT MHPS)

Recently, I read an article on the behaviour of a popular female psychiatrist, during an interview for a leading Tamil magazine. After the interview, there was a photoshoot and the photographer asked her to pose near a bust of Lord Buddha. This is a usual practice as Buddha represents Calm, Peace and Wisdom. However, this particular woman refused to do so and asked the photographer to take her picture either with E.V.R Periyar (“Father of the Dravidian Movement”) or just of her alone. The reason for her denial was that Lord Buddha had run away from his wife & child and from a feminist point of view, he is not worthy of being in the photograph.

I would like to know what you think and your opinion on the matter.

Of course, I do not criticize that psychiatrist, just wanted to convey the line of thought that some people might have.

Now, let me tell you about a movie named Samsara (2001).

This Tibetan language movie starts with a group of monks on a journey to find a young monk named “Tashi “who is in a state of rigorous meditation in a cave. It has been about 3 years 3 months and 3 days since he began his meditation. On their journey, they observe an eagle picking up a stone and dropping it from the sky on one of the lambs on the ground. The lamb dies instantly.

After waking up Tashi, they arrive at their monastery. Before entering the Monastery, the tired Tashi sees a stone on the outer fence with the following question inscribed on it, “How can one prevent a drop of water from ever drying up?”

Even though Tashi is eligible for a higher degree among the monks & is awarded by their leader Rinpoche, he is unable to control his lust and desire and becomes a cause for concern to Tashi’s monk friend and his Guru Ape.

They get a chance to visit a village near to the Monastery to pray for the growth of their crops. During their visit, Tashi meets a girl name Pema.  Subsequently, after a lot of drama and fighting, he chooses to leave his monkhood and gets married to her.

Eventually, the couple has a child. Tashi finds out that the crop merchant has cheated the people. Hence, they decide to sell the crops on their own to earn more profit. This enrages the merchant and his people burn down the crop field of Tashi.

Once upon a time, the monk Tashi has now become a worldly father and has an illicit relationship with one of the migrant workers, when Pema is not at home. In this way, he completely drowns into the Samsara Sagar (Ocean of worldly affairs).

Guilt and sadness fill Tashi. However, he suddenly becomes happy on seeing his monk friend who had come all the way to inform Tashi of their Guru Ape’s demise and his last message for Tashi. The message was “ I know I am coming back to this world and I am sure I will meet you in the next life and when we meet again, you can tell me, what is more important –satisfying a thousand desires or conquering even one desire?“

Tashi decides to renounce his wife and his child & leaves their home when they asleep just like Lord Buddha did. Just before he enters the monastery, his wife Pema arrives by a horse and asks some genuine questions to Tashi.  “You know Yashodhara? Everyone knows Gautama Buddha, Siddhartha, but how many people know Yashodhara? He left them when they were sleeping. Who can say if Buddha owed his Enlightenment to her? How would she be able to answer the persistent question that their son Rahul would ask for the rest of her life, ‘Where is my father?”

Only a man can leave his child in the middle of the night. No woman would even think of it in her dreams. “Tashi, if your thoughts towards Dharma were of the same intensity as the love and passion you have shown me, you could have got liberation in this very body, in this very life.”  

Totally shaken, Tashi is now confused. What should he do? Enter the monastery or go with Pema. He asks Pema for her forgiveness but even she leaves him. Tashi cries thereafter. After regaining his stability, Tashi against sees the stone on the fence, which has the same question on it, ” How can one prevent a drop of water from ever drying up?”

Tashi takes the stone and tilts it. The backside of the stone has the answer “By throwing the stone into the Ocean.“

Now, Tashi looks above and in the sky, he finds the same Eagle responsible for the lamb’s death. The movie ends at this juncture.

Pan Nalin (Nalin Kumar Pandya), the director won more than 30 international awards for this movie and the cinematography will give you a unique pleasure as you get to watch Ladakh and the surrounding Himalayan regions.

But this movie raised many interpretations to decipher the message that the movie is trying to portray. What is it exactly trying to say?

Some questions have no answers. Before he left the Monastery, Tashi expressed his feelings, “How can you renounce things that you’ve never had? Buddha had all the things in the world. He knew what they were, and he still chose to renounce them. But I’ve been a monk since childhood; I’ve never even known them. So how can I renounce what I’ve never even known?”

Becoming Buddha is not easy, to attain what he achieved, you have to renounce an entire kingdom and the accompanying wealth.

The message on the stone can be interpreted in the following manner:

  • “As a soul, you are a drop. So mingle with Samsara Ocean to be at peace.” Pema lived like this, and most of the people have the same interpretation.

Alternatively, it can be interpreted in the monk’s way:

  • “Consider the total Samsara life as a drop & mingle with the absolute of the universe “

The Psychiatrist referred to in the first paragraph also had the same opinion, not necessarily correct or final.

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Master Piece. Beatuifully Articulated. I never understood the movie completely. Thanks for making it clearer.


Nice insight sir