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The Filming of ‘The Life of Guru Rinpoche’ in India 2018

View of Amber Palace from Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur, North India

This project began when Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche, received permission from his root guru, the late Holiness Penor Norbu Rinpoche, to translate the Tibetan script of the film ‘The Life of Guru Rinpoche’ into English. The original film has 15 chapters and was produced under the direction of the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche. The entire film was shot in India and the cast were all monks from the Namdroling Monastery.

The Pathgate Editorial Committee has been working on remastering the film in high definition with new visual effects to replace some of the original footages to enhance the production value of the film. As part of this process, the original painted backdrops that are usually used in theatrical stage production are being replaced by digital 3D environments. To achieve this, we needed more location shooting in India that would properly reflect the relevant architecture within the film. There was also a need to film additional footages that require a cast of more monks and Tibetans. Under the directive of Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche, it was decided that we would visit Namdroling Monastery as part of the shoot.

Hence, Thubten Loday Gonpo, an ordained member of the Pathgate sangha from the UK and a lay student from Singapore visited India in October 2018. After filming in North and South India at locations such as palaces, forts, grasslands, forests, mountains and waterfalls, they spent the last week of their trip at Namdroling Monastery in Mysore.

Zangdog Palri Temple at Namdroling Monastery

‘When we arrived at Namdroling Monastery, we first went to pay our respects to Tulku Ajam Rinpoche, a long-time friend of our teacher, Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche. Tulku Ajam Rinpoche was a key person heavily involved in the technical aspects of the original film, and he had entrusted Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche with the master copy of the original film for the remastering process.

Tulku Ajam Rinpoche then kindly directed us to the Trustee office of Penor Rinpoche Charity Foundation, where we were introduced to Tulku Choedharr Rinpoche, the managing trustee and his team. After Tulku Choedharr Rinpoche spoke with His Holiness Gyangkhang Rinpoche, the Chief Abbot of Namdroling Monastery, he assured us that Namdroling Monastery would give us their full support to get the footage that we needed. When Tulku Choedharr Rinpoche watched the film, he requested for “Penor Rinpoche Charity Foundation” to be added in the opening credits. Tulku Choedharr Rinpoche assured us that he would organise what was required and as we thanked him for his kind support, he replied that it was their duty, and that Namdroling Monastery and Pathgate Institute are one and the same, because we both are working towards fulfilling the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s wishes.

Thubten Loday Gonpo with Tulku Choedharr Rinpoche and Lopon Ngawang

We were then taken on a personal guided tour of The Golden Temple and the Zangdog Palri Temple to see the recent work and restoration completed at the monastery. This included the newly built Relic Stupa of His Holiness the 3rd Drubwang Rinpoche in the Zangdog Palri Temple as well as the new Mandala paintings on the ceilings of the Golden Temple that took them three years to complete. At various locations during the tour, the trustee team pointed out to us that the water tower, the T.T. Namdroling Hospital, the Junior High School, and various buildings within the campus of the Shedra - Ngagyur Nyingma Institute (Higher Buddhist Studies & Research Center) - were supported by funds contributed from Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche. Even Khenpo Sonam Tsewang from the Research and Development committee of the Shedra handed us a book as a gift to pass on to Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche in appreciation of the funds that he gave the committee to start off their work years ago. It was heart-warming to hear such fond memories that the monastery has of Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche despite that in the last 10 years since the passing of the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche, Lama Dondrup has only visited the monastery once in May 2013 for the cremation ceremony of the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche.

Inside the Golden Temple at Namdroling Monastery

While at Namdroling, we were very touched that the administration of Namdroling Monastery has worked very hard in preserving the legacy and the tradition laid down by the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche. We frequently heard about the compassionate activities of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in taking care of the needs of the ordained community at Namdroling. These activities were very consistent with the activities that Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche does for the Pathgate ordained community.

On the second day at the Monastery, Tulku Choedharr Rinpoche assigned us the support of Lopon Ngawang for the duration of our visit. Lopon Ngawang is fluent in English and guided us around the Monastery’s premises for filming, giving us access to areas that are usually out of bounds. Following a directive from Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche, we were tasked to capture footage of the Tibetan hospital staff. Lopon Ngawang, who holds the role of the hospital administrator, facilitated for this to happen and soon the Tibetan hospital staff were enthusiastically waiting in line to contribute their part.

Namdroling Monastery

On the last day of the Bum Nga retreat which also happened to fall on the same day of Lhabab Duchen - the festival which commemorates the descending of Lord Buddha back to earth after giving three months teaching to Queen Maya and the heavenly beings in the Thirty-Three Heaven - we received a directive from Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche to film the Tibetan participants of the Bum Nga retreat. With the facilitation of Lopon Ngawang, all the Tibetan Bum Nga participants were soon gathered around enthusiastically waiting to be filmed. They were quickly joined by a large group of teenage Tibetans who were also eager to have their faces captured for the film.

The caretakers of the various temples in Namdroling Monastery were equally supportive and allowed us entrance into different temples after closing hours in order to complete the filming. They kindly provided us not just access within the premises, but also allowed us to take as much time as needed.

On occasion we had the opportunity to practice khorwa (circumambulation) and to sit quietly in the Zangdog Palri temple. Sitting before the Relic Stupa of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, we got a sense that His Holiness’s blessing is still very much present and brought us a sense of peacefulness and quietness that helped settled our minds.

The Great Relics Stupa of HH Penor Rinpoche at Namdroling Monastery

At a lunch hosted by the Trustee of Penor Rinpoche Charity Foundation, we were given an account of an event that took place at the Monlam Chenmo in Bodhagaya. Khenpo Karma, who was very impressed with what he saw, recounted to us that he had witnessed Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche protecting the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche when a huge crowd out of their eagerness to seek blessing rushed along a narrow pass in a disorderly manner towards the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche. Before they could reach the throne of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche stepped in between and held on to the bodies of the first two persons and used them to stop the charge of the massive crowd right there in their tracks. According to Khenpo Karma’s depiction, the sudden stoppage of the forward momentum of the crowd caused many who were still rushing from behind to bounce backward. Besides this incident, several other senior figures at the Monastery have mentioned to us that when they were much younger, they had often sighted Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche by the side of the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche and expressed how uncommon it was to have the opportunity to be at such close proximity. Hence within the monastery, Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche is also fondly referred as the ‘body protector’ of the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche.

We were also very fortunate to be taken to the lake where the original film shot the footage of the young Guru Rinpoche being born in a lotus. Lopon Pema recounted to us that when they shot this scene, some Tibetans were passing by on the other side of the lake and started to prostrate. Despite the passing of time, we were very touched to hear the accounts of how much hard work and how little resources they had back when the film was first shot. We deeply respect the dedication that was involved in the original production and this inspires us to uphold our commitment to the remastering of the film.

Filming monks

Towards the end of our visit in Namdroling Monastery, we had to complete the task of filming 50 monks. With the kind support of Tulku Choedharr and the Shedra’s treasurer Lopon Penpa Tsering, they helped organized Bum Nga participants and Shedra monks to gather at the filming location for us to capture their footage. We were also very touched when Lopon Pema, who was also a cast in the original film, stepped forward to voluntarily have his footage taken.

On the morning that we were to leave Namdroling Monastery, we stopped by Tulku Choedharr Rinpoche’s office to thank him and his team for their kindness and warm hospitality for accommodating our requests. Tulku Choedharr Rinpoche then extended his farewell gesture by offering us monastic gifts and entrusting us with precious items to offer to Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche.

We were also able to visit the Ani Gompa (nunnery) and had the opportunity to pay our respects to the recently constructed stupa of the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche. Seeing the many construction works undergoing, we were reminded of the many past supports that our teacher Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche had contributed to the Ani Gompa, thus making the premises conducive to the nuns’ living and practice environment.

Relic Stupa of HH Penor Rinpoche in the Ani Gompa

I am truly humbled and grateful for the kind support and warm hospitality received at Namdroling Monastery during our visit. We were told how fortunate we were as there were previous requests from foreign students who sought permission to film the Monastery and their requests were declined. This made me reflect that the kindness and support that were extended to us by Namdroling Monastery is clearly a direct result of deep trust and high regard of our teacher Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche in the monastery.

Following this trip to India, we were also very humbled to have the opportunity to show H.H. Karma Kuchen Rinpoche the first two chapters of the film in Singapore. His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche was very pleased with the progress of the film and commended the quality of the work done to date. We were tremendously encouraged to hear His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche commending Pathgate’s work and extremely grateful for the continuous lineage support for this production, which was the wish of the late Holiness Penor Rinpoche.’