*Paths of the Soul*

by on July 10, 2017 at 5:07 am in Film, Religion, Travel | Permalink

That is the title of an extraordinary Chinese-Tibetan film (with English subtitles, even in Kunming), here is one description:

A birth, a death, a pilgrimage. A film about the 1,200-mile journey of a pregnant woman, a butcher who wants to atone for his sins and a rag-tag band of villagers who go on foot from their small village in Tibet to the sacred Mt. Kailash has become a surprise winner at the Chinese box office.

It is doing better here per screen than Transformers 5 (or is that 6?).  Here is more about the plot premise;

They travel wearing thick aprons made of yak hide and wooden planks tied to their palms. Every few feet, they raise their hands high above their heads in respect for the Buddha, then lower their worshipping hands to their forehead and then to their chest before diving into the ground, touching the earth with their foreheads. To an outsider, the ritual looks like bodysurfing on solid ground. While they chant a simple mantra, devotees lie flat on their stomachs with their hands bent at their elbows, pointing toward the heavens in a sign of prayer. Then they stand up and repeat these steps as the summer’s scorching asphalt roads turn into slippery ice-covered tracks in the winter.

It turns out this is a real thing, as they say back in The Great NJ, and they keep it up for 1200 km over the course of a year (really).  Strapped babies and small children partake as well.  And this isn’t a pure outlier, as my Yunnanese friend Jimi tells me he has seen it many times in Tibet on the open road.

You may think it all sounds silly, but by the end of the film you realize that what you are doing with your own life isn’t actually so different and is perhaps in some ways less valuable.

 

I’m calling this as one of the two or three best movies of the year, or indeed of any year.  Highly recommended on the big screen, though here you can find it on Amazon.  It goes without saying that the film is full of social science.

1 Jeff R July 10, 2017 at 5:37 am

Most OB’s recommend bodysurfing during the latter stages of pregnancy, I think.

2 Axa July 10, 2017 at 6:45 am

Nihilism?.

Don’t eat for a day, spend a cold night outdoors, feel threatened by a forest, feel defeated by nature………and self-preservation arises. Yes, most of times we overthink, but that doesn’t mean to quit thinking is the way. You don’t have to choose between thinking and not thinking, just think when it’s useful and enjoy or endure the rest of time.

3 ben July 10, 2017 at 11:31 am

Buddhism is passive nihilism. Christianity (and the rest of Western ideology, which is based on Christianity) is negative nihilism, which is even worse (this according to Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche)

4 ChrisA July 10, 2017 at 7:17 am

“You may think it all sounds silly, but by the end of the film you realize that what you are doing with your own life isn’t actually so different and is perhaps in some ways less valuable.” – I am sorry but this just isn’t true. For instance some of your readers are doctors saving lives, some are entrepreneurs creating products and jobs to raise people out of poverty and so on. And I bet most of them have children that need to be raised and looked after. This religious devotion is entirely self indulgent, and of value only to the so called sufferer to raise their own self esteem. It is the ultimate of selfishness, like owning a big yacht that you don’t let your family use. Maybe you say what you say as this futile effort is familiar to you as state funded academia, where people labor long and hard to produce useless analysis that is read perhaps only by a few people and disappears like frost on a warm spring morning without leaving a trace.

5 Brian Donohue July 10, 2017 at 8:19 am

That’s a little harsh. These people aren’t inflicting any harm on anyone else. I’m interested in context. Are there 1-day, 1-week, 1-month, and 1-year versions of this? So, only the Forrest Gump’s of this world can pull off a full year or something?

Seems kind of meditative plus exercise. Mobile yoga.

6 Ricardo July 10, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Opportunity cost.

Unless these are all negative marginal productivity people, they would do more for humanity by working at McDonalds. So the charge of selfishness is not without merit, depending on one’s model of social obligation.

7 The Other Jim July 10, 2017 at 8:54 am

Thank you, ChrisA.

Obviously if white American Christians did something even fractionally as ridiculous as this, Tyler and the left would rip them mercilessly. But as long as it’s done by foreigners, it is suddenly fascinating to people like Tyler, and film of it is one of the best movies of the year.

8 Thiago Ribeiro July 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

It does not matter who does it, it is pathetic and savage.

9 P Burgos July 10, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Don’t a lot of White Christians go on pilgrimage to holy sites in Europe, like the road to Santiago Campostela? I thought that this was the last remnant of the indulgences of the middle ages, where the church grants an indulgence for completing the pilgrimage. Also, I believe that in New Mexico during lent and easter they also make pilgrimages, although I am not sure if white hispanics count as white in the eyes of the left or not.

10 DTF18 July 10, 2017 at 11:26 pm

That Phd in Literature from the other day suddenly looks like a hard charging capitalist

11 Dick the Butcher July 10, 2017 at 8:09 am

Pilgrimage was a common Christian “discipline” or “penance.” Most were local. I know several Christians that similarly walked one of the several, ancient pilgrim routes from France to Santiago, Spain.

12 Affe July 10, 2017 at 9:15 am

It’s certainly done in Poland – as I recall during the summer there are almost always some form of youth group pilgrimages from different parts of the country to the shrine in Czestochowa.

13 Vivian Darkbloom July 10, 2017 at 9:28 am

The name of the film is “Paths of the Soul”; not “Paths to the Soul”.

14 Eric July 10, 2017 at 9:39 am

A comment from the Amazon link:

Nothing against the Tibetan people who were made to appear in this Chinese propaganda film but that is just what it is. Look closely knowing this and you will see the props and the abundant food and pretend freedom and the fear behind their eyes.
Attempting to show relative religious freedom and good life in Tibet where in reality, the people are not allowed even the right to lift their heads and speak freely. If you want to see a real movie about what’s really going on then please get the movie ‘What Remais of Us’. Then you will see real nomadics other Tibetans living in the reality of Tibet, the world’s largest prison.

15 spandrell July 10, 2017 at 9:43 am

Tibetana aren’t allowed to publicly proclaim the overthrow of the government, but you can lead a normal life undisturbed. That’s a prison.

In Europe you go to prison by a single racist comment. That’s freedom. OK.

16 Thiago Ribeiro July 10, 2017 at 10:07 am

“allowed to publicly proclaim the overthrow of the government”
You mean defend their right to elect their leaders. Apparently right to representation, as opposed to racism, is not part of a normal life.
“you can lead a normal life undisturbed”
As one could/can in the Soviet Block or Iran or Saudi Arabia or Cuba (I know, they do not have HDTVs yet and Chine is important for Hollywood’s bottomline). Seriously, racists agitating for totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, be they Putin’s or Xi’s) are getting weirder and weirder, not better than liberal appeasement of leftist regimes.

17 spandrell July 11, 2017 at 2:18 am

Weirder? Right to representation, whatever that means, has not been a part of human life for 99.99% of our history. The right to live along your people and not have foreigners committing crime with impunity however has been a basic human right understood by all peoples in the world.

Seriously the idea of a Brazilian giving lessons on how to run a country is so ridiculous it’s not even funny.

18 Thiago Ribeiro July 11, 2017 at 12:48 pm

“Weirder? Right to representation, whatever that means, has not been a part of human life for 99.99% of our history.”
I see, what more tou want to bring back besides despotism? Slavery, cannibalism, human sacrifices?

19 Mark Thorson July 10, 2017 at 11:36 am

I was wondering why the authorities would allow a movie like this to be made. In China, foreign movies depicting ghosts are banned because the official line is to suppress spiritualism. I suppose the Amazon comment explains it — it’s the most effective form of propaganda, 90% truth and 10% lies. 100% lies never works because everybody knows it’s all lies.

20 Anon July 10, 2017 at 12:12 pm
21 dux.ie July 10, 2017 at 11:17 pm

Judging from the number of Chinese praying at the Tibetan temple during Chinese New Year, it is not something that they can suppress. Picture 2 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-16670305 There are a few large Tibetan temples around Beijing from the Qing dynasty. Some of them were doing the pilgrimage in Beijing. http://www.brimr.org/RTW/Beijing/B59-s.jpg

MIE: Instead of thick yak aprons there is a market for thin body size mattress http://www.tour-tibet.com/travel-tips/tibetan-people.html

22 Doug July 10, 2017 at 12:36 pm

How do you bend your hands at the elbow?

23 Anonymous July 10, 2017 at 12:52 pm

In China probably saying “arms” can have dangerous connotations from the State.

24 Anon_senpei July 10, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Hold out your arm, pronate your hand, if you interpret the word “bend” loosely.

25 Anon_senpei July 10, 2017 at 1:23 pm

Oops this was meant in reply to Doug

26 Ray Lopez July 10, 2017 at 7:14 pm

“And this isn’t a pure outlier, as my Yunnanese friend Jimi tells me he has seen it many times in Tibet on the open road.” – yawn, been there, done that, got the Tintin T-shirt to prove it. Been to Tibet and seen this in person. When the pilgrims show up in Lhasa the Chinese guards keep them in check while visiting the Potala Palace (and surrounding temples) with billy clubs while they wait in line (we, as foreigners, cut in line ahead of them) and I saw a number of them get tapped by the guards with the billy clubs (apparently they don’t speak Chinese, or a lot of them don’t, or so it seemed). I think they must also be pickpockets, as the guards looked fierce and there was a degree of tension between the Chinese and Tibetans (yes, I know about Richard Gere, please). I’ve been told that along the pilgrimage road you’ll see an occasional dead body from somebody who did not make it to Lhasa.

The intensity of the chanting monks inside the temples was intense. I did my cross, Orthodox style, briefly in front of the Buddha, and it was all good, not trying to be disrespectful but to the contrary (some Buddhists also believe the Buddha came back as Christ). I was thinking if the monks decided to order the devotees to burn themselves up in front of the Chinese a significant number would do so. A year after I went, they had the Lhasa riots, around 2008. Keep in mind Tibet and China are like Greece and Turkey in a way, and many spies in the 18th century and before were in Lhasa and it was a city of mystery to Europeans.

27 Thiago Ribeiro July 10, 2017 at 7:35 pm

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/04/richard-gere-hollywood-china
Americans have sold their children into bondage to totalitarian Red China.
“If we lose this way of freedom, history will record with the great astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.” Ronald Reagan, American president

28 Melmoth July 11, 2017 at 10:30 am

Lhasa? So what. I’ve seen it on country roads whilst trekking through Kham years ago, and a couple of years ago was accompanied by many prostrating pilgrims whilst doing the kora of the Amnye Machen range in Amdo. Looked absolutely punishing.

29 Anonymous July 10, 2017 at 7:50 pm

Breakfast at Tiffany’s ?

30 gbz July 10, 2017 at 11:44 pm

Almost identical practice is common in india. At major hilltop shrines like Vaishno Devi, you’ll almost always find at least a few people doing the same. That’s a 13 km trek uphill, probably takes them about a day and a half. Its a little surprising how most of them tend be young married women. One can guess what they are praying for, but some things are probably best left unthought.

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