Siddhartha Gautma, the man who would later become Buddha, once said that in order for enlightenment to occur, one must have a teacher as a guide. To this end, Lesley Ann Patten, a U.S. citizen, with two other intrepid students, Luc and Louise, follow a master teacher of Buddhism in the internationally lauded documentary Words of My Perfect Teacher. Filmed in London, Munich, Tibet and other locales, this 2003 film illustrates the pursuits of three enlightened-challenged 30-somethings as they traverse the globe with Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Norbu, a Rinpoche or "Precious Jewel" of Vajrayana Buddhism. At 7 years old, Khyentse Norbu, was recognized as the third incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, one of the most admired Buddhist teachers of the last two centuries.
Patten, who serves as writer, director and narrator of Words of My Perfect Teacher, asked Khyentse Norbu to participate in the documentary, to which he agreed, although with some hesitation.
Khyentse Norbu has the air of a magnetic man in unusual garb. Shown on a bus in London with a complete stranger who becomes transfixed by him, Khyentse Norbu is then asked for his phone number. It's the effect each member of the crew has at some point through the film. Luc says he feels a kind of need to be around him at all times. As students, each member yearns not only for knowledge from their wise teacher; they each seek to be liked by him as well.
Louise--a tarot card reader by trade--comes across as a naïve British girl yearning for a sense of real truth amongst the prognostications she performs on a daily basis. Luc, originally from Canada, serves as Khyentse Norbu's attendant, following him around like a wounded puppy dog searching for enlightenment.
It is refreshing to see that a man such as Khyentse Norbu does not exactly fit the stereotype of a Buddhist leader. He is shown thoroughly enjoying himself at a World Cup match between England and Germany in Munich. Also an avid filmmaker, Khyentse Norbu served as consultant for the 1993 film Little Buddha, featuring Keanu Reeves.
It's very interesting to see a man so well regarded by Buddhists, in such cosmopolitan settings and not think of him as being holy in some way, or in the case of his students, omniscient. But even Khyentse Norbu discusses the idea of him being all-knowing as ridiculous. Early in the film he laments about his "profession" and the difficulty of it in parts of the world he visits. The audience gets to see more of his personality, with some light-hearted humor and humility. "All the paranoia other people have, I have, too," he says.
There are few negative aspects to this film, other than unnecessary montages of the students traveling or sitting with bad covers of Sting songs accompanying them. The scenes seem contrived, as if we're supposed to feel something through the music that isn't being shown well enough through the lens of the camera. Despite these low-points, the presence of the Tibetan countryside is stirring, especially in contrast to the wild scenes of busy city streets seen earlier in the film. Seven Years in Tibet has nothing on this piece of work; its candor and educational aspects make it a must-see.