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Wellspring presents
The Four Noble Truths (2002)

"How does a normal person become a Buddha, an enlightened one, a fully wakened and wise, compassionate human being?"
- Robert Thurman (Introduction)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: August 08, 2002

Stars: The 14th Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman
Director: David Cherniack

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 05h:52m:22s
Release Date: April 02, 2002
UPC: 715098764870
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In watching this long video, it quickly becomes apparent that this would be an invaluable teaching tool for followers of the Buddhist philsophy. Filmed over two days of teaching on the Four Noble Truths at the Barbican Hall in London, England, the film records the first occasion that the 14th Dalai Lama has given these lessons in the West and the first time he has been invited to give a major teaching in a wide spectrum of Buddhist tradition.

The Four Noble Truths are part of the central questions of Buddhism. In Buddhist history, they are part of the first teaching by Buddha after his enlightment and include: The Truth of Suffering, The Truth of the Origin of Suffering, The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering, and The Path That Leads to the Cessation of Suffering.

The film is attractively directed by David Cherniack, who does a great job of making the static presentation more active with intermixed shots of the audience, different viewing angles of the Dalai Lama and his translator and contextual shots of the auditorium. Cherniack is extremely experienced at presenting Buddhist philosophy with a filmography that includes dozens of different titles on the subject. Here the difficulty of the format is the way that the Dalai Lama delivers his lecture in bursts of Tibetan and these are translated into English by an interpreter.

The film is divided into four sections, with two on each disc, and each section is introduced by Robert Thurman, a Buddhist scholar. Thurman provides some contextual and philosophical orientation for the teaching that follows. Millions around the world follow Buddhism and the philosophy has a large following in the west. At the end of each session, there are some questions taken from the audience.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is an intriguing figure who was recognized at the age of two in 1937 as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama and therefore is an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion. In 1959 the Chinese Army crushed a national uprising in Tibet protesting Chinese domination. The Dalai Lama escaped to India along 80,000 refugees and since 1960 his residence in Dharamsala, India is considered the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The teachings are complex and very esoteric to the non-Buddhist (at least this non-Buddhist), however there were parts that resonated in attempting to grapple with the metaphysical questions of our place in the universe. Perhaps in watching this video, one could find appealing aspects of the Buddhist philosophy that might lead one to try and find out more about this respected world religion.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Very good quality transfer of a deserving documentary. Colors are presented with seemingly excellent fidelity and little or no distortion in the picture quality.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoTibetan, Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Solid audio quality that allows for easy enough listening to the presentation. The entire video consists of lecture.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 65 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Transcripts
  2. Biography of The Dalai Lama
  3. Bibliography
  4. Related Video Listing
Extras Review: A nice selection of extras establish context for the film and also seem to account for the idea that someone might not be a well-schooled Buddhist. A short biography of the Dalai Lama is available as well as a director filmography. Web links are available (clickable from the DVD-ROM application and printed out in the DVD Video Extras) that provide more information about the topic available on the Internet including specifically about The Four Noble Truths, the Dalai Lama, the Government of Tibet in Exile, as well as various Buddhist web links and the Free Tibet Campaign. Also included is a bibliography and related videos lisitng. Transcripts of the introductions and teachings are available on the DVD-ROM, but in a Windows executable that will not run on Macintosh computers.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

This long video of the 14th Dalai Lama teaching about The Four Noble Truths is esoteric, but often intriguing, in its exploration of the fundamental precepts of Buddhism.


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