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Monk brings tale of 'the sinner's saint' to screen
The Orange County Register[Thursday, September 20, 2007 14:45]
Milarepa, the murderer-turned-Buddhist saint, focus of film that opens Sept. 21

By Gwendolyn Driscoll

FOLLOWER: The saint Milarepa said that 'harming others and revenge is not going to solve problems, its going to create more problems,' says 'Milarepa' director Neten Chokling.
FOLLOWER: The saint Milarepa said that 'harming others and revenge is not going to solve problems, its going to create more problems,' says 'Milarepa' director Neten Chokling.
Filmmakers rarely enjoy a reputation for saintliness. Neten Chokling may be the exception. The 33-year-old Buddhist lama, or teacher, heads a monastery in India and is said by some to be the reincarnation of a renowned Tibetan yogi.

His first film, "Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint" brings to life the tale of Jetsun Milarepa, an 11th-century murderer who ultimately repented of his ways and became one of Buddhism's most venerated saints. The film was shot on an ascetic budget of $1.5 million using a cast of mostly amateur actors including one of Chokling's fellow lamas.

Chokling will speak and show excerpts from the film, which has garnered praise from national media, at a special event Sept. 23 in Westminster. The film opens Sept. 21 in Orange County and runs for one week at South Coast Village Theater in Santa Ana.

Chokling spoke to the Register with translation assistance from his executive producer, Greg Kruglak.

How did you get interested in filmmaking?
Neten Chokling: I grew up in a monastery in India. Forget about films – we didn't even have a TV to watch. (The monks) did not let me watch the movies because they thought it was very wild and very bad. The first movie I ever saw was a Bruce Lee movie when I was 12 years old. I was traveling from India to Bhutan and (sneaked out) with a friend to see it. It was very interesting and very exciting. So I started watching movies whenever I got a chance.

(Then) this movie ("The Cup") was shot in the monastery and the director is my friend. I acted in this movie…from this I had a little bit of experience and interest in movies. I became interested in making a movie.

As a monk and adherent of Milarepa's teaching, was it difficult not to use the movie as an opportunity to preach?
Chokling: We didn't do anything purposely (to preach) but to tell this universal message. I was really just following the story which is kind of an entertaining story in itself.

Was it physically challenging to film?
Chokling: We recruited about 50 monks from my monastery. It was filmed in this really remote place in India – the Spiti Valley – this was Tibetan territory in the past. It was very authentic but very remote. Very high altitude and very dusty and no facilities whatsoever so it was very challenging.

Who will this movie appeal to?
Chokling: People who feel kind of hopeless because of (mistakes they've made) in their lives. The key is that (Milarepa) was so ordinary and that he stuck to this path. He was completely determined to make a huge amount of progress. To prove that the worst person like him can (become) enlightened. That there is no one who is beyond redemption.

Is there a reason you decided to tell this story now?
Chokling: (Current events) were very much on my mind. The violence that we're in – the wars. Milarepa really had something to say about that. Basically harming others and revenge is not going to solve problems, its going to create more problems. That's why (Milarepa) changed his path into a compassionate person.

Q: You have been recognized by some as the reincarnation of Tibetan yogi Chokgyur Lingpa. Do you believe you are?
Chokling: I don't remember anything from my past lives, but I believe in those who recognize me as a reincarnation, so I think that I have no choice but to believe that I (am).

What's your next project?
Chokling: We are trying to finish Milerepa's story in a second movie and then we'll see. I've seen so many Bruce Lee movies and of course I've also seen Jackie Chan. I would direct (a martial arts movie) if there was a chance.

But don't martial arts conflict with the Buddhist message of tolerance?
Chokling: Martial arts if you really use your anger and your negative emotion – that's no good. Otherwise if you're just playing (make believe)… then its OK. Especially recently I saw the movie called Kung Fu Hustle and this is actually a martial arts movie but with a quite good message showing forgiveness.

Contact the writer: (714) 932-6358 or gdriscoll@ocregister.com

Related Story: Such is the life of Buddhist leader 'Milarepa'
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