Inmates at two Texas prisons recently watched an inspiring and humorous documentary about 40 intellectuals brought together by the Dalai Lama to solve the world’s most crucial problems. As documented in Dalai Lama Renaissance, 40 scientists, social thinkers, businesspeople, artists, and authors from around the world meet with the Dalai Lama to discuss and suggest solutions for such complex global and ethical issues as poverty and injustice. The film documents a moving and very human story as 40 earnest, thoughtful and privileged people grapple with big questions, a strange place and human dynamics.
In an inspiring collaboration between film director Khashyar Darvich and the nonprofit Project Clear Light, the film was introduced to prisoners by Terry Conrad, a 40-year student of Buddhism. Conrad sponsors study groups in four Texas prisons, publishes an inmate produced newsletter and teaches a prison-based ethics class based on the book Ethics for a New Millennium by the Dalai Lama.
It is hard to imagine what a prisoner in a Texas jail must feel while watching 40 brilliant, highly educated, almost overly articulate people speak, argue, negotiate and listen, all the while displaying a gamut of human behavior from dominance to leadership to compassion to overwhelming ego. While it doesn’t seem as if much came from the Synthesis group’s deliberations, the film is a masterful dissection of human nature and impulses for changing the world for the better.
Says Director Darvich, ““I had never been to a prison before, but I had a deep sense that inmates may have something to say about the film’s theme of overcoming the ego and opening one’s heart.” An inmate at Stiles Prison in Beaumont stated, “I could watch something like this every day, especially in the environment I’m in. You know, it’s like a snake pit. But if you’ve got inner peace, you will affect every person around.”
This trailer for the film gives a feel for the personal and group transformations that occurred during this extraordinary meeting:
The prisoners “got” the documentary, despite the cerebral approach of the 40 thinkers. “It was funny to see these super-smart people and realize that they were too smart for the task,” noted Jason, a prisoner at Ramsey Prison outside of Houston.
Says Director Darvich, ““I had never been to a prison before, but I had a deep sense that inmates may have something to say about the film’s theme of overcoming the ego and opening one’s heart.”
There are plans to offer the film for screenings at other prisons around the country, and Darvich hopes to speak with other inmate groups in person.
“The fundamental intention of making this film was to impact and transform audiences in a positive way,” he said, “and I can think of no better place to screen the film than a prison.”
There are 1.5 million people in U.S. prisons, over 95% of whom will some day be released. How much easier their transition back to “real life” would be if they spent some of their jail time discussing life’s big questions, being challenged to analyze the forces that may have led them to their cells, and discovering their inner strength and compassion to ensure that they don’t go back inside.
Details about Dalai Lama Renaissance and prison screenings are available at www.DalaiLamaFilm.com.