The Great Transmission explores the remarkable journeys Buddhist knowledge has made in the course of its 2,500-year lifespan. It meditates on the fragility of knowledge in the face of global events and asks the crucial question: What is the future of this ancient wisdom? Read moreWatch the Trailer
the act or process by which something,
such as knowledge, is passed from
one person to another
Making the Film
Today, over 50 years after being forced to flee their homeland, the bearers of Tibet’s ancient Buddhist traditions stand upon a precipice. The last generation to have been fully educated within Tibet before 1959 has almost disappeared, leaving a scant handful of leaders and teachers to ensure, along with their students and heirs, that Tibetan Buddhist knowledge continues into the future, not as a museum piece or historical curiosity, but as a vital, living tradition that has a part to play in the modern world.
The younger generations are confronted with the awesome task of upholding their sacred heritage. In exile, the leaders of Tibetan Buddhism have struggled to provide stability, establishing monasteries and teaching tirelessly. But the next generations desperately need access to their sacred texts in order to ensure the accurate and complete transmission of Tibetan Buddhist knowledge.
This moment is the turning point for Tibetan Buddhist culture. Will it survive as its “greatest generation” passes on? Will the new lamas, monks and nuns have a strong enough educational basis to ensure the survival of their traditions in a contemporary world that moves almost too quickly for comprehension?
Our main story challenge was to give depth to the history and tradition of sharing knowledge in the Buddhist world, while creating a vital context for the preservation activity taking place today. We hoped that by illuminating the past, we could help viewers grasp the significance of the devastating experiences of Tibet, and begin to appreciate the determination of its people to carry their heritage into the future.
In order to round out our story, we interviewed several Tibetan Buddhist scholars and teachers, as well as key Western scholars and thinkers who could help us dig more deeply into the significance of our story. We also interviewed key figures at the Yeshe De Project, who unfolded the story of their decades-long work making the sacred texts of Tibet available once again to the Tibetan people.
Thai animator Phanuthep Sutthithepthamrong joined the Guna team in early 2014. His skill and drive opened up an entirely new set of storytelling possibilities for The Great Transmission, allowing us to produce sophisticated and affecting 3D visuals of key moments in Buddhist history.
As production began, we assembled a dynamic team of filmmakers, editors, animators, and volunteers who dedicated themselves to the project. French cinematographers Yann Tribolle and Simon Pénochet spent ten days with Pema filming at the World Peace Ceremony, conducting interviews and capturing spellbinding footage of Tibetan and Indian Buddhist practice. We were fortunate to have extraordinary access to the Mahabodhi Temple complex and to the Nyingma Monastery in Bodh Gaya, allowing us to film in their classrooms, dining halls and assembly spaces.
When we reached out to celebrated actor Michael Nouri to be our voiceover narrator, he delighted and astonished us by responding to our query within hours, graciously donating his time and that of the recording studio.
New-York-based composer Albert Behar worked with very closely with Pema to create a score that would express the energy and compassion that animated the film. In order to work effectively despite being separated by a continent, Albert was able to connect Pema directly to his workspace, enabling the two of them to collaborate and edit on the fly.
We are very proud of the outcome of this incredible team effort, and hope it will provide a window on a sacred culture with much to offer to the modern world.
TIBET’S HERITAGE & HISTORY
Almost fifteen hundred years ago, Tibet was an empire. At its height, it controlled the Silk Road, and spanned Asia from Eastern Afghanistan to Central China, and from Mongolia to Nepal. Wealthy, powerful and deeply curious about the larger world, the Tibetan kings made alliances, conquered territory...and discovered the Dharma.
The Tibetan Text Tradition
Tibetans began practicing Buddhism as early as the seventh century AD, when King Srongsten Gampo sent his trusted minister to India to learn Sanskrit and devise a writing system for Tibet, allowing Buddhist texts to be translated into Tibetan for the first time. In the eighth century, 20-year-old King Trisong Detsen became determined that the Tibetan Empire would follow the Dharma. He dispatched a host of young Tibetan translators to India, birthplace of Buddhism. They returned to Tibet with more than a thousand texts. These works formed the basis for a sacred text tradition that would, in time, constitute tens of thousands of texts, painstakingly gathered from across Buddhist India and translated into Tibetan.
The tradition safeguarded in Tibet is of critical importance, for it holds a wider range of Buddhist texts than was collected by any other Buddhist culture. If these texts were to disappear, the damage to Buddhism worldwide would be incalculable.
Tibet in the 20th century
Beginning in 1959, Tibet experienced invasion, famine, and the destruction of its culture on a vast scale. By the 1960s, the number of active monasteries in Tibet went from over 6,000 to less than ten.
Over 80,000 Tibetans went into exile in 1959-1960. Within a few years that number would climb to over 100,000. Today, there are more than 140,000 Tibetans worldwide living in exile.
The Tibetan text tradition was nearly lost forever in the turbulence of the 20th century. Virtually all of Tibet’s sacred books and art were destroyed, and most of its great teachers passed away, were imprisoned, or were forced into exile. A small number of lamas were able to smuggle their private libraries out of Tibet; these precious volumes became the basis for the decades-long preservation efforts of Tarthang Tulku and others.
Founded by Tarthang Tulku in 1983, the Yeshe De Project is one of the world’s largest and most effective Tibetan cultural preservation efforts.
Named for a legendary early Tibetan translator, Yeshe De is dedicated to the preservation of the Tibetan Buddhist knowledge tradition, with a special emphasis on the teachings of the Nyingma tradition--the first and oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The mid-20th century saw virtually all of Tibet’s Buddhist monasteries destroyed. In the chaos, almost every library was lost. Restoring Tibet’s sacred literature has been an immense, decades-long challenge made possible by the tireless work of a tiny handful of masters, scholars, and devoted supporters.
Since its founding, the tiny, all-volunteer staff of Yeshe De has worked relentlessly to preserve and print these profoundly endangered sacred texts. Over 4.25 million books have been offered, free of charge, to Tibetan Buddhists in exile, and over 3,000 monastic libraries have been replenished.
To learn more about supporting Yeshe De, visit our sister organization, the Tibetan Aid Project.
Pictured above: Tsethang Tower, site of the early Tibetan kings. Legend has it that the Yambulagang was the first building in Tibet.
Pictured in middle column: Thangka painting of Srongsten Gampo, Tibet’s first Dharma king.
Pictured right: A Marilyn Silverstone photo documenting Tibetan refugees entering India.