“My name is Pico Iyer and I’m the person you haven’t come to see today,” joked Iyer, to a small audience at New York City's Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art. Iyer, a renowned travel author, was on stage in a much anticipated free-wheeling conversation with filmmaker Martin Scorsese. “I haven’t won too many Academy awards this year and sadly, I haven’t made a movie about Bob Dylan recently.”

Iyer, however, has spent the last 30 years visiting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala and following him around the world since he is a deep believer in Buddhism and the Dalai Lama’s philosophy. “What I was really interested in was how, beneath his warmth and charisma," said Iyer, "he’s actually launching some fairly revolutionary ideas about how we can think differently on globalism, on politics and on even celebrity culture, on how to stay awake in all the clatter and confusion of the modern moment.”

Iyer believes that Scorsese’s film "Kundun" is one of the best ways for people to learn more about the Dalai Lama's struggle to find a clear path in a difficult world. Made by Scorsese 10 years ago, it's said to be one of the director’s secret favorites of his works.

When asked about this, Scorsese, who dedicated the film to his recently deceased mother, said, “It certainly is--I think about it all the time. It humbled us in its very nature. I constantly feel comfortable with it. It was a very special movie for me and I keep thinking I hope I did justice to it at that point in time because in America they expected the saga of the Dalai Lama.”

“It’s very abstract," Scorcese continued. "I knew that the epic had to be inside, not outside.” And it was made from the heart: “I hoped it would be something that would be like a gift for the Tibetan people that they’d have forever - as long as forever is - we’re dealing with impermanence.”

Perhaps Scorsese was the perfect person to make a film about the Dalai Lama's struggles, being raised in Queens in New York City, surrounded by priests on one side and an underworld of criminals on the other. As he says, “I saw a lot of good men do bad things”—something well-chronicled in his other films. But "Kundun's" inner silence and ethos of inaction being action took over five years to make—and changed his approach to filmmaking. After "Kundun," he said he resisted violent themes. “'I’m doing no more of this. I’m going to Tibet! No more "Vegas" that’s it!'," he said to himself. "That’s the reason I resisted doing "The Departed" because I knew I’d fall again into the abyss.”

His own spiritual background is “Roman Catholic, Southern Mediterranean,” he said. “I used to hear the Dalai Lama himself say 'If you are Roman Catholic or if you are Jewish; it doesn’t mean you have to become a Buddhist.' So maybe one can find the truth of compassion. That’s the reason I was so attracted to the story.”

“If I am religious in any way, I do have my roots in Roman Catholicism; I have a lot of differences with them but essentially, the compassion is what it’s about, the love is what it’s about and I’m looking for that in work, in life but it’s hard for me to switch gears to another religion.”

In the end Iyer and Scorsese seemed to being saying that spirituality is about everyday life and everyday deeds. “The church is here – we are the church, God’s here," Scorcese said, gesturing to the space around them. And Pico Iyer added the Dalai Lama’s definition of spirituality in four words, “Change is always possible.”
more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad