My Reincarnation: Tibetan Buddhism and Its Discontents

A mellow doc that seems all set to cash in on the “spirituality” market, Jennifer Fox’s new film was actually in production for more than 20 years, beginning when Yeshi Silvano Namkhai was a half-Italian acne-victim teen just learning that he’d been dubbed the reincarnation of a famous Tibetan yogi. The judgment was passed down by his world-famous Tibetan spiritual-leader dad, Rinpoche Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, and Fox wastes no time or footage placing the rebel-Euro-son-versus-iron-man-Asian-dad dynamic front and center. It’s a juicy setup that begs for a thick Oprah novel, not get-in-get-out nonfiction. In fact, Fox’s briskness leaves certain questions gaping open: How cynical and derisive is she deliberately being of Rinpoche’s teachings, since all we get are trite homilies and vague advice? (In a seconds-long consultation, one terrified HIV-positive seeker is told “Everything is relative.”) Can you film Buddhist instruction without seeming skeptical? Are Yeshi’s years of reticence regarding his appointed destiny an avoidance of “truth” or of self-help baloney? Fox ends up clearly on Rinpoche’s team, but her film suggests a deep wariness of Eastern mysticism, the needy Westerners who lap it up, and figures like Rinpoche who exploit that jones. Which makes it, perhaps unintentionally, pointed and daring.