Overview: In a distant village on a remote mountaintop of the Himalayas sits Jhamtse Gatsal (Tibetan for “The Garden of Love and Compassion”), a special school and home for 85 orphaned and neglected children. Founded by former Buddhist monk Lobsang Phunstok, who trained with the Dalai Lama, this unique community gives boys and girls the chance to escape extreme poverty and grow up in an environment where they are free to be themselves and dream about their future.
Directed by Andrew Hinton and Johnny Burke, this documentary tells the story of Lobsang, whose own dark childhood led him to create this safe haven, and his newest arrival, feisty five-year-old Tashi, Her alcoholic father abandoned her after her mother’s death. Tashi defies her teachers, throws tantrums and fights with her peers. Instead of punishing her, Lobsang is reminded of his younger self and shows compassion, assuring Tashi that “sometimes it’s okay to be naughty.” The Jhamtse Gatsal staff and the rest of the community work closely together to address the needs of the residents, relying on older children to look out for the younger ones. In Tashi’s case, Lobsang enlists Raju, telling him, “You must help her understand…what is right and wrong…This is your job as a responsible elder brother, OK?”
Expectations: Come on, it is the tale of a Tibetan monk and a little girl. I know exactly how I am going to feel and what I am going to think about this one. It is going to be a moving, gentle and sweet story. Yes, it will be tinged with some sadness and discipline but it will be more empowering yet gentle than anything. It is as simple as that.
Gut Reaction: Okay, it is a great film but the trailer I based my expectations on proved a bit deceiving. The trailer, above, shows happy children in a hilltop paradise; Tashi is the only one throwing a crying jag to wreck their bliss. We get the strong sense that Lobsang is doing a world of good for these orphaned little ones and everything is fine.
You learn that everything is not fine. The school, as helpful and vital as it is, is a limited space and Lobsang hears pleas daily of families who want to send children there to live. You have to watch the documentary to understand the situations there, but understand that Jhamste Gatsal is not a private school, but an orphanage. It becomes a huge responsibility for Labsang to take on this task. He becomes father to 85 children of various ages.
The forty-two minute film does offer the joys of the happy children to juxtapose the naughty Tashi. Be assured though, by film’s end she does become disciplined and happier. It is all due to the empathy, the compassion, the steadfastness and the focus of Lobsang. It really needs seen to feel the power of this cause and the serenity of its master.
Bonus: There is a website dedicated to TASHI AND THE MONK that viewers might appreciate that includes an interview with Lobsang. I provide a brief excerpt below.
Q: Who are the kids and where do they come from?
Lobsang: Many of our children who are at Jhamtse Gatsal are actually the first generation to get education. They are not here for the reason they are smartest kids in their village. Or they arrived at Jhamtse Gatsal after actually giving an entrance test or something like that. When we visit the villages we are not looking for who is the smartest kid in your family. Or who is the most well behaved kid in the family. Basically we are asking: Who are the difficult kids? And who are the kids in the village that nobody wants? And we are taking those kids.
I will give you one example that we have – a really challenging young girl. I got a message from a village through a schoolteacher saying her father suddenly passed away and her mother had 7 or 8 children and was going through a really difficult time and she could not go to work to feed the rest of her family because she has to take care of the infant. Within a week I took a journey a trip to visit that family and the moment that I saw her my first question to that young lady was: ‘Who is the most difficult child you have who is holding you back not to do the work so that you can feed the rest of the children?’ She was a little bit shocked to hear that question.
Then she called all the children and pointed out that little young girl and said, “This one is giving me a lot of problems and she is really not listening to me.” So I said, “We will take that one.” It was totally different kind of shocking for her that why would you want to take my worst kid? I said, “I will take her and maybe she will cause you less problem and you will have more time to really take care of the rest of your children.”
And when this girl came to the community it was really challenging for all of us especially our house mothers and teachers to really nurture her in the community, to raise her with the values and principles that we believe in. But our job is to accept children nobody else can take care of, nobody else wants, and help this child to transform into the most amazing human being.
Q: And you do that using only love and compassion?
L: Almost every kid in the community had a very difficult childhood back in their village. People would say ‘My goodness, you will need doctors, you will need psychologists, psychiatrists there to help these kids’. But in our eight years of history we did not give any medication to our kids. I think the simple way in our life at Jhamtse Gatsal is number one accepting, embracing without making a judgement – good, bad anything. Next the approach is to really create a space for them and be supportive of them. Then there is the power of love, the power of care or the power of compassion that we are giving to each and every child. And that becomes the main healing for each and every kid here. And I strongly believe that that works. Yes, it takes time, but eventually the kids are really transforming into amazing human beings.
In the community our kids are equally responsible for everything that we do in the community. When we call it a Children’s Community that means they should take ownership of this community. And that is basically to really teach the kids their responsibility, and to be an active participant in everything we are doing here.
I think it is really obvious that our kids are not passive beneficiaries, our kids are active agents of the change and transformation we are making in the community. They are supporting each other, helping each other, making things happen – from cooking to construction, to cleaning, helping younger siblings, washing, bathing, doing laundry – every activity that we have in the community kids are actively involved. In that way the sense of community and supporting each other when it is needed is definitely unique about Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community.
In Conclusion: It is a powerful story that makes you just feel good that these children, including Tashi, are being looked after my such a caring and serene Tibetan monk. At the end of TASHI AND THE MONK you will wish them all well.
Next Week: On Monday, 08.24 HBO offers an encore presentation of CROSSFIRE HURRICAINE, an uncensored look at the Rolling Stones. It airs at 6:00pm. Another repeat is scheduled for Monday, 08.31 beginning at 6:45pm. It is ABOUT FACE: SUPERMODELS THEN AND NOW offering interviews with icons of the industry. The following week, 09.07, THE JINX returns with Chapter 1 & 2 beginning at 6:30pm. On 09.14 you will find THE JINX Chapter 3 & 4 at 6:30pm and the concluding Chapter 5 & 6 on 09.21 also starting at 6:30pm. You don’t want to miss any of those documentaries in this writer’s opinion.
We won’t see a documentary premiere until 09.28 with Alexandra Pelosi’s SAN FRANCISCO 2.0 which is her look at America’s capital of the counterculture vibe.