WHEEL OF TIME
This is Werner Herzog's mesmerizing look at the 2002 Kalachakra ceremony performed in Bodh Gaya, India. It was here, some 2,600 years ago, where Siddartha found truth and became known as the Buddha, "the enlightened one."
The center of the Kalachakra celebration — on both the physical and spiritual planes — is the building and viewing of the sand mandala, a dazzlingly complex circular diagram painstakingly laid out by a team of monks who use carefully calibrated instruments to funnel brightly colored grains of sand onto the elaborate design. Viewing the completed mandala is an essential part of the ceremony, but consistent with the Buddhist belief, its material existence is transitory. This marvel of human endeavor is swept away at the end of the ceremony.
Through well-chosen images and his own sparse but effective narration, Herzog chronicles this spiritual conclave. Herzog's camera camps out alongside the hundreds of thousands of saffron-robed monks and other pilgrims who have traveled from the farthest reaches of Asia, many of whom have spent years on their journeys, taking two or three steps then prostrating themselves, even on the rockiest terrain.
Like all good Herzog movies, Wheel Of Time features a bevy of beautiful scenes and images. The sheer quantity of people who descend upon the area for the ceremony is impressive in and of itself made only more so by the colors and tones of the area in which it all plays out. Herzog's narration, which usually serves to put his documentary films into context, is surprisingly sparse here. Instead, he lets the pictures and interviews tell the story.
In addition to capturing the sights and sounds in and around the camp set-up by the initiates, intercut with an interview with the Dalai Lama, Herzog takes a breathtaking side trip to the foot of the astoundingly beautiful Mount Kailash — a sacred spot believed to be another abode of the Buddha. As filmmaker and cultural anthropologist, Werner Herzog brings his unique powers of observation to Buddhist tradition and rituals in Wheel of Time.
(Your film ticket also includes Hugh Byrne's teaching "Agents of Peace," and a discussion about HH the Dalai Lama's upcoming Kalachakra here in DC).