The movie Refuge begins after the siege of Tibet in 1959. Although there have been many stories of the Dalai Lama and the plight of Tibet since the Chinese invasion, our story focuses on the spiritual developments that have occurred in the West since that time. This story has never been told before. It tells the story of westerners seeking refuge in Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhists seeking economic refuge in the west. It defines the difference between Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism. It is not a story about the invasion of Tibet or the tragedy of its victims. Refuge is filled with beautiful images from Dharamsala and Bodaghaya , India to New York and California .
The story of Refuge is told by a series of first time interviews with renowned filmmakers, artists and accomplished Tibetan masters. From the West we have interviews with Bernardo Bertolucci, the director of Little Buddha; Martin Scorsese, the director of Kundun; Oliver Stone, the director of "Heaven and Earth;" Melissa Mathison, the screenwriter of Kundun and Philip Glass, composer.
From the East we have interviews with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spiritual and political leader of Tibet; Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche, the director of The Cup and a Tibetan meditation master; Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Shambhala leader; Ani Tenzin Palmo, English Tibetan Buddhist nun who spent twenty three years meditating in a cave and Khenchen Palden Tserab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, Tibetan abbots who built a complete replica of a Tibetan temple in upstate New York.
The story of Refuge gives a clear look at how Buddhism is doing in the West. Martin Scorsese states, “I think to a certain extent Buddhism might give us an insight and . . . a rebirth of the very essentials of what, for example, Christianity preaches.” And Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche says, “Tibetans are taking refuge politically, economically to the rest of the world. And the rest of the world, some are taking refuge to this living tradition of wisdom and compassion of the Buddha, and that's a very good exchange, I think.”
We see how those who have come here from the East are doing at present. Ani Tenzin Palmo suggests, “We're all refugees from this ego clinging grasping mind. . . . And we should understand that it is indeed perhaps a journey without an end.” H.H. Shenphen Dawa Rinpoche states, “. . . Dharma will be according to your way of living, your way of thinking. Like Dharma becomes an everyday household word. I think that's going to come soon.”
What makes Refuge fresh and new is its approach to the subject from the point of view that the fall of Tibet has generated a spiritual rebirth in the West and that the Tibetans who have sought refuge here have found their lives renewed by coming to the West. Philip Glass explains, “. . . a culture which had been really hermetically sealed up . . . had been opened up. And what has been a tragedy for the Tibetan people has not been a tragedy for us.”