The mystical path is one of beauty, unity, enchantment, and connections with all things. It has been called the underground river that connects all the world's religions. Those who walk this path are open to mystery and not knowing. Their devotional and ethical practices take them into fresh fields of wonder. Huston Smith (The World's Religions) and filmmaker Elda Hartley reverently explore three dimensions of the mystical path with these 30-minute films on Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Hinduism.
In Islamic Mysticism: The Sufi Way (1997), the focus is on the practices of those who have chosen to draw nearer to God. Sufism has been called the "soul" of Islam. While traditional Muslims do ablutions and pray five times a day, Sufis try to go even further by extinguishing the selfish self. They are encouraged on this path of surrender by sheiks who are seen as living incarnations of serenity and compassion. Music and dance are ways to convey the ecstatic joy within the body and to acknowledge the divine presence that saturates everyday life.
Shot on location from India to Morocco, this film is filled with lush images of Muslim art and architecture and scenes of the whirling dervishes of Turkey who move in rhythm with the music of the spheres. "Eternity now" is the reward for Sufis who take the long and arduous spiritual journey for which "everyone must be his own scout." Smith's poetic evocation of this quest makes this brief film an extraordinary experience.
In Requiem for a Faith: Tibetan Buddhism (1997), Smith explores the religion which developed over the centuries in this isolated country in the Himalayas. Some have called Tibet the most religious society that has ever existed. At one time, one-sixth of the men were monks. Prayer flags are hung in forests of trees and prayer wheels are constantly whirling. The world is crowded with spirits, and art seeks to convey that both the good and the bad reside within us. Yogis meditate and achieve super-human states of consciousness. Monks chant three notes simultaneously.
To the modern mind, these practices might seem strange. Yet to Tibetan Buddhists they are all part of the wheel of existence and the challenge of getting off the treadmill of ignorant desires. Whereas Westerners emphasize the glories of individualism, this spiritual tradition sees the separate self as a delusion and a way of living that can only lead to suffering and loss. This short film vividly conveys the distinctiveness of this religion and its unique wisdom.
In India and The Infinite: The Soul of a People (1997), narrator Huston Smith and filmmaker Elda Hartley set out to capture the incredible diversity and mystery of spirituality in this gigantic country. Here are Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, and Sikhs side by side. The country has found a way to respect differences and to make room for every belief system.
Smith is astonished at the way Hinduism has honored personality types, spiritual temperaments, and the four stages of life. But most splendid for him is its emphasis on the divine within every human being. Although Hindus have altars to the gods in their homes, the altar of the heart is considered to be the most sacred. The dance of Shiva conveys the divine activity in everyday life. The Infinite the life force is stirring in all things.
Hartley presents many startling images of India, including gurus lecturing devotees, ascetics on beds of nails, and erotic sculptures on temples. This lively documentary lives up to its promise to convey the richness of India's spiritual landscape.