Reincarnation is Just the Beginning

Yangsi, the newest documentary by director Mark Elliott, offers an intimate portrait of a young Tibetan boy who is recognized as the reincarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the most revered Tibetan Buddhist masters of the twentieth century. He is known as the “Yangsi”, “the one who has come again into existence”.

The documentary was made over a fourteen year period, beginning with the Yangsi’s enthronement at age four before a crowd of fifteen thousand people in Kathmandu, Nepal, at which point he leaves his family and is placed in the care of the previous Khyentse Rinpoche’s regent, Rabjam Rinpoche, at Shechen monastery. In a rare, first person narration throughout the film, the young Yangsi gives an account of his experience of growing up in, and coming to terms with, his unique inheritance. A remarkable humor and honesty characterize his biographical observations.

Yangsi chronicles his life during training in Tibetan philosophy and ritualism, along with learning English, intimate family visits, and meetings with many older masters. Filmed largely in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and in Nepal, Yangsi presents everyday events in a reincarnation’s life, where a mother’s love plays as important a role as high tantric empowerments; where tradition is challenged by modernity;  where human relationships are as vital as study; and where doubt challenges devotion when having to live up to great expectations.

The film culminates as the Yangsi turns eighteen and must for the first time assume the role of the teacher, embarking on a world tour to continue the work of his predecessor and be of service to sentient beings. Perhaps never before has this process been so openly and engagingly portrayed, and this openness is in part due to the Yangsi’s own wishes that Buddhism’s relevance to the modern world be as clearly and openly articulated as possible.