Then, the Buddha achieved Enlightenment, realizing the impermanence of human existence, and the falseness of a notion of fixed selfhood. Harrer achieved a kind of Enlightenment after experiencing the generosity of the Tibetan community where the Dalai Lama dwelled.
The film shows how the Austrian Harrer was effectively stripped of his secure sense of national identity after he was nearly conquered by the avalanche and met the Dali Lama. Once Harrer cared little for politics, and the politics he did advocate was divisive, hateful, and nationalistic. Harrer escaped from a POW camp run by the British, who found him after his accident, but by the end of the film he bears the British no resentment: he no longer identifies as part of any nation by at the films conclusion. Like Buddhism is an international religion, so is Harrers new, complex and more generous sense of identity. The Buddha was born in India, but founded a worldwide religion, and incarnations of the Buddha have been present everywhere, including, Tibetans believe, on their own soil. Harrer similarly shares an international identity.
Harrier learned how need to respect all sentient beings transcends the confines of the human species: When Harrer builds the Lama a movie theater, according to the boys request, the boy worries about the worms being disturbed in the process: in a past life, the worm could have been Harrers mother, the boy says. When comparing Harrers Nazi past, and the crimes against humanity of World War II, this caution about hurting a worm seems both touching and surreal.
However, Buddhism stresses the need to show respect on both a micro and macro level, to all sentient beings, and not simply to acknowledge compassion in the abstract. Also, if the Nazis had been able to see the face of humanity, of their own mothers, in the eyes of the victims, the mass atrocities that occurred during World War II could have never taken place.
Merely because Buddhists do not focus upon national divisions do not mean that they can ignore the inevitable consequences of politics. The Chinese overtake Tibet. Sorrowfully, Harrer reflects: “at one time I was no different from these intolerant Chinese.” The film, based upon a true story of the Austrian climber, does not have a conventionally happy ending. Tibet is still not free, even though the Chinese no longer the stereotypically fanatical Maoists that invaded the country in the film. Instead, Tibet is controlled for strategic, rather than ideological reasons, but the failure to acknowledge Tibetan equality and humanity persists. The inability to see ones self in the eyes of another also persists globally: and only through the unifying philosophy of Buddhism, Seven Years in Tibet suggests, can a freer and more peaceful world be realized.
Seven Years in Tibet. Directed by Jean-Jacques.