Never Give Up and Buddhist Ecology

by jamesgritz on November 20, 2011

 Never Give Up – The Heart of  Compassion is about the young, charismatic 17th Karmapa and three women inspired to put his teachings into action in Bodhgaya, India. Tragically Bodhgaya is one of the poorest areas of India as well as the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. We are in the final stage of editing our documentary. We filmed the 17th Karmapa leading the Kagyu Monlam, the annual prayer festival in Bodhgaya, during this year’s special Anniversary Celebration of 900 years of the Karmapa’s continual rebirths. We also included poignant footage of Karmapa’s historic tour of America in 2008.

In the making of Never Give Up we interviewed many great contemporary lineage holders, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Roshi Joan Halifax and others, speaking on subjects ranging from mindful social action to the nature of mind.

“Karmapa means embodiment of all the enlighted activities of the Buddhas. He embodies wisdom and compassion in action…..His Holiness’ advice is very timely. We need bodhicitta or the heart of loving kindness in action, not just sitting in some meditative state. We could say lots of eastern practitioners in India and Tibet are used to so many rituals and practices, all these spiritual things. We sit in one room with all these gadgets like a teenager in America sitting somewhere in a basement room with all these computers and games… His Holiness is saying come out of that game room and get some exercise. Come out of that spiritual game room and get into action. I think that’s a really good message.”

– Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche from our filmed interview in Bodhgaya

His Holiness Karmapa is constantly taking compassionate action in this world. He is a vegetarian and has requested all Kagyu monasteries to stop eating meat. He provided a clean water drinking station as a gift of gratitude outside the entrance to the Mahabodhi Temple. He said, “Bodh Gaya is the place where Buddha was enlightened, which means that it is the birthplace of the most-valued teachings of wisdom and compassion. We should treat this land with respect and protect its natural environment. During Buddha’s time, the river Niranjana flowed gloriously. But, these days, we hear that it is drying up. We must do everything we can to protect these water sources and to minimize wastes that are polluting this sacred land.”

Karmapa’s message not only includes Buddhist teachings on compassion and taming the mind but taking the next step of putting those teachings into action. His Holiness was recently asked to write an article outlining his view of  “Environmental Buddhism” for the scientific journal Conservation Biology’s December issue. “Entitled “Walking the Path of Environmental Buddhism through Compassion and Emptiness,” the article explores His Holiness’ personal reasons for becoming an environmentalist, offers a masterful explanation of the overlap between Buddhist philosophy and environmental ideology, and ends with a call to action to protect the environment.” From the Kagyu office –

“As I grew up and began studying Buddhist philosophy and teachings,” His Holiness explained, “I discovered great harmony between Buddhism and the environmental movement. The emphasis on biological diversity, including ecosystems—in particular, the understanding that animate and inanimate beings are parts of a whole—resonates closely with Buddhism’s emphasis on interdependence.”

In our filmed interview in Boulder, Colorado Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said,  “Ecology is a bare necessity now, it’s not optional”  

 We feel this movie will inspire its audience with the urgent message that genuine spiritual practice does not end in the shrine room but needs to be put in action to benefit a planet and all beings on that planet who are experiencing great suffering. We currently need to raise $15,000 in order to finish the final color correction and sound design, film festivals entry fees and the production of the DVDs with all the associated marketing and distribution costs.

A contribution of any amount helps. Here are some categories of our needs you can choose from.

  • One day of Color Correction $500 (5 days needed)                   $2500
  • One day of  Sound Mixing $700 (4 days needed)                        $2800
  • Design of DVD package and poster                                               $1500
  • Film Festival entry fees                                                                   $1200
  • DVD Production, Publicity and Advertising                                 $5000

Donors of $1000 or more will receive credit on the film and two tickets to the premier.
Donors of $5000 or more will be credited as Executive Producers two tickets to the premier and dinner with the directors.

You can donate by visiting our website or simply clicking the donate button on the right side of this blog. Or if you prefer mail a check to: Open Heart Films, 72 Lakeshore Park Road, Boulder, CO 80302

If you would like to receive a charitable tax donation receipt the Buddhist Film Foundation, Inc, is our fiscal sponsor, “a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization (IRS determination letter available upon request)”. Make checks payable to: Buddhist Film Foundation, Inc. and note that it is for “Never Give Up” on the memo line.

Buddhist Film Foundation, Inc. Zaentz Media Center, 2600 Tenth Street, Suite 409 Berkeley, CA 9471—3104 USA (please note in the memo line for Never Give Up)

Thank you for taking your time to listen to our needs and explore our film. We hope you will join our community of supporters and help us bring this message of Buddhist inspired social and environmental action. Keep an idea out for our Kickstarter Page coming next week.

I am also offering a greatly reduced price on limited edition archival prints from my portfolio on Pilgrimage. Click on any picture to see the sizes and prices available.


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The writer Naomi Levine just finished interviewing me for Elephant Journal. I am sharing some of that interview here.

We have to think about compassion from many different angles, not just thoughts, but something that comes from our heart and our bones. Then you are a follower of Mahayana…. If you give up on one sentient being then you lose bodhicitta….HH Karmapa 17

Never Give Up – Karmapa 17 – Trailer

Homeless in India © James Gritz

For anyone who does not know Bodh Gaya, it can best be summed up as a journey through the sufferings of the six realms to the still point of enlightenment under the bodhi tree.

In a half kilometre you will pass cows and dogs eating their way through piles of waste on one side of the street while state of the art Subarus or Toyotas carrying Lamas and massive modern luxury buses with Chinese pilgrims or Indian tourists dominate a torrent of traffic. Bicycle rickshaws and horse drawn carts overloaded with human cargo struggle with each foot for space. As you reach the promenade in the precinct leading to the sacred bodhi tree, child vendors press fresh lotuses in your face, village men hold fish in plastic bags to be purchased by a pilgrim for the merit of liberation – then caught and used again for business.

And then the beggars. Feet twisted, hands cut off crawling the dusty pavement to target a tourist handout. Or a stationary body, both limbs missing leaving just a torso sitting in the heat of the sun. This is buddha business, and it awakens a full range of emotions.

You can view the entire interview here at Elephant Journal Interview

At one point Naomi asked me how our film had evolved. I would like to share that story here in more detail than our interview permitted.

The evolution of Never Give Up – Karmapa 17

The original inspiration behind this film was fairly simple and straightforward. I was the principle still photographer during Karmapa’s U.S. tour in 2008. When I found out about the 2010 Kagyu Monlam and that this was the 900 Year Celebration of the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa I thought I would try my hand at making a documentary. Once I got the permission we needed to film at the Monlam I thought of my friend Fernanda Rivero, a filmmaker living in Mexico. She has done a number of short films and had experience with documentaries. Fernanda is a great storyteller, while I am more of an image-maker. I called up Fernanda to see if she would be interested in helping with this film. As it turned out she was planning to go to Bodhgaya in January for teachings at Shechen Monastery. She was immediately excited and changed her dates to arrive in India a month earlier. So Fernanda became my co-director and co-producer on this film.

Soon after this I received an email from Maia Saabye Christensen, a Danish filmmaker who had seen the announcement of our documentary on Facebook. She said she would be in Delhi working on a film on Richard Davidson, the scientist whose studies, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute, are showing how meditation on compassion and loving kindness actually effects certain regions of the brain. The Dalai Lama has been involved with this project for many years. Maia asked if we needed any help. As it turned out Maia was an invaluable help as an additional camerawoman and a great help with coordination at the Monlam as she arrived ahead of us and made relationships with most of the people we needed to work with.

With the help of Karmapa’s general secretary Karma Chungyalpa, his western secretary Chime and some others we were actually granted three interviews with His Holiness. Considering his busy schedule we felt immensely fortunate. Karmapa’s interest in our film and approach seemed to grow with each meeting. At one point he actually expressed a desire to get involved in our editing process. He said he had been advised to study Final Cut Pro (a film editing software) but didn’t have the time. Due to his busy schedule and our lack of funding I am not sure if this will actually transpire.

We were in Bodhgaya searching for a way to make this film different than other films about charismatic Buddhist teachers or about an event like the Kagyu Monlam. During His teaching on Atisha’s Lamp the Karmapa spoke a lot about going beyond our comfort zones with our Buddhist practice and really generating compassion. At one point he talked about how sitting in our shrine rooms with our precious malas and bone horns was the main point of practice. Considering all the suffering there was in the world we need to get out and do something. He said, As Buddhist’s working on the path is to work on taming your mind. To give tormas, make offerings to the Buddhas, making prostrations is not enough to practice. You will not be freed from your suffering by making offerings to the Lhas, offering smoke, you must really change yourself, bring wisdom and meditation and good conduct to yourself…

He asked, “How much responsibility can we take for others? If you cannot take responsibility for others, whether you call yourself Mahayana or not you are Mahayana. If you are only doing for yourself, you are the lowest of the low, in the smallest of the Yanas…Compassion is thinking about beings who are suffering and really wanting to liberate them from that suffering. This compassion doesn’t come by just saying the Vajrasattva mantra, saying please come – that will not make compassion arise.

… There are so many people in Bodhgaya, so many people with no hands, no legs or nothing to eat, with health problems…we may not be able to give too much to them but if we really care and feel for them compassion is generated.

This really struck home. I was practicing, taking pictures and now working on a film, but what was I doing for anyone else? I turned from looking inside for some lofty enlightenment message, the “nature of mind”, “the emptiness of this or that” to looking at what was happening in the world right there in front of us, in Bodhgaya, India. My co-director, Fernanda Rivero and I were searching for a way to make this film different than other documentaries about one’s Buddhist teacher or about an event like the Kagyu Monlam. Naomi introduced us to the three female students of Karmapa’s who were actually trying to do something about the mess in Bodhgaya. It seemed the perfect segue into what Karmapa was actually teaching. He was advocating taking action, doing something to help others no matter how small it might seem.

So now we are weaving together the parallel stories of Karmapa and his activities and these three women trying to make a difference to the people and the world of Bodhgaya, India.

At this moment, Fernanda and Matthew Shultz, an experienced editor from Chicago are continuing the editing of  the movie in a small town in Mexico. The biggest challenge we face with embodying our vision for this film is how to you convey the teachings of Karmapa in a 70-minute visual metaphor. We are looking at incorporating footage from Karmapas 2008 tour of the U.S. and telling the story of Karmapa’s teachings through world footage; scenes of a planet being destroyed, scenes of the beauty we may lose, wars and tsunamis and nuclear disasters, scenes of abuse to animals Karmapa often speaks about,

This is all developing and evolving during the editing process. We came home from India with a lot of footage – hours of interviews with The Karmapa and other Rinpoches, hours of teachings, days of the activities of the Kagyu Monlam and days following around our characters. We had no hard and fast script. Everything seemed to naturally morph into a new and more refined direction. We are still deep in the process of this creation. As I mentioned to Naomi there are times when Fernanda and I feel like we are just puppets and maybe Karmapa is pulling the strings, maybe “we” are not really creating anything.


During our first couple of months working on this film we did manage to raise a little of $2000 through Facebook and this blog. This came mostly from Dharma friends and devotees of Karmapa. We are grateful for that help. That money was spent to Fed Ex tapes of HHK’s 2008 USA visit to Mexico City from the Karmapa Foundation, to ship a book on HHK that had photos of the previous 16 Karmapas that we used in the intro to the 900 Year Film for the Kagyu Office, to pay for some editing help in Mexico City and also to hire the editor Matthew Schultz to come to Mexico City and work on the film with Fernanda for two months. She paid for his airfare, food and lodging out of her own pocket. We have made a short film on the 900 Year Celebration to travel with the Dusum Khyenpa statue for Karmapa’s office. We did this at our own expense. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has reviewed this film and he and his office have sent us a list of changes they wish to make, so this is still an ongoing expense. We have been very frugal but we now need some financial assistance from Karmapa’s friends, students and anyone else who thinks this project is worthwhile. We are working towards creating a film that will show the actions of a great compassionate and charismatic spiritual leader, whose name means “Activity of the Buddhas” and hopefully encourage others into taking social and environmental action.

You can view the trailer to Never Give Up – Karmapa 17 at their website or follow them on Facebook a



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Today most Tibetan Buddhists celebrate the Year of the Female Iron Rabbit.  I had written about the Tibetan new year in an earlier post as the Nalandabodhi’s calendar and Tsurphu, Karmpa’s monastery in Tibet, celebrated Losar on February 3rd. As I am involved with several great teachers and Sanghas I will celebrate the new year again today. This is a great day for a Sang or smoke offering and if I were in Boulder with Tibetan friends I would probably also celebrate with a glass of chhaang. I am still in Mexico City working with my co-director Fernanda Rivero on our film “Never Give Up – Karmapa 17”

Maybe you are sick of hearing from me about our film but I will say a little more as we need your help.  We are not only working on editing our own film on Karmapa, we are also working at our own expense on a short film for the Karmapa Office on the 900 Year Celebration. This film is to be shown in centers around the world celebrating this special year of 900 rebirths of Karmapas for the benefit of all beings. Originally it was to accompany the travels of the magical Dusum Khyenpa statue. Due to the recent political events in India concerning His Holiness the 17th Karmapa it is not certain whether this statue of the first Karmapa will be traveling the world. Nonetheless the Karmapa office has asked us to finish our film for them as soon as possible, as it will be shown in Dharma centers around the world. We are already behind schedule due to the events in India so we are hiring an additional editor to help us with this project.

Our film, “Never Give Up: Karmapa 17” differs from other films that have been made on the Karmapas or other charismatic Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Most of these films are directed to “Buddhist sangha” or to the followers of those teachers. Rather than literally following His Holiness the 17th Karmapa around from place to place our film explores the ideas he is presenting in his teachings and interviews. In particular we examine the idea of solitary meditation and the Buddhist path of “training the mind” and the direct practice of compassionate social action in the world. We explore this issue through interviews with other contemporary and popular Buddhist teachers like Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Ponlop Rinpoche and Matthieu Ricard. We also follow the lives and work of three women who are students of the Karmapa and who inspired by his teachings of the Buddha are moved to engage in social action in Bodhgaya.

Our movie, which begins with the Kagyu Monlam and the “900 Year Celebration” of the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, will with poetic overtones illustrate through its imagery the Karmapa’s teachings on the importance of compassionate action. This includes caring for animals, vegetarianism, women’s rights and environmental action. I think the issue of how one integrates one’s spiritual practice and one’s work to help others is a big concern among Buddhist and non-Buddhists around the world. According to the Karmapa, the foundation of Buddhist action is mindfulness. Although mindfulness and awareness is achieved through continual practice one cannot wait until enlightenment to go out to help others. During his talks in Bodhgaya the Karmapa emphasized the importance of working every day to alleviate the suffering of others. In Bodhgaya, and during his U.S. Tour, he challenged those present to work to change the direction of the environment abuse that is leading to planetary disaster.

The Karmapa says, “we can never give up on sentient beings” and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to ease their suffering. While long time students of Buddhism will be interested in this film, non-Buddhists and anyone concerned with taking social action for the benefit of others and the planet will find this film inspiring. We are delving into the ideas and teachings of the Buddha and the 17th Karmapa by documenting the compassionate action of others in the world.  This is a film that goes beyond devotion to a particular charismatic person and beyond Tibetan Buddhism as a “religion”. Never Give Up – Karmapa 17 explores the purpose of our lives and the teachings of the one whose name means “Activity of the Buddhas” – Karmapa.

We  just added three interviews with Tsoknyi Rinpoche, The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche to our website under the tab Interviews. We hope by sharing a further glimpse into our film you will be inspired to donate to this project. We have a great incentive program for various donation amounts you can read about on our site. Thanks again to all those friends and supporters who have already donated. We really appreciate it and we will continue working hard to make this an incredible film.

Our very own narrative consultant Naomi Levine has a great article in Elephant Journal detailing the lambasting that His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has recently undergone in the Indian press.

Indian Press Fantasies: A Tale of Sound and Fury

Waylon Lewis’ own blog on Elephant Journal is a fun read.

Cheerful New Year..


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“Never Give Up: Karmapa 17″ Trailer

February 21, 2011

Here is the link to our trailer NEVER GIVE UP – KARMAPA 17 New Trailer FILM SUMMARY Tibetan Buddhism may be the fastest growing spiritual tradition in the world today. Many Sanskrit and Buddhist terms like samsara, nirvana, karma, dharma, mantra are now commonplace in the English language. Since the Chinese invaded Tibet lineage teachers have […]

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Year of the Iron Rabbit Begins, more Karmapa News from India

February 3, 2011

A cold morning in Boulder, Colorado ushered in the Year of the Iron Rabbit. Tomorrow I’m heading to Mexico where I will be working in a bit more warmth with Fernanda editing our Film on the 17th Karmapa, the Kagyu Monlam and the 900 Year Celebration of Dusum Khyenpo. Before leaving I thought I would […]

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Karmapa Residence Raided

January 28, 2011

I had no plans to write another blog entry until I returned from Mexico in March from working on editing our film about the Karmapa and the Kargyu Monlam with my friend and co-director Fernanda Rivero.  In the early hours of the morning I came across this link to bad news that had been posted […]

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Open heart, Empty Bodhi Leaf

January 20, 2011

I woke before dawn thinking about what have I brought back from India, the home of the Buddha. What teachings have I learned filming the 17th Karmapa, the Kagyu Monlam, the 900 Year Celebration and the interviews with my teachers and other Rinpoches, the stories of those trying to make a difference in the endless […]

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A Letter from Goa

January 9, 2011

I am here in Goa absorbing the warmth and clean air – a welcome relief from the cold and dust of Bodhgaya and Delhi.  I hear the sounds of gentle waves against a rocky shore, a lapping, gurgling sound that is hard to put into words. The stars and crescent moon against a clear black […]

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“Never Give Up”

December 21, 2010

“What I really like to do is to go into action. When I am meditating on compassion I don’t want to have compassion that I keep inside myself but I want to be able to show the power of compassion to others.” His Holiness the 17th Karmapa during a filmed interview  – December 17, 2010 Bodhgaya, […]

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900 Year Celebration of the First Karmapa in Bodhgaya, India

December 12, 2010

We are here in Bodhgaya working from dawn to late at night on the film of the Karmapa and the Kargyu Monlam. The atmosphere is full of magic and energy but the air is so full of dust from the hectic movement of cars, motorcycles and rickshaws that one by one we are all getting […]

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