Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Filmmaker John Bush bears witness to the relentless erosion of Tibet's religious and cultural traditions in this visually stunning documentary, which will play best to viewers already familiar with the tenets and customs of Tibet's vajrayana Buddhist tradition. Bush blames China, which invaded Tibet in 1949 and has governed it with a notoriously heavy hand ever since; the Communist mandate to root out organized religion, which led to the death or exile of more than 150,000 Tibetans (including the 14th Dalai Lama, who took up residence in India), was particularly damaging to a culture in which Buddhist belief was integral to every aspect of existence. In Tibet, the pursuit of personal spiritual growth (the Sanskrit word vajra means "the thunderbolt of enlightenment"), the practice of compassion, and devotion to the teachings of the lamas are central, not peripheral, to daily life. Much of Tibet's dazzling, centuries-old legacy of monastic libraries, religious sculpture and painting, ornately carved prayer wheels and richly colored tapestries has been destroyed or desecrated, and the population of Tibet's largest cities is increasingly Chinese. Bush's agenda isn't fundamentally political: He and his skeleton crew went to Tibet as pilgrims and did their filming on the sly; Bush chose not to interview any of the Tibetans he met for fear of exposing them to reprisal, so the only voices heard are Bush's own, and those of Tibetan exiles Tenzin L. Choegyal and singer Dandon. The images of gods and ordinary Tibetans that Bush captures are more eloquent that his turgid narration, and overall the film works better as a travelogue than an introduction to Tibetan Buddhist beliefs or history.