Vultures of Tibet

21 minutes

Lions in the corner

9 minutes

Tops

8 minutes

The Tibetan research of Herbert Benson

7 minutes

Why time seems to fly as you get older

4 minutes

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To Tibetan Buddhists, sky burials are sacred. To tourists, they’re a morbid curiosity

Relations between Tibet and China have been fraught for centuries. However, China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet, and its repression of an ensuing 1959 Tibetan uprising which resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing to India, marked a definitive turning point. Since that time, the migration of Han Chinese – China’s ethnic majority – and an influx of global tourism to the region has resulted in significant encroachments on and challenges to traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture.

Filmed in 2011, the US director Russell O Bush’s short documentary Vultures of Tibet offers a small window on to cultural tensions on the Tibetan Plateau. Set in the historically Buddhist town of Taktsang Lhamo, home to two monasteries, the film is centred on the practice of sky burials, in which the bodies of the Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures. For the town’s Tibetan Buddhist population, it is a sacred means of helping the dead’s spirit transition to the next life – a final earthly offering to creatures believed to have the wisdom of deities. However, for much of the rest of the world, the tradition is a morbid curiosity, and increasingly attracts unwelcome tourists, whose pictures end up in all corners of the internet. An accomplished work of contemporary anthropology, Bush’s film is a powerful examination of nature and culture, tradition and modernity, oppression and exploitation.

Director: Russell O Bush

Producers: Annie Bush

Websites: Vultures of Tibet, From the Woods

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‘I know it looks barbaric.’ Can a fight club curb street violence?

Chris ‘Scarface’ Wilmore has spent much of his life in Virginia facing violence and jail time. Despite an early opiate addiction and running with gangs, he’s made it to 40 years old. Many others haven’t been so lucky, getting caught up in small disputes that turned deadly. Hoping to curb the violence in his community, Wilmore has taken a unique, controversial approach: from his backyard in Harrisonburg, he runs ‘Streetbeefs’, a makeshift fight venue where disagreements can be settled in a controlled environment, with Mixed Martial Arts referees keeping watch. Wilmore believes in acknowledging and controlling the violence that the state-sanctioned alternatives fail to address; if his efforts save even two lives, it will have been worth it, he says. However, Streetbeefs isn’t condoned by local officials, nor is it clear if it has succeeded in reducing local homicides. The US director Paul Hairston’s short documentary profiles Wilmore and his unconventional fight club, raising broader questions about human nature and the role of violence in society.

Director: Paul Hairston

Producers: Jake Ewald, Tripp Kramer

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Watch Charles and Ray Eames put their 1969 spin on one of the world’s oldest toys

The oldest spinning top ever discovered dates back some 5,500 years, meaning that we’ve been entranced by these toys for nearly as long as human civilisation has existed. And if there’s any doubt about the contemporary appeal of all things centrifugal, look no further than the recent – and depending on your tolerance for flash-in-the-pan retail trends, annoying – ubiquity of the small handheld toys known as fidget spinners. In this short film from 1969, the legendary husband-and-wife US designers Charles and Ray Eames celebrate the crosscultural, millennia-spanning appeal of all things small, simple and spinnable. With an appropriately playful score from the celebrated US film composer Elmer Bernstein, the Eameses offer us 123 tops from around the world, a reminder of the simple satisfaction of watching something spin from initial twirl to final topple.

Directors: Charles Eames, Ray Eames

Score: Elmer Bernstein

Website: Eames Office

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How a scientific attempt to demystify Buddhist meditation yielded astounding results

In 1981, Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School, set out to study the ancient meditation practices of Buddhist monks on the Tibetan Plateau. With the Dalai Lama’s blessing, Benson spent roughly a decade in remote regions of the Himalayas in northern India researching an especially intense technique known as tummo, as well as the physiological effects of other advanced forms of meditation. Rather than debunking the seemingly tall tales of advanced practitioners capable of raising their body temperatures to dry cold, wet sheets around their bodies, Benson’s work actually confirmed and expanded upon these anecdotes. In particular, by tracking vital signs and body-heat output during meditation sessions, Benson found that these monks possessed remarkable capacities for controlling their oxygen intake, body temperatures and even brainwaves. In 2013, a second study conducted on advanced Tibetan tummo meditators by Maria Kozhevnikov, a cognitive neuroscientist the National University of Singapore, corroborated much of what Benson had observed, including practitioners’ ability to raise their body temperatures to feverish levels by combining visualisation and specialised breathing.

This extended trailer for the UK filmmaker Russ Pariseau’s feature documentary Advanced Tibetan Meditation: The Investigations of Herbert Benson MD relays portions of Benson’s landmark research, which ultimately signalled a seismic shift in how Western science views Buddhist meditation. Simultaneously, the material makes evident the disparate ways that Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists understand the self.

Director: Russ Pariseau

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Time seems to accelerate as we get older, but there’s a tested way to tap the brakes

Most adults seem to agree that the older you get, the quicker time flies by. This feeling might, on its surface, seem like one of life’s more enigmatic qualities. But according to the US neuroscientist David Eagleman, there’s actually a pretty straightforward scientific explanation for this phenomenon: habitual situations require much less of our attention than novel ones and, as we age, we become much more likely to be fixed in our routines, and much less likely to encounter anything out of the ordinary. So, as Eagleman suggests in this animation from BBC Ideas, if you want to pump the brakes on your experience of time, try pursuing new experiences – large and small.

Video by BBC Ideas

Animator: Peter Caires

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To Tibetan Buddhists, sky burials are sacred. To tourists, they’re a morbid curiosity

Relations between Tibet and China have been fraught for centuries. However, China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet, and its repression of an ensuing 1959 Tibetan uprising which resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing to India, marked a definitive turning point. Since that time, the migration of Han Chinese – China’s ethnic majority – and an influx of global tourism to the region has resulted in significant encroachments on and challenges to traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture.

Filmed in 2011, the US director Russell O Bush’s short documentary Vultures of Tibet offers a small window on to cultural tensions on the Tibetan Plateau. Set in the historically Buddhist town of Taktsang Lhamo, home to two monasteries, the film is centred on the practice of sky burials, in which the bodies of the Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures. For the town’s Tibetan Buddhist population, it is a sacred means of helping the dead’s spirit transition to the next life – a final earthly offering to creatures believed to have the wisdom of deities. However, for much of the rest of the world, the tradition is a morbid curiosity, and increasingly attracts unwelcome tourists, whose pictures end up in all corners of the internet. An accomplished work of contemporary anthropology, Bush’s film is a powerful examination of nature and culture, tradition and modernity, oppression and exploitation.

Director: Russell O Bush

Producers: Annie Bush

Websites: Vultures of Tibet, From the Woods

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