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Film Screening of "Tukdam: Between Worlds" and Discussion with Director Donagh Coleman

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T. T. & W. F. Chao Buddhist Art and Film Series


We tend to think of death as something clear-cut, and that medical science has it neatly figured out. This feature documentary challenges such assumptions through its exploration of a phenomenon that blurs life and death to an unprecedented degree. In what Tibetan Buddhists call tukdam, advanced meditators die in a consciously controlled manner in meditation. Though dead according to biomedical standards, they often remain sitting upright in meditation posture; remarkably, their bodies remain fresh and lifelike, without signs of decay for days, sometimes weeks after clinical death. The film follows the first ever scientific research into tukdam by neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s team, juxtaposed with intimate death stories of tukdam meditators and Tibetan understandings of the death process—which include ideas about consciousness and the mind-body connection that are very different to those of mainstream science. Unfolding in cinematic dialogue between scientific and Tibetan perspectives, the film unravels our certainties about life and death, and shows how differently death can be construed in different cultural contexts. In this encounter between worlds, the scientists' methods and views are challenged by a civilization where death has been a central preoccupation for centuries.


Finnish-Irish-American filmmaker-scholar Donagh Coleman holds degrees in Philosophy and Psychology and Music and Media Technologies from Trinity College Dublin, and an MA in Asian Studies from UC Berkeley. Previous award-winning films with wide international festival and TV exposure include A Gesar Bard's Tale (2013) and Stone Pastures (2008). Donagh's films have also been shown at museums such as MoMA and the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, and by the European Commission. Besides films and TV-documentaries, Donagh directs radio documentaries for the Finnish and Irish national broadcasters. His Radio Feature Gesar! was Finland’s entry for the 2012 Prix Italia competition, and his feature Do I Exist? was Finland’s entry for the 2015 Prix Europa competition. Donagh is currently pursuing a PhD in medical anthropology at UC Berkeley, continuing the research conducted for his 2022 feature documentary on Tibetan Buddhist tukdam deaths. He is a Dissertation Fellow in the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies.



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