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Spirit and Global Leadership: Insights from the Emmy-winning film "Tashi and the Monk"

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

​"On a remote mountaintop a brave social experiment is taking place."

Thus begins the story of a unique school for orphans and neglected children in the foothills of the Himalayas. The story was made into a film, Tashi and the Monk, which won an Emmy Award in 2016.

When I watched the film after it was released, it led me into a deeper inquiry about the meaning and practice of global leadership, as demonstrated by the two featured people: Lobsang Phuntsok, the former Buddhist monk who founded the school, and Tashi, a new student who is experiencing difficulty adjusting to her community.

Phuntsok, who was trained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, had been a Buddhist teacher in the Boston, MA, area. In 2006, he then left Boston to create the school, Jhamtse Gastal, which means Garden of Love and Compassion. Phuntsok had a dream to help other children avoid the type of unhappy childhood that he himself suffered.

I was fortunate to be among a group of Phuntsok's friends who helped him in the early stages of founding the school, which was built in northeastern India near the Tibetan border. And, many years later, I continue to support its growth and expansion in different ways.

Photo credit: Tashi and the Monk

Once the school got established, two filmmakers arrived to create a movie about the inspiring community. When the finished film was released to audiences around the world, I watched in amazement as it enthralled and inspired people and garnered international acclaim. I began to wonder how the story illuminated global leadership in Lobsang, in Tashi, and in the greater community at Jhamtse Gatsal.

I consulted the Presence: Bite-sized wisdom for Global Leaders card deck. I felt drawn to the Spirit card. I began to wonder how Spirit enhances our capacity to be Global Leaders. I read the text on the front of the card. I flipped the card over and looked at the languages on the back, noting that the Sanskrit word for Spirit appears on the left-side border, third language down from the top: आतम न.

Sanskrit is an ancient language―dating back some 3,500 years―and was used in some of the principle texts of Buddhism. We included Sanskrit as one of the 22 languages that form the back border of each of the Presence cards because Sanskrit holds an important consciousness that still resonates in humanity as a world heritage. The Sanskrit word for "spirit" translates as "vital energy" or "life-breath." This translation aligns well with the Spirit text from the Presence deck.

Spirit is the fire of your being.

First, the text on the Spirit card suggests that at the heart of any situation is a fiery core of your being. This fire animates, informs, and inspires you.

In the film, Tashi, 5, arrives at the school with a difficult past: Her mother passed away, and Tashi had been abandoned by her alcoholic father. Tashi is struggling to find her place among 84 new siblings. Phuntsok and his colleagues are hoping that the community’s love and compassion will transform Tashi’s isolation and tantrums into an ability to form friendships, the film states. By seeing the Spirit in Tashi, adoptive father Phuntsok empowers the girl to overcome her limitations. He doesn't see Tashi as an orphan but as an expression of something greater.

"In some ways, all of us are abandoned," Phuntsok tells the assembled children at the beginning of the movie. "Everybody [gave up] hope on us." Phuntsok, himself, had a difficult childhood and was sent to a monastery at a young age. "But in this have the opportunity to change," Phuntsok continues. "This is a community of love and compassion. These little ones are the most amazing seed of compassion and love. Someday, they will blossom."

Phuntsok understands that we all have a right to be on Earth and that we all have a right to be loved—regardless of our circumstances—because we each have a seed of vast potential inside of us, a fiery core that inspires us to thrive. When we tap into this core of our being, we find a strong foundation that renews us and helps us overcome even the most difficult situations. By tapping into Spirit—the fire of our being—we become a Global Leader in our lives.

Spirit expresses itself with purity, clarity, and dynamic movement forward. The text from the Spirit card further suggests that you move with Spirit when your actions are clear and pure.

"I hope she will eventually become like the other kids," Lobsang says in the film, talking to the teachers after they list some of Tashi's problems in adjusting to her community. Tashi is prone to fits and outbursts of anger.

Slowly, Tashi begins to adjust to her environment through trial and error and through love and support from Phuntsok, the teachers, and the other students. Eventually, Tashi starts to learn how to share and to create friendships. In a scene from the movie, Tashi and another girl pick walnuts along a path. With a sense of purity and clarity, Tashi breaks open a walnut and shares it with her fellow student. She finds beauty and magic in the process. "Hold my hand," the student says to Tashi, and the two girls run back to the school. In that simple act, Tashi has learned to form a new, healthy bond. Her actions are clear and pure as she begins to lead with Spirit.

Spirit can lead to interdependent relationships in which breakthroughs, innovations, and shared leadership can emerge.

The Spirit card states that by honoring Spirit in yourself and others, you create extraordinary ability to manifest shared intentions. This leads to interdependent relationships in which breakthroughs, innovation, and shared leadership emerge, the text says. "Do you like fighting, or do you like to be friends?" Phuntsok asks three children, including Tashi, toward the end of the film.

"I like to be friends," Tashi replies quickly, smiling. She then tells the group that, as a big sister, she will help to teach a new arrival at the school how to integrate into the community. Tashi is now experiencing a Spirit-inspired breakthrough in her life, one in which she has mastered elements of herself and can now teach others how to overcome their challenges.

Phuntsok, as well, honors the Spirit in himself and the children, realizing that the school has created interdependent relationships in which leadership is shared and innovations occur in people's lives.

"I got an opportunity to live 85 childhoods," Phuntsok says in the movie, expressing how Spirit created a breakthrough in his life. "Something really special in my life happened. Now they have an opportunity to dream about their future."

Spirit ennobles your own authority to make the most of your life, the Presence card text concludes. And Phuntsok and the staff and students at Jhamtse Gatsal certainly are making the most of their lives, acting with Spirit as Global Leaders and aspiring to fulfill their potential. Graduates of the school have gone on to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, and more, often returning to the school and local community to continue to help make a difference in the lives of people from the area.

As my inquiry into Spirit, global leadership, and the film Tashi and the Monk concluded, I was inspired by the real-world examples of adults and children who express Spirit in their lives, even in the most difficult of circumstances. The movie and card text deepened my understanding of Spirit and its application to Global Leadership. Inspired by Jhamtse Gatsal and Spirit, we all can develop our own capacity for applying Spirit and Global Leadership within the context of our daily lives.

For more information about the Emmy award-winning film Tashi and the Monk, please visit


Burke, J. (Director), & Hinton, A. (Director). (2014) Tashi and the Monk [Motion Picture]. United States: High Altitude Films.

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