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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
winter 2 0 1 4 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly 9 first thoughts groundhog day surprise The great comedy Groundhog Day has long been considered a classic Buddhist movie. But screenwriter Danny Rubin says that wasn’t really his intention—his questions just naturally led him there. I once wrote a movie about a man who rubs a lamp and discovers a genie. The event takes place on a depressing day in this man’s life, and he inadvertently wishes that the whole day had all been a dream. Before you know it—poof! The genie grants his wish, and the man’s entire day does turn out to be a dream—but not his dream (he should have been more specific!). The dream belongs to someone else, an equally lonely woman, and the story soon becomes hers. When she finally does meet the man with the genie, it’s a big moment because she has truly met the man of her dreams. The dreams within dreams inspired one of my friends to observe, “You probably don’t know this, but you’re Hindu.” Then there’s that other movie I wrote about the man who repeats the same day over and over again: Groundhog Day. The same friend observed, “You probably don’t know this, but you’re Buddhist.” What I love about writing movies is the way I get to explore interesting stories and simultaneously explore myself. Who is the guy, I ask, who made this choice or that choice? From the mixed dust of dreams and memories, from creations and from discov- eries, I refine my own story with every new screenplay, each time getting closer and closer to someone I believe to be me. That is what I get from writing movies. And occa- sionally some money, too. When I wrote Groundhog Day, I wasn’t trying to write a Buddhist movie. But keep in mind that Phil Connors, the cynical weatherman stuck in time, wasn’t trying to become a better person, though he eventu- ally did exactly that. He was just trying to get through the day. Every morning was a new opportunity for him to ask, “Now what? What am I doing here? What could I be doing here? What should I be doing here?” The accumulation of days and of experiences pushed Phil toward greater understanding and greater refinement. All it took for him was a sense of mindful aware- ness—and zero chance of escape. Writing screenplays is a lot like that. “Now what? What am I doing here? What could I be doing here? What should I be doing here?” This is a daily meditation on the blank page. Maybe all screenwriters are natural Buddhists. FROM ThE FOREWORD TO Buddhism and american cinema, SUNY PRESS, SEPTEMBER 2014 Why We need the big Picture Patrick Lambelet, a teacher with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, responds to a student’s question about how to weather a midlife spiritual crisis. We need to look at our spiritual develop- ment in terms of the big picture, over a long IllUSTRATIONS eric hanson