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Thây Goes to Hollywood to Produce a Collective Awakening

By Karen Hilsberg

At the Cannes Film Festival in May 2006, Dr. B. K. Modi and Thich Nhat Hanh announced the making of a film on the life of the Buddha. Based on Thây's novel Old Path White Clouds, the film is planned to premiere at Cannes in 2008.

Dr. Bhupendra Kumar Modi, an Indian businessman and chairman of the new MCorpGlobal, has offered $120 million USD to finance the film. Upon signing the contract in Cannes earlier this year, Dr. Modi announced that Thây has donated the rights to his book with the understanding that part of the proceeds of the film (two percent of the net profits) will be used to help “needy children around the world.”

In September 2006 MCorpGlobal organized a luncheon at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills to announce the film project to the Hollywood community. Thây and His Holiness the Dalai Lama were invited to bless the project on the fifth anniversary of the events of September 11.

The private event began with a memorial service, in which each person present placed a candle in a fountain containing 2,973 pebbles, one for each victim of the World Trade Center attacks. The monastic sangha then chanted “May the Day Be Well” and the invocation to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

During the luncheon, Thây shared the letter he had written to President Bush and previewed the talk he would be offering at UNESCO on October 7 [ see pages ____]. Thây described Old Path White Clouds as a “manual for the practice of peace” and stated that he supports the new World Peace Through Cinema Initiative, of which this film will be the first offering. “Awakening must be collective in order for the world to be saved,” Thây said.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama also shared his hopes about the film. He said that Hollywood has the power to affect the world through cinema and a film about the life of Buddha has the potential to inspire compassion, something sorely lacking but needed in society. He also emphasized the Buddha’s universal message of inter-dependence and inter-connectedness. He added, “From Buddha’s life story, maybe you’ll get inspiration. Our intention is not the propagation of Buddhism but helping the world.”

Dr. Modi said, “We intend for ‘Buddha’ to be a major film event across the globe. Acquiring the rights to world-renowned Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Old Path White Clouds is the first step in making this happen in a fashion that remains true to the extraordinary life story of Buddha. We’re confident this will be every bit the exciting epic Hollywood film we envisioned from the start.” Among the guests present were Goldie Hawn, Sharon Stone, Chris McGurk, Carol Mendelsohn, Laurence Fishburne, Victoria Principal, and Robert Downey, Jr.

The press is reporting that “Buddha” is a large-scale commercial bio-pic for mainstream audiences worldwide that will be shot in the U.S., Japan, China, and Thailand as well as India. Casting for the film, which will be in English, will begin immediately, with producers currently considering a short list of A-list stars for the lead roles. Principal photography is slated to begin in 2007 for the film to be ready for worldwide release in 2008. The producer Michel Shane has officially signed on to the project, as has Oscar-winning screenwriter David S. Ward.

A few days later, in his talk at Deer Park Monastery, Thây commented, “We want the film to be an instrument helping to produce a kind of collective awakening because the world now is full of violence and despair. A lot of us have become awake and know what is going on — about global warming and the killing of each other every day. But so many people live in forgetfulness. We don’t have a lot of time to save ourselves and our planet. We continue to consume in a very dangerous way. We are so busy with our small problems; we don’t care about our earth and each other. If we continue like this, our earth and our civilization will be destroyed. We have to produce a collective awakening, otherwise hundreds of millions of people will die. Our civilization will be destroyed.”

“Each of us should work for a collective awakening in the kingdom of God — awakening translated into action. Each of us should live life in such a way for a future to be possible for our children and for our children’s children. Do the things that should be done to help with the collective awakening. Do something, and then the miracle will happen.”

The “Buddha” film is meant to be one vehicle for effecting this collective awakening. As Thây remarked in Cannes, “The Buddha has suffered far too much deification over the centuries. This film might help in making him human again. The idea is to make the Buddha relevant to everybody so that the world can become a better place.”

Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness, lives and practices mindfulness in Southern California.