film

Thây Goes to Hollywood to Produce a Collective Awakening

By Karen Hilsberg mb44-Thay1

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 14 and 15]. 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 con-

fident 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 movie biography 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.

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Media Reviews

mb56-MediaReviews1HealingA Woman’s Journey from Doctor to Nun

By Sister Dang Nghiem Parallax Press, 2010 Soft cover, 146 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

Sister Dang Nghiem’s story begins in Central Vietnam, where she was born during the Tet Offensive in 1968. She takes the reader with her to Saigon, to medical school in California, to Africa, to Plum Village, back to Vietnam with her teacher, to the late Bat Nha Monastery, and finally to Deer Park Monastery. Huong Huynh was the child of a Vietnamese mother and a U.S. soldier. At the behest of her beloved grandmother, who raised her until she was six, she made three vows: to raise her brother to be a good person as they journeyed to the U.S.; to get a good education; and to become a nun. As her life has unfolded, Huong Huynh, now Sister Dang Nghiem— “adornment with nondiscrimination”—has ultimately fulfilled all three vows and lived into her new name.

The victim of a torn family, sexual assault, racial taunts and gender discrimination, multiple foster placements, an unknown father, a wounded mother who disappeared when her daughter was but twelve, and a fi who drowned and whose body was never found, her strength in the face of immense suffering is the stuff of legend. Yet she does not tell it that way. She carves out a fearless inventory of her thoughts and actions as, growing up with great energy and determination, she moved from inner and outer war to a life of true peace. How she has honed herself, constantly beginning anew, is a profound teaching.

Reading her book is like having tea with Sister Dang Nghiem. We learn exactly who she is. Humbly, she recounts intimate stories of the horrors as well as the subtle joys, the small aggravations and the sweet triumphs of her pilgrimage through an extraordinary life. Nor does she paint her life as a done deal—more like a flowing river that inevitably hits the rapids. “I once was a river, a river falling in love with a cloud and chasing after it,” she writes. But after many years of practice as a nun, Venerable Dang Nghiem has realized she must release her attachments, because one day she will be left with only her “two empty hands.” She has realized that if she is truly present in the moment, she will see that her two empty hands hold the world.

mb56-MediaReviews2Fire Under the Snow A Tibetan Monk – a spirit unbroken by 33 years of torture

A film by Makoto Sasa Running time: 75 minutes 2008

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

Arrested in Tibet by the Chinese Army in 1959, the Venerable Palden Gyatso spent thirty-three years in prisons and labor camps for the “crime” of peaceful demonstration. Tortured, starved, and sentenced to hard labor, he watched his culture destroyed, and his teacher, friends, and family displaced, jailed, or killed. The film covers Palden’s birth in 1933 and follows him through the long nightmare that began with the Chinese invasion. It explores the escalating cycle of interrogation and physical violation that ended decades later with Palden’s escape from Tibet and a cathartic meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Just after his escape from Tibet in the 90s, I met Palden on a rainy country road in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, marching with a small group of monks and laypeople who carried the flag of Tibet. On our way home from a retreat, my husband and I happened upon the Free Tibet march launched in Washington, D.C., heading for the United Nations in New York City. I joined the march. Palden stayed at our home for five days, along with the late Thubten Norbu Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, and Larry Gerstein, president of the International Tibet Independence Movement. What a joy it was to cook and serve them!

We were distressed by the tortures Palden described. Still, he laughed often and remained cheerful but resolute. All of his teeth had been shattered by a cattle prod placed directly into his mouth. He was hung by his thumbs. He ate dirt. One time, in prison, he vainly spit into the mouth of an infant to keep it alive. Tears came as I listened, and I asked him, “How did you survive?” “I became a monk when I was ten years old,” he replied, putting his arms around me while I cried.

Palden harbors no anger toward the Chinese. He has made it his life’s mission to bring to light the extreme human rights abuses of China that continue to this day, “so that it will stop.” In our home, in our sweet little breathing room on the second floor, Palden spent many hours composing The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk, on which the film is partially based. Fire Under the Snow reminds me of the roots of the Order of Interbeing—mindfulness and inspiration in the face of unbelievable duress. For more information, visit www.fireunderthesnow.com.

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On the Road with Thich Nhat Hanh

A documentary about monks and nuns on tour with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh  Twenty-five hundred years ago the Buddha walked the length and breadth of India, sharing the Dharma and the way of compassion and freedom. In 2011 the monks and nuns of Plum Village will take to the road with the same goal in mind, but this time using planes, trains, automobiles, social networking, and mobile phones.

Traveling to the U.S. with Thay and the monastic delegation, a team of filmmakers will experience the tour side by side with these monks and nuns, creating a unique feature-length documentary to share the real lives of monastics in the Plum Village Tradition: their stories as young people with aspirations, hopes, and dreams; their trials and challenges along with their joys in the practice. By following Thay and the monastics of Plum Village from large-scale public talks and retreats to personal encounters, we will gain a rare insight into the deep teachings of a true modern Zen Master.

From the natural beauty of sunny Southern California to the swamps of Mississippi, from the Rocky Mountains to Manhattan, this will be a road movie like no other! The film will be directed by Max Pugh, a young filmmaker with a track record of award nominated films. The making of the film and its content will be guided by Plum Village monastics.

The filmmakers want you to get involved! They are conducting a campaign to raise $30,000 to cover production costs. They are offering a unique opportunity to become part of this extraordinary film. To see all the wonderful things offered in exchange for your support, go to http://www.indiegogo.com/tnh.

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Media Reviews

mb57-MediaReviews1One Buddha Is Not EnoughA Story of Collective Awakening

By Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village Parallax Press, 2010 Paperback, 216 pages

Reviewed by Rasoul Sorkhabi

In August 2009, more than nine hundred people gathered at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, for a five-day retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, entitled “One Buddha Is Not Enough.” I was one of them. Many of us had read Thay’s inspiring books or heard his lectures, and we were looking forward to seeing and hearing him in person.

That first evening, we learned that Thay would not attend because he was hospitalized in Massachusetts, where he had led a retreat the week before. Many participants were disappointed, but they also appreciated the situation. Over the next four days, the retreatants as well as the coordinating monks and nuns made the retreat a delightful experience for all. Every day we listened to Dharma talks and chants, ate our food mindfully, and sat and walked in the silence of mindfulness. An account of our experience has been published in this elegant volume.

The book consists of an introduction about the Colorado retreat (“The Miracle of Sangha”), nine chapters by the monks and nuns (texts of their Dharma talks at the retreat), an excerpt from the hospital diary of one of the monks who accompanied Thay (“You Continue in Us”), two letters from Thay that were read to retreat participants, and a final chapter written by Thay (“We Have Arrived, We Are Home”). Reflections and remarks by retreat participants are included, giving a people’s voice to the book. Overall, this is a carefully crafted, absorbing read. Happily, the book preserves the sense of humor that was present at the retreat.

There is something profound about the title One Buddha Is Not Enough. “In order to save our planet Earth,” Thay has said, “we must have a collective awakening. Individual awakening is not enough. That is why one Buddha is not enough.”

mb57-MediaReviews2Colors of Compassion Teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

A film by Eloise de Leon Running time: 50 minutes 2011

Reviewed by Angela Dews

Filmmaker Eloise de Leon promises Colors of Compassion will be a cinematic retreat. It is that. In this documentary that chronicles Thich Nhat Hanh’s 2004 People of Color Retreat, we walk with our teacher through Deer Park Monastery’s tawny landscape. The camera pans and then stops. We breathe. We hear a bell, a bird.

Thay says, “. . . the act of making a step is an act of freedom, an act of liberation. You liberate yourself, you liberate your ancestors. It’s an act of revolution.” Retreatants also connect the practice to freedom, and express their willingness to be present: “All you’ve got to say is Shakyamuni Buddha taught liberation and we’re there.”

Those who speak on camera identify themselves as Mexican, African American, Vietnamese, and mixed with other cultures and nationalities. They share why they came and where they came from: “We can feel that we know our parents and our ancestors, and still we ask the question, who am I?” “The color of our skin or what we are categorized as, it doesn’t make us. If we are not skillful, it can confine us.” “How to not abandon our communities and be a mindful social activist is the crucial question for our liberation.” Their stories also answer questions some might have about a retreat for people of color. Why do we need such a retreat? Why might someone like me need the Dharma?

The filmmakers skillfully balance talking and stillness in wonderful scenes: Thay teaches interbeing to a room full of brothers and sisters—some in robes and some not—in the Ocean of Peace meditation hall; and, at the end of the film, during an extraordinary celebration, many receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings and their Dharma names. Perhaps some will find their way through this film into practice, and others will appreciate the vibrancy of people of color, who may have been invisible until now, in their own Sanghas.

mb57-MediaReviews3The Ten Oxherding Paintings Zen Talks by Thich Phuoc Tinh

Edited by Karen Hilsberg Translated by Sister Dang Nghiem Jasmine Roots Press, 2011

Reviewed by David Percival, True Wonderful Roots

The Ten Oxherding Paintings have helped Zen students conceptualize the path to enlightenment for almost one thousand years. Attributed to Kuoan Shiyuan, a Chinese Zen master, they depict a young child (the spiritual seeker) searching for an ox (the true self) and his eventual attempts to control it.

In this fresh look at familiar teachings, Venerable Thich Phuoc Tinh doesn’t waste any time; he confronts us with the simple truth: “the joy, the enlightenment, the nirvana, all those things are already within us.” The ox is not somewhere else; it just appears that way to the confused child who continues to search. When I began practicing, I also spent too much time searching outside of myself—for teachers, retreats, books, etc. I didn’t understand about coming back to the beautiful island within myself. Only later did I discover the space of mindfulness that was always here in my body and my mind.

As he explains the Ten Oxherding Paintings, the Venerable gives us the immediate realization that we are already riding on the ox—we already are what we’re seeking. We simply need to stop, come back to ourselves, and realize our true nature of recognition and awareness. By cultivating mindfulness and living constantly with our true nature, we’ll recognize the impermanent and fleeting nature of our feelings and perceptions. Instead of being caught up in our mental stress, we’ll dwell in the beautiful space of emptiness, “no longer caught by the self or the ego.”

This beautiful book is an inspiration and a call for practitioners to dwell in the energy of mindfulness, and to understand that “the Buddha is right here in our bodies, in our sadness, and in our anger.”

There is truly nowhere to go and nothing to search for. Whatever we have been looking for has always been right here, inside of us. We can enjoy these profound teachings, enter the mind of our wonderful teacher, Venerable Thich Phuoc Tinh, and dwell in the Buddha nature that has always been within us.

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