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Old 08-27-2013, 09:48 AM   #1
Slonopotam845

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Default Why Buddhists see the movie "Groundhog Day" as a modern representation of their religion.
And If He Sees His Shadow…

Filmmaker Harold Ramis created an underground Buddhist classic with Groundhog Day. After a chance meeting, author Perry Garfinkel embarks on a mission to find out what makes him tick.


So there I am at a literary cocktail party on Martha’s Vineyard, and this man who looks like a Vineyarder I know comes up to our small circle of writers. Just as I’m about to say, “Hi Fred,” he extends his hand and says, “I’m Harold Ramis.” I know the name, but can’t quite remember from where. I say, “Wow, you look like someone who looks just like Harold Ramis.” A lame opener, but it gets a chuckle.

I do a double take when he rattles off the four noble truths and the eightfold path during a brief chat with our circle. “This guy knows his Buddhism,” I say to the group.

“Not really,” Ramis smiles sheepishly. The man who brought us such rollicking comedies as Animal House, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day, wants to make it clear that he is not a Buddhist.

“I don’t want to be the Buddha,” he says, with what I would come to learn is his typical self-effacement and a you’re-in-on-the-joke smirk. “I just want to admire him.”

Ramis seems so sincere, thoughtful and intelligent in this short encounter that I realize he is someone I would really like to know. Months later, we arrange to get together.

Groundhog Day, the 1993 film Ramis directed and co-wrote with Danny Rubin, became an underground Buddhist classic, despite the fact that the words “Buddhist” or “Buddha” never appear in the script, or that neither Ramis nor Rubin intended it to be Buddhist or Christian or Jewish or any of the other denominations that say it speaks to them and for them. And despite the fact that the film is, after all, a comedy. A comedic take on Buddhism? That alone could earn merit points these days when many Buddhist meditators and scholars seem to have forgotten the light touch of numerous teachers over the centuries.

“There seems to be some stigma lately against joking about Buddhism, as though the so-called three precious jewels are too precious to poke a little fun at,” said Wes Nisker, a longtime vipassana meditation teacher, Buddhist stand-up comedian and author of several books on Buddhism.

“But there are longstanding traditions and practices of doing exactly that,” Nisker said, offering a few prominent examples: Drukpa Kunley, a.k.a. the Divine Madman, the fifteenth century Tibetan rascal saint who blessed fornicators, beggars, and drunkards; Padmasambhava, the Indian teacher who brought Buddhism to Tibet and was known for his trickster qualities; and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, widely acknowledged for introducing American Buddhist practitioners to “crazy wisdom.”

“Harold Ramis should be considered a revered lineage holder in the crazy wisdom tradition of the Tibetans,” Nisker said.

“The primary rule of Buddhist humor is that you never laugh at someone else’s expense. But, rather, laughter arises when we realize our futile attempts to escape the first noble truth. Pointing to our common bumbling deluded nature—with humor—apparently relieves some of the suffering. Ramis has done that in most of his films, but especially in Groundhog Day, where he seems to be saying, ‘This is what it’s like. Every day is the same thing; we make the same mistakes over and over.’ Ramis is always trying to shatter our ordinary take on reality, to reveal hidden dimensions. He is trying to create what Buddhists would call ‘beginner's mind.’”

When I ask Ramis for his take on Buddhism, he recites, from memory, something he had written when he and his wife helped sponsor the Dalai Lama’s visit to Chicago in May, 2008: “The universe is in a constant state of becoming—an ongoing miraculous creation. Every day we awaken to that miracle with gratitude, respect, and compassion for all who share the gift of being.”

“To me,” he says, “that felt like a nice distillation. I thought it was good enough to remember.”



Harold Ramis was born in 1944 to a Jewish couple of modest means but rich in love. At age twelve, he started working in his father’s grocery and liquor store, in a largely African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s south side. He attributes his humor to his father, who would critique comedians on TV like Groucho Marx, Sid Caesar, Steve Allen, and Red Skelton. “Dad would point me to the good stuff,” he said. “Red—‘too cloying, too sentimental.’ Steve Allen—‘funny, intelligent.’ Sid Caesar—‘great stuff.’ I grew up going to movies: Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and of course the Marx Brothers.”

“When I was twelve, I read the line, ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ I took it seriously to heart. And literally. Like it was a requirement in life, akin to the Buddha’s suggestion that we maintain ‘sufficiently inquiring minds.’ ”

By sixteen, they’d moved to Rogers Park, a middle-class neighborhood on Chicago’s north side. He got his first peek into the world of journalism when he was hired by the Chicago Tribune as a messenger for its ad department. He was editor of his high school yearbook, and thought his logical career step would be ad copywriter. But the seeds of a growing interest in entertainment were planted when he took ukulele lessons from a friend, and found he could sing.

His life, as he puts it, has been a study in “coincidences that in retrospect were probably what you would call karma.”

And, as if to underscore that, we discover during an interview that his ukulele teacher was, years later, a friend of mine when I lived in San Francisco. Ramis hadn’t talked to him in twenty years, so I called him, and when Ramis got off the phone he patted his heart. “I feel warm,” he beamed.

He went on to sing with folk groups, covering songs from the likes of the Kingston Trio and the Limelighters. He sang in the high school chorus, was selected for all-city chorus, and performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“All of these experiences were peepholes into worlds that were heretofore alien to me,” he said. “But it helped demystify things. At that time, I was part beatnik folksinger, part choirboy, and part entertainer.”

At Washington University in St. Louis, he was still trying to decide between writing and showbiz when he became friends with fellow student Michael Shamberg, whom he described as an “extraordinarily confident, snide and brilliant guy who was a sort of spiritual brother and creative co-conspirator.” He and Shamberg wrote skits and performed them on campus.

“Michael and I made a pact and shook hands on it,” Ramis said. “We agreed to never take work that wasn’t fun, to do only what we wanted to, and never take a job that we had to dress up for.”

Shamberg went on to become a Hollywood producer of such films as Erin Brockovich, A Fish Called Wanda, and Pulp Fiction.

“Harold is my most enlightened friend,” Shamberg said. “I always thought he was funny, but the reason I was drawn to him was he was smart, honest, and had a generosity of spirit. As far as I understand Buddhism, it’s a system of seeing things with clarity and realism. It turns out, great filmmaking is a way of seeing things clearly. The essence of comedy is seeing things clearly when others do not, and playing with the disparity between what people perceive and reality. Harold does that so well because he, like director Oliver Stone, who describes himself as a practicing Buddhist, is willing to entertain diametrically opposite ideas at the same time to get to the truth.”

After college, Ramis said, he “drifted.” He spent some time in San Francisco, then went to graduate school, lasting only two weeks. He worked in a psychiatric ward for seven months, got married, moved back to Chicago, drove a cab and worked as a substitute teacher. Around the same time, he started freelance writing for the Chicago Daily News, and enrolled in acting workshops at Second City, the improvisational comedy troupe that launched the careers of stars such as John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Martin Short, and Gilda Radner.

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Old 08-27-2013, 09:50 AM   #2
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I got Bill Murray to sign a VHS cover of Groundhog Day... on Groundhog Day. He was playing the AT&T Pro-Am and I yelled over to him, "Hey Bill, you have to sign this!" He responded, "I don't have to do anything, today is my day!" Then he came over and we joked around and he signed the thing before his next shot. Such a nice guy, I've met him three times now! Lots of funny stories, he always jokes around with all the spectators.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:01 AM   #3
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For some reason I always find myself watching this movie again and again.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:02 AM   #4
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I got you babe...
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:02 AM   #5
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That radio clip of the movie is my alarm every morning.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:02 AM   #6
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Campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your boots because it's cold out there today!
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:09 AM   #7
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I read somewhere that it is; Bill Murray is supposed to have repeated that day 10,000 times.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:09 AM   #8
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Depending on who you want to believe, possibly 10,000 years.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:10 AM   #9
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Makes the part where he starts trying to kill himself a lot more reasonable.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:10 AM   #10
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And depressing. Not to mention it makes his desire to live permanently in that town at the end much more confusing.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:11 AM   #11
Slonopotam845

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Did you miss the part where he started accepting his inevitable suffering, and began to live life to the fullest? That's why he stayed.
I suppose he could've left, but why change when you're happy?
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:11 AM   #12
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Maybe he needs to watch the movie again
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:12 AM   #13
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I heard that in the original idea it was upward of many millions of times. He wound up experimenting with killing every individual in the town. They decided turning Bill Murray into an effectively immortal demi-god and experimenting with his power would be a little too dark.
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Old 08-27-2013, 11:43 PM   #14
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Buddhists see the movie "Groundhog Day" as a modern representation of their religion.
I had the same thought when I first saw it, which is one of the reasons I like the movie so much. From what I understand about Buddhism the whole point of reincarnation is your soul or whatever keeps coming back until you've learned a certain lesson and finally reach "enlightenment". I doubt they intentionally wrote Groundhog Day with that in mind but it's a cool representation of the idea.
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Old 08-27-2013, 11:45 PM   #15
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Buddhists do not believe in a "soul", as something that exists outside of experience . I always love to quote a monk that taught me about Buddhism:
"Close your eyes and forget all of your beliefs and ideas, forget science and culture and what your parents taught you. You will come to see after a short while that there is, scientifically, only a maximum of six different kinds of phenomena – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and thinking. This realization is made much easier by fixing the nature of the phenomena firmly in your mind simply as “seeing”, etc., according to Buddhist meditation practice. It is clear from this exercise that so many of our ideas about space, time, and reality are just concepts or, at best, extrapolations of reality.
Take time, for instance. In reality, there is only one moment – neither the past nor the future exists outside of this one moment. And this moment is eternal – whether we die, or are born, these are just concepts, like the word “wave” is just a concept used to describe a movement of part of the ocean. But no matter how often the waves crash against the shore, it is still the same ocean. Death is only the crash against the shore – really, nothing has died, it is a physical process which is simply the dissolution of a collective structure of matter. In reality, there are still only six phenomena, just as the wave is still only water.
And just as the waves come again and again, so to does the process we call “death” come to beings again and again. At that moment, the clinging mind simply continues its search for happiness among the six senses, and follows after new experiences as they arise, just as it always has. The experiences change, of course, but they are still the same six phenomena. The functioning of the six senses in the present moment never ceases for one who still seeks after more pleasurable phenomena. So, really it is not that Buddhists believe in rebirth, it is that they don’t believe in death
The attainment of Enlightenment simply means realizing that this world is made up entirely of an endless process of arising and ceasing phenomena that is entirely unsatisfying, and thereby not falling into suffering when the beloved disappears or the unbeloved appears. This realization also leads to final freedom from the process of arising and ceasing phenomena, as no more craving means no new fuel to create new seeking out and new phenomena. Or, in the case of a mind that merely craves less, less fuel, less phenomena and a simple life, free from gross forms of suffering."
I won't be able to explain everything here, but it has to do with the idea of self and moment to moment experience.
"The Buddha taught that what we think of as our "self" -- our ego, self-consciousness and personality -- is a creation of the skandhas. Very simply, our bodies, physical and emotional sensations, conceptualizations, ideas and beliefs, and consciousness work together to create the illusion of a permanent, distinctive "me."
The Buddha said, “Oh, Bhikhus, every moment you are born, decay, and die.” He meant that, every moment, the illusion of "me" renews itself. Not only is nothing carried over from one life to the next; nothing is carried over from one moment to the next.
This takes us to the Three Marks of Existence, in particular anicca, "impermanence." The Buddha taught that all phenomena, including beings, are in a constant state of flux -- always changing, always becoming, always dying."
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Old 08-27-2013, 11:46 PM   #16
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Former Theravada Buddhist monk seal of approval right here
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Old 08-27-2013, 11:47 PM   #17
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When I was about nine I got the chicken pox and had to have a week off school. For some reason Groundhog Day was the only video we had at the time (we're talking good old VCR days). I literally watched that movie over and over and over again. Now whenever I think of that movie I think about being really fucking itchy. This has nothing to do with Buddhism but I just thought I'd share..
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Old 08-27-2013, 11:47 PM   #18
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I read your post and I was hoping you'd lead to a sort of inspiring realization... Little did I know that it would end on "really itchy.." That was so disappointing haha
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