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Lions Roar : July 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2009 36 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, pinged a deep spiritual nerve, despite the fact 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. 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,” says 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 do- ing exactly that,” Nisker says, offering a few prominent examples: Drukpa Kunley, a.k.a. the Divine Madman, the fifteenth cen- tury 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 in- troducing American Buddhist practitioners to “crazy wisdom.” “Harold Ramis should be considered a revered lineage holder in the crazy wisdom tradition of the Tibetans,” Nisker says. “The primary rule of Buddhist humor is that you never laugh at someone else’s expense. But, rather, laughter arises when we re- alize our futile attempts to escape the first noble truth. Pointing to our common bumbling deluded nature—with humor—appar- ently 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 second wife, Erica Mann Ramis, helped sponsor the Dalai Lama’s visit to Chicago in May, 2008: “The universe is in a constant state Below: Harold Ramis directing Bill Murray during the filming of Groundhog Day. CouRTEsyofCoLuMBIAPICTuREs,©1993ALLRIGHTsREsERvED