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Lions Roar : September 2016
THIS DHARMA LIFE To Our Dear Friend Garry BROTHER PHAP HAI shares the inside story of the late comedian Garry Shandling’s commitment to Buddhism. AFTER SIXTEEN YEARS and thou- sands of meditation practitioners who have spent time in our mountain sanctu- ary, every patch of earth, every tree, every rock here at Deer Park Monastery holds a memory, a story. As I walk around, often I recall our dear friend Garry Shandling, the funny, complicated, profound man whom I am proud to call brother. Garry came into my life close to two decades ago, when he helped found Deer Park, a monastery in Escondido, Cali- fornia, under the spiritual guidance of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh (affec- tionately referred to as “Thay”). Garry visited and practiced here on numerous occasions and had a very deep connection with Thay and the brothers and sisters of our community. In person, Garry was kind, humble, and real. He put you at ease immediately and had the most penetrating insight. The last time we saw Garry in person was a few months back, when he traveled to San Fran- cisco to visit Thay, who was recuperating after his stroke. Garry was a profoundly spiritual seeker who was always looking for ways to become just a little more open, a little more present, a little more available. A journal entry of Garry’s sums up how I experienced him: “Give more to others. Get outside ‘your- self.’ Keep your heart open and have fun. Keep mind clear. Make it fun for them. Open heart, kindness, truth, com- passion. Follow your instincts.” ©HBO/ENTERTAINMENTPICTURES/KEYSTONEPRESS Although Garry had been dealing with health issues in recent years, his sudden passing came as a shock even to those closest to him. Having had the privilege to practice with Garry, I attended his private cremation and was invited to share a few thoughts during his public memorial at the Wilshire Ebell hotel in Los Angeles. More than five hundred well-known comedians, actors, and politicians attended the memorial. Each of the speakers shared what we all felt: that we were Garry’s family, and that we had all felt so loved and cared for by him. He was always there for us. He never said no. I was the nineteenth speaker. I shared a few of my personal thoughts of Garry and read a message from the Plum Vil- lage International community: “I can guess what you must be think- ing: what on earth is a Zen Buddhist monk doing onstage at Garry Shandling’s memorial? Good question. Garry’s work was to bring healing to the world through laughter and comedy; he brought healing to himself through his sincere spiritual practice. “Before I continue, I feel I have to circle back to the comment that was made at the beginning of the evening that Buddhism doesn’t work. I couldn’t agree more! As a wise person once said: ‘Buddhism promises nothing and deliv- ers exactly that.’ “We sat in meditation with Garry, we walked with him, his laughter echoed among our mountains. We scrubbed pots with him, we shared from the heart, and we cried with him. In Zen, one of the highest compliments we can offer a person is to share that they are a Real Human Being. This describes Garry perfectly. He was always there for me, and for each of us, in so many ways—and I am proud to call him my friend and my brother. “In 2003, Garry traveled to Washington, D.C. to intro- duce Thich Nhat Hanh before Congressional members, and he said that all of his comedy springs from his meditation practice. Garry joked, ‘Thich Nhat Hanh is a special man who has helped millions with their suffering through LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2016 29 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE