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Saturday, May 10, 2008

In search of a meaningful way of life...

Earth Rising, Heaven Descending’ is the name given by Order Member Suryaprabha to his latest series of five films charting the evolution of the FWBO – and, more generally, of Sangha in the West - over the past 40 years. His ‘Lights in the Sky’ imprint has already given the FWBO some of its evocative images of its’ past, especially through the much-loved ‘History series - or click here for some trailers.

Suryaprabha sees his films as a “search for a meaningful way of life” and, on the eve of the release of the third in the series, he has sent FWBO News this summary of what he's trying to do in the present series. He says –

“THE IDEA was to collect stories from around the world of people who have some connection to the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order and, with some reflection, to come to appreciate this hard to describe ‘spirit’. A five part series has evolved, with Part 5 becoming that original film with four preceding films setting the scene. So the series, after a statement of the ideals and principles goes, in the middle films, fairly deeply into messy worldly existence and (it is predicted) end calmly and contemplatively. People were chosen for variety of lifestyle and environment and only secondarily for their level of ‘practice’. In parts 2 to 4 the social context of their lives is explored, including the balance between personal and public concerns. In the words of Vishvapani, the series maintains a ‘sideways look’ by ‘sitting in’ on conversations rather than employing an ‘authoritarian’ narrator-interviewer approach.

"Part 1 BACKGROUND (42 mins, August ’08 release) recalls an earlier era of the Buddhist transmission to the West when FWBO founder Sangharakshita was befriended and taught in Kalimpong by Indian and Tibetan Buddhist teachers.

Now, three of his disciples undertake a pilgrimage to the Himalayas to connect with their and his spiritual roots.

"Part 2 ONCE FREE (63 mins, now released) is an ironic, tender portrait set in a place (USA) where the ratio of personal persona to public persona is perhaps 9:1. And in a place where bounty or impoverishment are seen as just rewards for an individual’s effort, a handful of Buddhists find ways of ameliorating institutional harshness through work in health, education and prisons: an example of quiet, hopeful lives within a dominant culture.

"Part 3 RECURRING DREAM (64 mins) Set in India, where the ratio of personal persona to public concern is perhaps 1:9. The iconic Dr Ambedkar ensured the Constitution outlawed caste-based discrimination and dreamt of further changes coming through the adoption of Buddhism. 50 years after he and millions of his caste-based followers converted, Hindus still see ‘Old Untouchables’ rather than ‘New Buddhists’. Why? The gains in social welfare and self confidence are indisputable. But prejudice and distrust flare up easily on all sides, amongst even Buddhists. And caste-based marriage, Subhuti argues, ensures the scope of the Dhamma Revolution remains limited. Amongst the many stories, dreams come true at one inter-caste wedding. (June 08 release)

"Part 4 UNTITLED - Set in the middle ground, in societies with a social contract. Here the FWBO is involved in many aspects of mundane life involving a range of folk. But how well can it combine going ‘outwards’ to work with culture / environment / society with the ‘inner’ work on the self? Is it easier or harder to reconcile these given that a cushy life may be spiritually impoverished one?? Stories are set in UK, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Catalonia, Ukraine, Germany and France – many filmed in the speakers’ native languages. (Dec. 08 release)

"Part 5 UNTITLED - an open-minded focus, which hopes to capture that elusive quality of 'spiritual communication'. It's not yet been made; watch this space…"

Any of the above, including the original ‘History’ movies, are available from Suryaprabha’s shop in DVD format.

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