Buddha’s the birthday boy at Film Center

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Joining a tradition observed in many countries and communities, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center will host Buddha’s Birthday Bash this Friday, May 17.

Celebrating the birthday of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha or “awakened one,” the fun, educational, and inspirational event is highlighted by a double-feature film showing and discussion. Also on tap at the Tisbury Market Place theater will be festive good will and socializing, music, an original poem written in honor of this joyful occasion, and a specially prepared birthday cake.

Richard Paradise, well-known for hosting elaborate film events, joined forces in planning the celebration with Elliott Dacher, MD, a meditation teacher and author, and others interested in meditation and Buddhism. Poet Michael West, who studies with Dr. Dacher, has written a poem, “Buddha’s Birthday Bash: The Lost Sutra,” a meditation on when to celebrate the great teacher’s birthday. Two monks quarrel…”cautiously, quietly, and ever so politely, citing this teaching and that jewel of dharma…..”

Every birthday party needs a cake and Mr. Paradise promises that Liz Kane is cooking up a unique Cakes by Liz creation.

The program offers two fascinating films on the migration of Buddhism and its practices into Western culture. The 4 pm matinĂ©e features “Crazy Wisdom,” the story of the preeminent yet controversial teacher of Tibetan Buddhism Chogyam Trungpa, followed by the 6 pm birthday party. “When the Iron Bird Flies,” at 7:30 pm, looks at the expansion of Buddhism from East to West. Its title comes from an eighth-century prediction by Guru Padmasambhava of Tibet: “When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth.”After “When the Iron Bird Flies,” Dr. Dacher will facilitate a discussion of the movie and Buddhism in the West with Amber Bemak, the film’s co-producer and co-director.

Siddhartha Gautama was born as a prince about 583 BCE in or near what is now Nepal. Raised in luxury, he was shielded from human suffering. Finally exposed to the realities of human existence, Prince Siddhartha began to reflect upon the suffering of old age, disease, and death, which touch every human life. Moved by the sadness of human suffering, he left the palace, shaved his head, donned a beggar’s robe, and began his quest for enlightenment.

After years of study and meditation he came to understand human suffering and its remedies. Having discovered a path to a life of wisdom, freedom, happiness, and compassion, he became a great teacher. Those teachings became the basis of Buddhism.

“As with other great beings and sages, it is his effort to understand and elevate the human condition that we acknowledge and celebrate on his birthday,” explained Dr. Dacher.

Dr. Dacher said Buddha’s birthday is widely celebrated on this date. According to Internet information, devotees celebrate his actual birthday and his second birth date, that of his enlightenment. Countries set the exact date in various ways depending on their calendars. Celebrated in China and Japan, it is an official holiday in Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea.

In India and Nepal, people gather for lengthy sutras (scriptures) that encapsulate Buddha’s teachings. Dress is pure white, and non-vegetarian food avoided. Kheer, sweet rice porridge, is served, commemorating how Sujata, a maiden, offered the starving Buddha a bowl of milk porridge as he ended years of asceticism.

“Crazy Wisdom” explores the story of Chogyam Trungpa, the brilliant “bad boy of Buddhism,” who was pivotal in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Trungpa shattered preconceived notions about how an enlightened teacher should behave.

Born in Tibet in 1939, recognized as an exceptional reincarnate lama, and trained in the monastic tradition, Trungpa fled his homeland during the Chinese Communist invasion. In Britain, realizing a cultural gap prevented his students from deep understanding of Buddhism, he renounced his vows, eloped with a 16-year-old, and lived as a westerner. In the United States he openly drank alcohol and had intimate relations with students.

“When the Iron Bird Flies” takes the viewer on an up-close and personal journey following the astounding path of Buddhsim, one of the world’s great spiritual traditions, from the caves of Tibet to the mainstream of Western culture. The film tackles provocative exchanges between Buddhist practitioners and scholars and Western scientists, psychologists, and educators now at the heart of the emergence of a genuine Western tradition of Buddhism.

According to an online review, the film investigates the compelling question: “In these increasingly challenging times, can these age-old teachings help us find genuine happiness and create a saner, more compassionate 21st century world?”

Buddha’s Birthday Bash, Friday, May 17. 4 pm: “Crazy Wisdom.” 6 pm: Party. 7:30 pm: “When the Iron Bird Flies.” $12; $7 M.V. Film Society members. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.