March 10, 2014

Five-Minute Buddhist

Filmmaker Harold Ramis's pocket-sized Buddhist manifesto

Max Zahn

In a profession famous for its metropolitan Jews, late comedian and filmmaker Harold Ramis was a practicing Buddhist…and, well, a metropolitan Jew. He is well known for directorial achievements in American hilarity like Caddyshack and Groundhog Day—the latter carrying some intricate Buddhist underpinnings. Over the course of his later life, Ramis deepened his relationship with Buddhism, which culminated in a visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That life came to a sudden end last month, when Ramis died of a rare blood vessel disease. He was only 69 years old.

Luminaries of all stripes lamented Ramis’s death and commemorated his life. Rainn Wilson, geek funnyman supreme and host of his own spiritually curious YouTube series, called Ramis “the Buddha of Comedy.” Jack Black described him as “a force for good in the universe,” while Judd Apatow reminisced about Ramis’s paternal sensibility: “We hired him to play Seth [Rogen’s] father in Knocked Up because we all saw him as the dream dad—funny, warm, and wise.” Even president Obama issued a statement paying tribute to the cinematic stalwart.

In the wake of Ramis’s death, friends and family have shared what he called “Five-Minute Buddhist,” his pocket-sized primer on the basic teachings of the Buddha. Laminated and tri-folded “like a Chinese takeout menu,” the sheet came with him wherever he went.

We share a PDF replica of the Five-Minute Buddhist below, courtesy of Todd Kuhns. Perhaps it will bring some of the radiance and joy—if not rollicking laughter—that Ramis spread during his lifetime.

(Click for full size.)

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sanghadass's picture

Mind is the forerunner of all things.
If one speaks or acts with an impure mind,
Suffering follows, like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

Mind is the forerunner of all things.
If one speaks or acts with a pure mind,
Happiness follows, like the shadow that never leaves.

I believe that our departed brother may have been applying a skilful means when he included the statement: ''man is supreme and responsible for his own thoughts...'' This appears to be an outreach to people conditioned into the humanist paradigm that is so influential in the modern world. I have seen this kind of commentary used to describe the Buddha and his teachings before. Its function - when I saw it before - was to illustrate the difference between a vision of human life that is at the mercy of the gods i.e. all benefit or misfortune comes from above. Whereas the Buddha's teachings subverted that god-centred paradigm of the ancient world, and replaced it with another 'radical' teaching for the time and place he lived in: ''Mind is the forerunner of all things'' i.e. wholesome and unwholesome intentions give rise to wholesome and unwholesome mind states and, this is what determines what we make of our experience. This cause and effect interpretation of the opening line of the Dhammapada may not apply to any awakened beings in this conversation. So please accept my apologies if u r one of them. It is the mind stream that is giving rise to the quality of our lives and not the caprice of the gods. From a humanist point of view this is quite an impressive intellectual achievement and, they often believe that it was humanism that first entertained the notion or, notions of a similar ilk. This is why - I imagine - humanists may find their way into Buddhist teachings and practice. A point of attraction and interest. After some investigation they may discover the difference between humanist ethics and practice and Buddhist theory of mind and awakening. Finding parallels is the natural place to enter into a new way of looking at things. This may create an opening for an exploration of the Dharma. This idea of human supremacy and self determination is being used as a skilful means to encourage people to ''come and see''. It can be seen as an expression of compassion. An invitation! I must add this proviso to what I have said so far. The understanding I have given of the opening line of the 'Dhammapada' is only one among others. The question as to whether a statement is 'true or false' may be missing the mark in this contingent world. It might be better to ask: is it skilful, does it serve a useful purpose?
''If one speaks or acts with a pure mind,
Happiness follows, like the shadow that never leaves.''

Dominic Gomez's picture

Nichiren (1222-1282) wrote: "Where exactly do hell and the Buddha exist? One sutra states that hell exists underground; another that the Buddha is in the west. Closer examination, however, reveals that both exist in our body. This must be true because hell is in the heart of a person who inwardly despises his father and disregards his mother. It is like the lotus seed, which contains both blossom and fruit. In the same way, the Buddha dwells within our hearts."

sanghadass's picture

A very sweet offering! Thank you Dominic!

lotustiger's picture

Maybe Groundhog Day needs to be a Tricycle movie of the month.

D. Anderson's picture

Thank you for sharing this. I will send a copy to my family and buddhist friends.

Joanofwhitestone's picture

I love this! Thank you for sharing it with us.

Richard Fidler's picture

"Man is supreme and responsible for his own thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and actions..." Where did that come from? Then in the next point it says, "All existence is conditioned, relative, interdependent, and based on cause and effect". Anyone see contradiction here? I have never heard anything in the dharma that reflects the first statement, but maybe I'm missing something...

mahakala's picture

Anyone see contradiction here?

you must have missed the part where it says "Only go straight for 10,000 years"

Dominic Gomez's picture

Man conditions his own thoughts and, therefore, his own existence.

Richard Fidler's picture

Is that your interpretation? I don't see it that way. All phenomena (dharmas) come about through ever-changing conditions, all the parameters that influence things. None "exist" in any sense of the word: there is only flux, change. The human "self" is no different, having no independent existence and being dependent on the conditions that generated it. That is the doctrine of "anatta", no-self.

Humans do not control thoughts or the conditions that generate them. The human self is a convenient illusion--it does not have the power to control anything. That is not to say we "give in" to whatever happens. No, there is no self to "give in" to anything. What our practice is all about is to become aware of this fact.

mahakala's picture

How can humans practice anything if they have no control whatsoever?

Richard Fidler's picture

We begin our meditation practice imagining we gain something from it. As our practice matures, we simply meditate without expectation of gain. The sense of control evaporates the more we practice--at least that is what I have found.

mahakala's picture

How can you choose to meditate if you have no control over what you are doing?

There is no meditation. There is no one to meditate. There is no practice. There is no one to practice it.


RobinKunstman's picture

Control is not "control".

Dominic Gomez's picture

It seems another illusion is that 'there is no "self"'. "Self" is ill-defined in today's Buddhism.

mahakala's picture

it is unfortunate that absolutist philosophical abstraction is too often regarded as "wisdom" rather than the retreat into unexamined delusion that it actually is

how much labor to exhaust these efforts of filling the gaps of not-knowing

Dominic Gomez's picture

How much labor? It expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Flux would be the ultimate dharma, the true nature of the universe. This dharma is eternal, universe after universe. Consider this dharma your own personal drama. You condition (affect) it lifetime after lifetime.

jeboyt's picture

A great article.

But why is it set up so that it can't be shared?

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Hi jeboyt,
Thanks for calling this to our attention. We are looking into it. So sorry for the inconvenience!
Emma V.

Timo's picture

Thank you for sharing!


Richard Fidler's picture

Jeez, the Five Minute Buddhist thing looks like crib notes for course on World Religions. Don't suppose these notes have anything to do with the actual practice of the dharma...

bpaschen's picture

I believe having a list like that with me all the time would help with "unstructured" meditation, as we say at Shinnyo-en. Instead of letting my mind take an ego-centered detour, this list might help bring my thoughts back to the Dharma.

Aalbina's picture

Yes - why not? I would be interested in why you think these notes have nothing to do with the practice of the dharma...

Richard Fidler's picture

Does a listing of items,=--the precepts, the hindrances, the four noble truths in one, two three your practice? It doesn't mine. Practice for me is about reading text that reminds me of impermanence, dukkha, no-self, mindfulness. For me, I need to integrate teachings into my life and the scant notes provided in this booklet are not helpful in that regard. If they help you, then so much the better.

dixraile's picture

Many paths, many travelers; not all see it as you do.

Aalbina's picture

I see your point and I'm glad to see that you've added the "for me" qualifiers. I agree that these lists are not practice - they are, of course, mental formations just like all else. For me, it is in fact helpful to have a consolidated list of these things for easy reference for exactly the reasons you state: to remind me of the truths they contain and help with the integration of these very teachings into life.

childish's picture

Why not?

Dolgyal's picture

I loved Dr. Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters.
"Don't cross the streams", these are words to live by.