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Ipswich Buddhist Centre and its take on Hollywood

By BBC News Andrew Woodger
Buddhistdoor Global | 2010-01-08 |

A film club has been set-up in Suffolk to look at the 'spiritual' aspects of Hollywood movies such as The Matrix, Donnie Darko and Star Wars.

Once a month, the Ipswich Buddhist Centre runs film nights with analysis from Advayamati in return for a donation and bringing some food along.

When I go to a film, I like my spirit to be moved, he said.

Even something like Star Wars is clearly based on quite deep spiritual ideas put into a modern context.

The film nights started in October 2009 with a DVD screening of The Matrix followed by another Keanu Reeves vehicle The Little Buddha in November.

They say the aim is to raise money for the centre and to attract people who wouldn't normally enter the building - even if they have different, or no, religious faith.

The basis of Star Wars is Daoism [Taoism] and the idea of light and dark and the opening up to the idea of the dao [path or way] or 'Force', said Advayamati.

A lot of directors have a vision they want to express and sometimes that vision is spiritual ... and sometimes it's not!

New levels of consciousness

The Matrix was a film that jumped out as having a lot of Buddhism, Judeo-Christian and consciousness ideas and it was done so well stylistically and in a contemporary context, said Advayamati, who's seen the Wachowski Brothers' film around 40 times.

The key thrust of it is the idea of the messiah - someone who's coming to save the world and there are references to the Bible and Greek mythology in there.

That's mixed up with the eastern Buddhist/Hindu idea that you've got two levels of reality - the reality that we see through our senses and then the higher aspect where, once we break through, we can see into the nature of reality.

And that's what Neo [the Keanu Reeves character] does - he sees the matrix as the matrix and once he sees things for what they are he's not touched by them.

Advayamati teaches religious education at Manningtree High School in Essex and he finds The Matrix a good way of engaging children.

At first they would say 'well, what's religious about that?' and then I'd outline all of the ideas and they were quite stunned.

The Darko side

In January, 2009, the centre is showing Donnie Darko which starred Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role as well as Patrick Swayze.

It can have various messages - is he a superhero, a saviour or just someone who's a schizophrenic? Some of those questions have been posed about other religious leaders as well.

I have an answer, but I don't necessarily think it's the definitive answer! That's what makes it a good film - that it's ambiguous and open-ended.

I don't necessarily see Hollywood as being the vanguard of spirituality, but, in some cases, it can be a bridge towards something deeper and at least getting someone to reflect on themselves and the world in a different way.

A new venue for film

It's been suggested the Ipswich Buddhist Centre is partially filling the void left by the closure of the Ipswich/Hollywood Film Theatre in 2009.

I don't think I can compete with the Ipswich Film Theatre. I'll keep it on a spiritual theme.

I like to think of it as another valuable facility to Ipswich film-goers.



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