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A Personal Journey from NAROPA to NARO
By Tench Phillips, co-owner, Naro Cinema

October marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of Naropa University and the occasion has given me pause to reflect upon my own personal journey. In the winter of 1975 I moved to Boulder, Colorado and enrolled in the new Buddhist university to study philosophy and psychology. I had an undergraduate degree in engineering that I had earned by my needing to stay in school and out of Vietnam. But my pragmatic pursuits were soon replaced by a quest for necessary truths, meaning, and values.

What had led me to the school was a popular book of the time ‘Be Here Now’. I had heard the charismatic author Baba Ram Dass speak at the New Age Yoga Center in Va Beach in the early seventies. Ram Dass spoke of a new school founded by the Tibetan monk Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche who had been forced in the fifties to abandon his homeland of Tibet by the Chinese invasion.

My intention had been to study the Indian devotional path offered by Ram Dass, the Harvard professor who had been fired along with his colleague Timothy Leary due to their advocacy of mind expanding drugs like LSD. He had studied in India for years and had taught at Naropa the previous year. Although I expected his imminent arrival back to the school, he never showed up. Instead I found myself immersed in the Crazy Wisdom tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism.

Trungpa Rinpoche was a great teacher and understood the western mind. He had attended Oxford University in England before migrating first to Nova Scotia, Canada and then to the U.S. His many books included “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” and they influenced academics, students, artists, hippies, and seekers who were looking for Eastern alternatives to orthodox western religion.

The practice of Zen, yoga, and meditation were all gaining popularity for a sixties generation who were “dropping out and turning on”. This was a much easier option back then since the cost of living was not as oppressive as it is nowadays.

The summer of 1975 inaugurated The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets at Naropa. Such renowned writers and poets as Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Anne Waldman, and Allen Ginsberg came to town and gave readings and taught workshops. Although I never officially registered, I sat in on a six-week poetry class taught by Ginsberg. His class covered primarily the work of his mentor William Carlos Williams but also included the work of other poets like Walt Whitman. He told stories about the beat poets and about his friends William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Aldous Huxley, Bob Dylan and other troubadours and musicians. Ginsberg read from his own poems including Howl. He was always authentic, impassioned, and caring - and never put on any air of superiority over his younger students. His class teachings were at times like enigmatic prose and he broached wildly eclectic subjects in a running stream of consciousness. Politics, sexuality, art, popular culture, media, philosophy, civil disobedience against the military establishment all were fair game for his class discussions.

I returned to Ghent upon finishing my academic studies but I was not the same person. I felt inspired and propelled by the free-wheeling energy that I had found in Boulder, San Francisco, and Boston. I was eventually able to obtain a lease on the shuttered Naro Cinema in 1977 and along with my roommate and business partner, Thom Vourlas, we set our sights on bringing a creative art and intellectual movement to the area through film and cinema events. It was only many years later that I realized the joyful serendipity of the wordplay exemplified in my own life’s arc from Naropa to Naro.

In commemoration of the early days of the migration of Buddhism to the west, we will bring a comprehensive film that follows the teachings of Buddhism from Tibet to the western world. ‘When The Iron Bird Flies’ tells a great transformative story as told by many Tibetan Rinpoches now living in this country who have founded and grown sanghas. Some of these sanghas are firmly established in our area and we will be hearing from some of the group leaders during our post-film discussion.

Filmmaker Victress Hitchcock takes her movie title from the ancient Tibetan prophecy that has now manifested in our age. “When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth.” We have benefited greatly from those who have experienced the great loss of their country but have continued their lineage through their teachings.

Upcoming Film Events at The Naro Cinema

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER  In this 1955 classic, director Charles Laughton’s creepy classic, a religious fanatic marries a gullible widow whose young children are reluctant to tell him where their real daddy hid $10,000 he'd stolen in a robbery. Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. Showing Sunday, Oct 19 in ’Faith in Film’ series hosted by Scott Hennessy, cineaste and priest at St Paul’s Episcopal Church
ALIVE INSIDE This stirring documentary follows Dan Cohen, the founder of ‘Music & Memory’ as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music's ability to combat memory loss in patients with Alzheimer's and dementia, thereby returning a deep sense of self to those suffering from these diseases. The film features renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks and musician Bobby McFerrin in an uplifting exploration of music and mind. Winner of the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival. Presented in association with Tidewater Arts Outreach. Showing Wed, Oct 22

RETURN OF THE TWIRLING DEAD Focus Fox Burlesque comes back to the Naro stage with their live horror-themed burlesque show. Featuring live music by the Sons of Frankenstein and the Cemetery Boys, and classic horror trailers up on the big screen. Produced by Fantasmo Cult Cinema Explosion and hosted by Rob Floyd. 18 and older only. Sunday, Sept 26 at 8pm.

WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES  In 1959, the Chinese invasion of Tibet threw open the doors to the mysterious realm of Tibetan Buddhism. Suddenly, this ancient tradition was thrust out of it's cloistered society into the mainstream of western culture. Fifty years later, Tibetan Buddhist teachers trained in practices nurtured in monasteries in the Himalayas travel around the world, presenting their wisdom tradition to international lay practitioners who are hungry for an alternative spiritual path. Showing Wed, Oct 29

COWSPIRACY: THE SUSTAINABILITY SECRET Filmmaker Kip Anderson investigation of the causes of global warming brings him to some unexpected conclusions. According to recent U.N. reports and The Worldwatch Institute, fully half of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat and dairy industry and animal agriculture (crops that are grown to feed livestock). Large-scale factory farming is also the primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, topsoil erosion, and water pollution. And yet the political power of the industry is rarely challenged by the major environmental and climate change organizations. Such popular writers as Michael Pollan, Will Potter, and Will Tuttle offer an alternative path to global sustainability for a hungry and growing human population. Date to be announced.

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