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Enlightenment Luminaries

A Buddhist Interpretation of Groundhog Day
By Sanja Blackburn
Many Buddhists regard the film Groundhog Day as one of the greatest Buddhist movies ever produced.

Groundhog Day's message of self-purification through struggle and repetition holds particular relevance to Buddhists, although both Christian and Jewish theologians also identify with this movie. Groundhog Day embodies key Buddhist philosophies such as karma, reincarnation and the idea that each individual is personally responsible for their own salvation.
Actor Bill Murray plays Phil, a misanthropic weather forecaster who is forced to spend the night in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Phil has arrived in town to cover the annual ritual of the coming out of the groundhog, taking place the following day. Phil awakes the next morning and records the story only to find that he must spend a second night in Punxsutawney because of a snowstorm.
When Phil wakes up in his hotel the next day, he discovers that it is the morning of the day before. He is living the same day all over again! Once again, due to bad whether Phil is forced to stay the night in Punxsutawney. Upon waking the next morning, Phil finds that he is reliving the same day over again. This cycle continues day after day.
The cycle in which Phil finds himself is comparable to the cycle of death and rebirth in which Buddhists believe. The Buddha taught that one must work lifetime after lifetime to achieve liberation; an individual who followed a path of morality, wisdom and practiced meditation was likely to achieve liberation more quickly than one who lived a life based on selfishness and greed.
While Phil initially struggles with the idea that he must endure the same day over and over he gradually learns to accept it. This epitomizes the Buddhist belief in accepting reality and suffering known as Dukkha, an unavoidable part of life. By accepting his situation, Phil grows in compassion and understanding and starts to change his reactions.
The movie also epitomizes the Buddhist belief that individuals are responsible for their own liberation. The Buddha preached that blind belief in a god or guru would not lead to personal salvation. Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day slowly begins to realise that by changing his own reactions to seemingly inevitable events in the day, he can become responsible for his own peace and happiness.
Phil's process of rebirth is closely related to the idea of karma. Buddhism holds that an individual must spend lifetime after lifetime generating good karma, helping others to achieve Nirvana. In the movie Phil learns to use his knowledge of what will happen throughout the day to help people. Knowing that a child falls out of a tree at the same time every day, Phil makes sure he is there to catch the child.
After changing his reactions to circumstances and by making a point to live a more compassionate and caring life, Phil is finally able to breakthrough the cycle of rebirth. Phil discovers his true self in which kindness, intimacy and creativity come naturally.
Although Groundhog Day does not talk specifically of Buddhist teachings, the movie explores concepts such as rebirth, karma and self-realisation in a way that religious and non-religious people alike can enjoy and understand.

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