The NYC Premiere of the “On the Buddha’s Path: Compassion in Action” Short Film TourPreparations for the New York premiere of the “On the Buddha’s Path: Compassion in Action” Short Film Tour on May 15 had been underway for weeks, yet no one could have predicted the wildly inclement weather that would manifest across the Tri-State area on that day. Still, those who had planned to attend this sold-out event would not be deterred by a thunderstorm.
Watch our event recap
As the crowd arrived, some having braved a pummeling of hail on their drive into the city, the theater was soon filled to capacity, everyone eager to draw inspiration from films featuring the compassionate and altruistic activities of individuals across the USA.
Our MC for the evening, Peter Lin, a Buddhist and member of Tzu Chi, and Associate Professor of Psychology at St. Joseph’s College, welcomed the audience before the screening began, and set the theme for the evening using the storm raging outside as a metaphor for suffering, and Buddhism and active compassion as a means to pacify it.
Following his introduction, first on the program was the premiere of three short documentaries, “Second Chances,” “Compassionate Chaplaincy,” and “Finding Liberation in Trauma.” The films took the audience from St. Louis, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and finally back to New York City, revealing a variety of ways in which Buddhists are serving the needs of others with great kindness and care.
George Lombardi, the former Director of the Missouri Department of Correction, who has seen the impact of Buddhist outreach within the correctional system and in the lives of ex-offenders, was our special guest and offered a few words following the films, highlighted the immense importance of compassion.
This topic was then explored in greater depth as our panel of guest speakers assembled on stage for personal sharing moderated by Peter Lin. Sensei Joshin Byrnes, Vice Abbot of Upaya Zen Center, the work of which was featured in “Compassionate Chaplaincy,” was the first to share and revealed how his practice of compassion in action, which focuses on the homeless, began because his own father had been homeless, living on the streets in New York City. He spoke about how we can each draw from our own life and what’s present there to identify the areas of suffering where we can be of immediate compassionate service.
Peter Wallace, Board Member of Inside Dharma, the activities of which were presented in the film “Second Chances,” continued on the theme of personal experience and connection with others in everyday life. He revealed that while helping ex-offenders, he draws from his own story of prior drug addiction and incarceration, and stressed the value of kindness and genuine attentiveness to others as a direct and simple form of compassion in action.
Justin von Bujdoss, the Staff Chaplain for the New York Department of Correction, whose work was profiled in “Finding Liberation in Trauma,” then brought in the importance of authenticity on the path of service, and the capacity to deal with being outside our comfort zone while remaining fully present to connect with and respond to the suffering of others.
Han Huang, the CEO of Tzu Chi USA, completed the panel and introduced the notion that practicing compassion in action by helping others is a great opportunity that we should seize whenever it arises.
He elaborated by emphasizing the transformative power of social service, something that was evident in his own life, when after beginning to volunteer with Tzu Chi, he abandoned a flourishing career in science to fully dedicate his time to humanitarian aid instead.
The theme of personal transformation would next emerge at the forefront of the evening, with the premiere of “The Peace Inside,” our feature presentation.
The audience was transfixed by this true story about A-Peng, an inmate whose intense inner turmoil is gradually subdued by Buddhist teachings. It’s also a moving tale about his enduring friendship with Judy Wang, the Tzu Chi volunteer who introduced Buddhism to him and who has been writing to and visiting him for nearly twenty years.
Watch “The Peace Inside” Trailer
The panel following the screening, moderated by one of the film’s producers, Steven Ohocinski, brought together screenwriter Ida Eva Zielinska, director Daniel Ferrara, lead actor Wanning Jen, and lead actress Ya Han Chang.
Everyone shared about participating in the project, the challenges of creating a film based on real people, and the poignant reality that A-Peng will probably never have the opportunity to see this film about his personal journey.
Tzu Chi volunteer Judy Wang then also joined the panel, to the delight of everyone present. And finally, to draw the evening to a close, the audience heard a voice recording of a message A-Peng had relayed by telephone.
Everyone present listened transfixed, aware of the gift he had given us all by sharing his story of overcoming interior trials and tribulations and discovering an unparalleled peace of mind to sustain him during his continued life of incarceration. We can all learn from his experience as we face our own challenges in life.
It was an evening that touched hearts and offered many insights to reflect upon. Most of all, it was a time to come together to celebrate compassion in action and inspire everyone to join the path of relieving suffering in any way we can.