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Richard Gere: I hope that's true. It's kind of you to say. It's an odd situation. Previously I'd worked on Central America and some other political and human rights issues, and got to know the ropes a bit in working with Congress and the State Department. But that didn't really apply to this situation. Tibet was too far away, and there had been extremely limited American involvement there.

I found also that the question of His Holiness in terms of a political movement was very tricky. It's a non-violent movement, which is a problem in itself—you don't get headlines with nonviolence. And His Holiness doesn't see himself as Gandhi; he doesn't create dramatic, operatic situations.

So we've ended up taking a much steadier kind of approach. It's not about drama. It's about, little by little, building truth, and I think it's probably been deeper because of that. The senators, congressmen, legislators and parliamentarians who have got involved go way beyond what they would normally give to a cause they believed in.

I think the universality of His Holiness' words and teachings have made this so much bigger than just Tibet. When His Holiness won the Nobel Peace Prize, there was a quantum leap. He is not seen as solely a Tibetan anymore; he belongs to the world. We were talking before about what the camera picks up—just a picture of His Holiness seems to communicate so much. Just to see his face. It's arresting, and at the same time it's opening. You can imagine what it would have been like to see the Buddha. Just to see his face would put you so many steps ahead. I think a lot of what we have done is just putting His Holiness in situations where he could touch as many people as possible, which he does every time with impeccable bodhicitta.

I keep saying Tibet will be taken care of in the process, but it's about saving every sentient being, and as long as we keep our eyes on that prize, Tibet will be all right. Of course there are immediate issues to deal with in Tibet. We work on those all the time. Although we had reason to believe a more open communication with the Chinese was evolving, the optimism generated by Clinton's visit to China has not panned out. In fact, the Tibetans, as well as the pro-democracy Chinese, are experiencing the most repressive period since the late eighties, since Tienanmen Square.

Melvin McLeod: I'm always impressed with a point the Dalai Lama makes which is very similar to what my own teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, presented in the Shambhala teachings. That is the need for a universal spirituality based on simple truths of human nature that transcends any particular religion, or the need for formalized religion at all. This strikes me as an extraordinarily important message.

Richard Gere: Well, I think it's true. His Holiness says that what we all have in common is an appreciation of kindness and compassion; all the religions have this. Love. We all lean towards love.

Melvin McLeod: But even beyond that, he points out that billions of people don't practice a religion at all.

Richard Gere: But they have the religion of kindness. They do. Everyone responds to kindness.

Melvin McLeod: It's fascinating that a major religious leader espouses in effect a religion of no religion.

Richard Gere: Sure, that's what makes him larger than Tibet.

Melvin McLeod: It makes him larger than Buddhism.

Richard Gere: Much larger. The Buddha was larger than Buddhism.

Melvin McLeod: You are able to sponsor a number of projects in support of the dharma and of Tibetan independence.

Richard Gere: I'm in kind of a unique position in that I do have some cash in my foundation, so I'm able to offer some front money to various groups to help them get projects started. Sponsoring dharma books is important to me—translation, publishing—but I think the most important thing I can do is help sponsor teachings. To work with His Holiness and help sponsor teachings in Mongolia, India, the United States and elsewhere-nothing gives me more joy.

The program we're doing this summer is four days of teachings by the Dalai Lama in New York. August 12 to 14 will be the formal teaching by His Holiness on Kamalashila's "Middle-length Stages of Meditation" and "The Thirty-seven Practices of the Bodhisattvas." That's at the Beacon Theater and there are about 3,000 tickets available. I'm sure those will sell quickly. If people can't get into that, there's going to be a free public teaching in Central Park on the fifteenth. We're guessing there will be space for twenty-five to forty thousand people, so whoever wants to come will be able to. His Holiness will give a teaching on the Eight Verses of Mind Training, a very powerful lojong teaching, one of my favorites actually. Then His Holiness will give a wang, a long life empowerment of White Tara.

I've seen His Holiness give bodhicitta teachings like these, and no one can walk away without crying. He touches so deep into the heart. He gave a teaching in Bodh Gaya last year on Khunu Lama's "In Praise of Bodhicitta," which is a long poems Just thinking about it now, I'm starting to crys So beautiful. When he was teaching on Kunu Lama's "In Praise of Bodhicitta," who was his own teachers whooosh! We were inside his heart, in the most extraordinary way. A place you can't be told about, you can't read about, nothing. You're in the presence of Buddha. I've had a lot of teachers who give wonderful teachings on wisdom, but to see someone who really, really has the big bodhicitta, real expanded bodhicittas.

So those are the teachings that I believe His Holiness is here to give. That's what touches.


Richard Gere: My Journey as a Buddhist, Melvin McLeod, Shambhala Sun, May 1999.


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