by Life Positive April 1996 Torn with self-doubt and affluence and tired of austere theologies that look heavenwards for succor, the West has increasingly begun to look at eastern religious traditions. What was offbeat in the ’60s is now almost a norm, influencing international idols such as soccer stars and Hollywood heroes. Richard Gere, known for his performance in Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, and An Officer and a Gentleman, is today considered His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s most high-profile disciple. Excerpts from an interview by Rajiv Mehrotra for the Indian national television channel Doordarshan, in which Gere talks about how contact with His Holiness has changed his life. You come to India quite often. What brings you here? Well, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, obviously. I have been his student since 1982-83. Sometimes I come to Dharamsala(headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile in northern India) twice or thrice a year. What has been your relationship with His Holiness and in what ways has he impacted your life? I think it is impossible not to be affected on every possible level of your existence. Your mind and heart are totally transformed. In what way has His Holiness transformed you? Most of my teachers are from the Gelupa school of Tibetan Buddhism. There is a lot of work on the mind and intellectual play and exploration of reality itself, using language and pure logic, along with various techniques of meditation. It’s a gradual process as the mind is familiarized with another way of seeing things and, hopefully, the correct way. So it is a process that takes several lifetimes, but if within a lifetime one can see gradual change… You see a gradual opening of the heart and loosening of the bonds of egocentricity and a movement towards altruism. Not that you can make that kind of a giant leap. But as you start to move in that direction, your energy starts to move out. You feel a totally different environment inside and outside. The world changes as your mind changes. Now the other aspect of mind—the wisdom aspect—has its own voyage to take. You start to realize that perhaps the absolute reality, the concrete reality that our senses tell us is out there in the air, maybe isn’t so concrete after all. It is in a state of constant fluidity. So again these things you take step by step, little by little. The taste of it starts to intoxicate your being, your mind, your action, your thoughts, your feelings. Do you feel a conflict between the dharma and being a star? No, no. It’s a peculiar thing. Because people aren’t actors. They think something different. It is the same way, I suppose, as I don’t really know what it’s like to be a jet pilot. So I project what that would be like. Essentially, it is a job—one that has both a creative and a very technical aspect to it. Sometimes it’s drudgery. Sometimes it’s great fun. I must do what I do. In this lifetime. Other lifetimes there are other jobs. You have your job, these guys all around you have their jobs, that are just as interesting to them as mine is to me. So I don’t see any conflict there. People really are people dealing with the same problems, coming to terms with them, trying to understand how it all happened. We have to try to find a way to neutralize those causes and then trust a path that is going to take us out of this. You mentioned the Dalai Lama is a remarkable human being. You’ve spent a lot of time with him as a student. What is the role, the contribution, you believe the Dalai Lama is making? He’s the most simple man and the most complex man I’ve ever met. He’s an artist and he’s a farmer. He—like any great mind and heart—is able to engage each of us on a level where we exist. He has been giving me teachings on Shantideva, who was a great ninth century Indian monk at the Nalanda University, one of the greatest universities of ancient times, that saw a great flowering of Indian culture. His Holiness said with total directness something that cut right through me. He said: ‘I never thought I was better than any creature.’ And when he says that you believe it. I can say that, but it’s not really true—I am better than him or I am less good than him or whatever. His Holiness says all this without a mask, he’s never had a mask. He is the Dalai Lama. He’s got a job. That’s his job. You’re an interviewer tonight, I’m an interviewee tonight. The Dalai Lama is Dalai Lama. But outside of that one title he is a totally fluid human being who engages the heart and mind. He is able to do it with such grace and humility—I think that is the mark of a real teacher, a real friend. We do political work with him, we do socially responsible and charitable work with him. We see him as a spiritual teacher, we see him as a deity. So it is hard for us, who are not as developed as he is, to flip roles as quickly and as effortlessly as he can. It’s a bit confusing sometimes. I feel I’m just starting to be able to do that with him. You mentioned this aspect of being an actor as being a job. What satisfaction does doing a job as an actor bring to you?Well, the first thing is the fact that I am able to live many lives at once. There are a lot of growth possibilities depending on what level I give myself to it. Richard Gere, the successful actor. If this was to run out, what else might you be? What else might you do? I could practice a lot more for one thing. Music has been a very strong part of my life, a lot of my acting has to do with music, playing instruments. There is also a musical sense to the way I work. If I were a wish-fulfilling genie, and I gave you three wishes, what would they be? Happiness to all beings. Number One. Happiness to all beings. Number Two. And Number Three—happiness in the causes of happiness to all beings. No question about that.
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