Richard Gere Is 'Always Watching the Mind'
The Buddhist actor talks to Beliefnet about Tibet, the Dalai Lama, and how his life is infused with mindfulness.
BY: Valerie Reiss
So it sounds like you’re advocating the Middle Way, which is not boycotting, but not business as usual.
Well, I would leave boycott as a possibility. And it’s really up to the Chinese. They’re under the illusion that they could keep the genie in the bottle and suggest to the world that they would be open to journalistic scrutiny. And we’ve just seen that they’ve totally locked up Tibet. They had previously locked up Mount Everest. There’s now not going to be any live coverage in Tiananmen Square. There may not be live coverage of the Olympics itself.
I think they’re a little naïve, thinking that they can control these things. I was talking to friends who deal with Chinese officials quite a bit, and they’re just so amazed that they are asked these tough questions by international journalists. They’re so habituated to controlling everything that the idea of freedom is so alien, they don’t even know what it is, nor do they see the strength that is inherent in a free press and free discussion of peoples.
So it remains to be seen a little bit what will happen in the next couple of months.
If there is a continued "cultural genocide" with Tibetan Buddhism, how does that affect people around the world who practice Tibetan Buddhism?
Well, the institutions are strong outside of Tibet. All the major monasteries have been rebuilt in India and in Nepal. And they’re thriving to the degree they can as an exiled community. Tibetan teachers are around the world right now. Part of their pain and suffering has been the joy and happiness of the rest of the world as Tibetan Lamas and Tibetans move freely. Having great teachers amongst us has been extraordinary for us. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
[But] Tibet is a cradle. Would it be like Jerusalem for a Christian being blown up and lost forever? It’s just unthinkable. And it’s still filled with possibility. It’s still relatively untouched in terms of environment, and architecture--outside of the major cities. There are vast areas of Tibet that are still Tibet, and they can be saved.
There are some problems on this planet that seem to be intractable. This one does not. It could change overnight. And it doesn’t have to change a lot. You know, it’s only a few degrees of difference to allow the Chinese to enter into serious talks with the Dalai Lama. And very quickly, this whole thing could be over.
So the letters that we write to the president, the letters we write to our senators and congresspersons, this is real stuff. They need to be encouraged. I spend a lot of time in Washington, and I know that, basically, that entire city is on the side of the Tibetans, on the side of the Dalai Lama. But they certainly can use the encouragement.
Well, there’s a tendency to tread lightly with the Chinese.
That’s true, but, as we saw with the Congressional gold medal in October, the Chinese lobbied very heavily for that not to happen. They were furious. The president was courageous to actually give the medal, in public, to the Dalai Lama and speak very forcefully, as he did.
Can you talk about your Buddhist practice outside of this?
You’re getting into territory that is so vast.
What do you mean?
Well, a daily practice is not just that. It’s all of the teachings you’ve ever had. You know, it certainly entails sitting meditation, but it’s various levels of watching your mind, being present with the mind.
The last words of the Buddha were, "Tame your mind." It doesn't mean destroy the mind, but tame it so it can be used properly.
How many minutes do you meditate a day?
Well, that’s also a complex question because there’s sitting meditation, there are all kinds of other meditations.
What about sitting?
Sitting, at least an hour.
Do you have any particular sutras that especially inspire you and keep you present and centered?
I don’t have a practice that doesn’t. I tend to be more taken with the teachings that have to do with Bodhichitta, because they’re so emotional, whereas the Shantideva, the Bodhicaryavatara, you know, there’s a great lama, Kuno Lama, who wrote an amazing piece called "In Praise of Bodhichitta."
His Holiness spoke for a few days on it. And it was impossible not to weep and hear these words illuminated by someone like the Dalai Lama.
Are there any passages that you remember as inspiring?
Well, they’re all about motivation: "I will release all sentient beings from pain, set them all in final bliss. To do that I will generate the purest mind of Bodhichitta."
Are you in communication with the Dalai Lama right now?
No, I haven’t spoken to His Holiness, but I've spoken several times with his representatives in New York.
What’s your sense of how he’s doing?
He’s in great pain, not only for the Tibetans who are suffering now, but for the Chinese as well. He takes no pleasure in this violence. At the same time, I think he is realistic that the Chinese have to understand that this is real, what’s happening, and that it’s coming out of a lot of pain and suffering in the Tibetan experience. And [the Chinese] have it within their ability to change it. And he himself would love to be part of that change and help it happen for both sides.
What do you see as the future for all of this?
The visionary portrait is that this is the year the Chinese look at themselves. My positive image is that Time magazine would have a picture of Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama shaking hands on the cover as Men of the Year, and the both of them would get the Nobel Peace Prize. And what a positive outcome for China and for Hu Jintao and his legacy. And it’s right there. It’s right there for him to have.
And on a personal spiritual level, do you ever find yourself getting kind of overwhelmed with the task?
No. Being around His Holiness, you realize there’s a commitment to release all sentient beings in all universes from pain and suffering. There’s no time limit to that. So you just keep moving. That kind of a motivation gives boundless energy.
You said sitting is not the only way you meditate--how else do you bring mindfulness into your life?
Well, mindfulness is a quality that’s always there. It's an illusion that there’s a meditation and post-meditation period, which I always find amusing, because you’re either mindful or you’re not. The meditation is just taking different forms. But it’s always watching the mind. It’s always watching the mind.
Watching the mind while you’re saying "Always watching the mind."
It never leaves you. It’s the quality. Now, there’s a certain point when one has achieved enlightenment, that there’s no longer a watching quality. The dualism is gone. Since I’ve never been there, I wouldn’t know how to characterize that. But until that happens, watching the mind, yes.
And is there anything else that would be important for people to know?
I don’t want another 20 years to go by before this builds up again. This is a decisive moment. And, as we started this conversation, what hurts me the most is to see Tibetans who have no resort except violence.
The loss to us on this planet, the loss to us personally that this culture be destroyed, it’s unthinkable. It’s unthinkable. I don’t know what would happen to us. There’s not an ancient wisdom culture that’s still alive, that still is transforming all the negative emotions into love and compassion. Now, to see them start to lose it inside of Tibet is truly heartbreaking.
It’s up to all of us to keep this alive and not wait until there’s another explosion, but keeping working on this, because this is something that can be solved, especially this year when the Chinese care so much about what people think about them.