Over the years, as I’ve watched Richard Gere talk about his love for Tibetan Buddhism, I have struggled to get past my snobby skepticism that a handsome actor once married to a gorgeous supermodel could tell me anything about reality. Of course, disguised within that oh-I-can’t-take-Gere-seriously stance is another lurking belief that because he’s so attractive and successful, he is somehow superior to me.

We all struggle with this.

But Gere’s calm demeanor on Barbara Walters’s television special several weeks ago, and now the following entry from an oral biography of the Dalai Lama, have helped me release my various, self-revealing assessments (which I struggle to abandon every day in other contexts). In other words, I’ve come to admire him. I think he’s for real.

In “His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The Oral Biography,” a compilation of interviews with Deborah H. Strober and Gerald S. Strober, Gere recalls his first meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader. The Dalai Lama began the conversation by remarking that he understood that Gere was an actor. Gere said, “Yes, that’s true.” Then the Dalai Lama

…thought for a second and said, “Well, would you mind telling me something? When you do this acting and you’re laughing or crying, or whatever your emotions may be, is that real?”

I kind of fell back on an “actorish” response to that, Gere says, “and I said, ‘Well, of course, when they’re as real as possible, the performance is more effective.’ And he said, ‘So they’re real.’ And I said, ‘Well, I think so.'”

Then he looked me very deeply in the eye and just started laughing hysterically. The simplicity of that encounter has stayed very clearly with me for several reasons. One was his ability to very quickly hit to the core of who I was. He used my profession and the focus of who I was at that time, an actor, to teach a spiritual lesson that was quite subtle, that, in fact, emotions are not real. Even though I was conjuring up emotions, I had a belief in them and, like we all do in everyday life, we have a myriad of emotions and we tend to believe they’re real and definitive and come from their own side. But, in fact, they’re just a magician’s trick, just like an actor does in conjuring up an emotion.

He was able, by asking…two simple questions about me, to cut to the gist of how he could discuss something with me that was meaningful and have it be meaningful. So this encounter, although it appeared quite simple in the way we were conversing with each other, in fact cut to the quick to a very genuine spiritual issue for all of us.

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