Actor Richard Gere turned 65 yesterday, which for a Buddhist like him and unbeliever like me means nothing in particular. However, for the purposes of this blog it is as good an excuse as any to carry an old interview of mine with the Hollywood A-lister. I met Gere in McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh in India in April, 1996. The interview took place in ‘Kashmir Cottage’, the home of the Dalai Lama’s younger brother. I remember it to be a crisp Himalayan morning with endless miles of mountains shrouded in what seemed like a velvety blue-green cloak of pine trees. Gere was amiability itself. My wife Kesumi happened to be with me during the meeting. I introduced her and got on with the conversation.
Next day, as Kesumi and I went loafing around in McLeod Ganj, we bumped into Gere. An effusive greeting later, Gere turned to Kesumi and said in mock seriousness and fully feigned dreaminess, “We can’t keep meeting like this.” A laughter was had by all three before moving on. Here is the interview in its original Q and A format. Those interested in getting involved or contributing to The Gere Foundation, visit here.
I have not carried any picture of Gere because I have not bought any. In any case, many of us know what he looks like.
By Mayank Chhaya
McLEOD GANJ —
In the two-street bazaar of this Himalayan hamlet chances are that Hollywood star Richard Gere would walk past you unobtrusively.
Gere, who is among the most high profile supporters of Tibet and a keen student of Tibetan Buddhism, visits here every year for about three weeks to continue with his “learning of the soul.” Since his first meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1982, he has become the most vocal Hollywood campaigner against the Chinese “repression and genocide” in Tibet and “systematic annihilation”of its people and culture. He holds forth on Tibet and Tibetans passionately and upholds India as their “best friend” in the world.
Gere spoke to India Abroad in an interview at Kashmir Cottage, the residence of the Dalai Lama’s brother overlooking endless miles of pine trees.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. What is it that attracts you to Buddhism?
A. Its fearlessness. You are not afraid of questioning anything in Buddhism. Most philosophical systems start with a series of givens and build an argument on that. In Buddhism there are no givens. That is the only way you can find the root ground of consciousness. It is a very practical system which is emotionally and intellectually sound. It speaks to all ages. It speaks the basic truth about the mind.
Q. Why do you espouse Tibet’s cause?
A. It is a valid cause. They are people who need friends. There are very few people who stand up for the Tibetans. The movement has been nonviolent. I think all nonviolent movements should be supported in all possible ways. There is repression and genocide taking place there. Those who have access to the media should talk about it.
Q. What happened when you first met the Dalai Lama?
A. That was in 1982 in Dharamsala. I had been a student of Zen Buddhism before that. I did not know much about Tibetan forms at all. I was very nervous about meeting him. But he made me feel comfortable at once. That is the sign of a great and humble man.
He introduced himself as an ordinary human being and nothing else. He did not know who I was, but his brother had told him I was an actor. He asked me when I act angry in movies, do I actually feel angry or when I act crying do I actually cry. Then he told me that the illusory nature of the emotions that an actor has are almost identical to the illusory emotions that a normal person has. He said when I fake anger as an actor it is no different from a normal person. I know it is a performance and you don’t. That fascinated me.
Q. Being a man of prominence and perhaps political influence, what is that you can do to make the U.S. see China in a different light on the issue of Tibet? Trade seems to tower above everything in Indo-China relations.
A. I can be the conscience. I can’t change the U.S. government’s economic policy, but I can certainly speak for the human rights community.
Q. Do you think there has been a difference in the way Tibet is perceived internationally with people like you championing it?
A. No, I don’t think so. It is not us but the person of His Holiness that changes people’s minds. Every time we have facilitated His Holiness’s meeting with anyone, there is a change in people’s minds. He is the key. When you know you are in the presence of a great man, a great mind and a great soul, you can’t help but be touched and influenced. Surely economic interests are far too important, but even with the fact that the U.S. has nothing to gain by helping Tibet there have been far- reaching pronouncements in Congress, including the one which said that it is the sense of Congress that Tibet is an occupied territory. I don’t think India would say that.
Q. India has a Tibetan government in exile on its soil.
A. That is very kind, but I don’t think India is going to make a political statement like that. Of course, Tibet has no better friends than India. Sure, India is not going to go to war with China over Tibet. I would not expect India to and I am sure His Holiness would not either. India has been incredibly kind to the Tibetans. One of the reasons why Tibetans have such a successful community in exile is because India and the Indian people have made it easier for them to get land, schools and various other support systems that are so crucial.
Q. Is there any realistic time frame in which one can expect an early resolution of the Tibetan issue?
A. I don’t think there is a realistic timetable. When you are playing with combustible situations in China, especially now, no one knows what is going to happen. I suppose it is as combustible now as Eastern Europe was, and as spontaneous and all inclusive too. No one had any idea that everything would fall apart in one year. It is possible in China too.
Unfortunately, China has seen what happened in Eastern Europe and Russia and has guarded their situations very carefully. The military presence in Tibet is extremely high. The control of information is extremely tight. I can’t go to Tibet any more. I can’t even transit through Beijing. Just because I am a friend of Tibet’s.
Now am I calling for the violent overthrow of any country? Of course not. I speak the truth and am involved with any human rights group or any group that is looking for justice.
Q. Kashmiris claim they are fighting for a similar cause.
A. I am not very educated about that, but Kashmir was not invaded. Tibet was. Tibet has been occupied by a massive occupation force for 40 years. That is a big difference (between Kashmir and Tibet). Another thing that does not make the analogy correct is there has been a systematic annihilation of the Tibetan people and their culture, which I don’t believe happens in Kashmir. There has been a massive population transfer which I don’t think has happened in Kashmir.
Q. Has the experience of Buddhism changed you as an actor for better or worse?
A. I am not interested in better or worse, but it has fundamentally changed everything. If you fundamentally change your mind and heart everything changes.
Q. Do your Hollywood colleagues ask you what you are doing in a place like Dharamsala?
A. They accept it. I have had many receptions for friends in America and everyone is very touched and changed after meeting with His Holiness.
Q. Does the Dalai Lama ask you to push Tibet’s cause even more?
A. We talk about it constantly. We talk about what is a good strategy that would help the cause. We discuss specific things too. For instance, I am going to speak at a human rights conference on Tibet. His Holiness would tell me about perhaps emphasizing something and de-emphasizing some other things.
Q. Do you see a more formal role for yourself in the movement for Tibet?
A. I am not planning anything. Whatever happens, happens. In the kind of job that I have (as an actor) it is very hard to plan anything. My life has been a little chaotic that way. I haven’t had the luxury of being a householder.
Q. Is your Hollywood career on or do you want to leave it to concentrate on Buddhism and Tibet?
A. I have to go back to America because my last movie is opening in April. For me right now my career is not that important, but then it affords me to help a lot people on many levels, on a financial level, on influence level, political or psychic levels, because of the position that I have as an actor. So in many ways it would be foolish for me to turn my back on that because it can potentially cause some good. Maybe later in life, but for now it is alright.