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How Richard Gere found the path to Buddhism

- Actor recounts his first meeting with Dalai Lama and the virtues of practising Dharma

The following is the transcript of the lecture delivered by actor Richard Gere on Buddhism in the West and My Personal Experience at Manan Kendra in Gangtok on April 26.

It is a great honour for me to be here, it is my pleasure to be with the Sogyal Rimpoche here. It would be better if there is a dialogue and lots of interactions with me.

Please ask questions and set the direction of the conversations to the next level on Buddhism.

Sogyal Rimpoche. who is a good friend of mine, has been a very good person as he has introduced me with so many great masters and extraordinary teachers in Asia and other countries.

He is a very simple human being with a vast knowledge on Buddhism. Me talking about Buddhism in front of him would be a little embarrassing, I would feel myself as a parrot as I can only recite what I have learnt. But to be frank, I am not a great practitioner. But one thing is that I have truly generated respect and love for Dharma.

With the practising of the Dharma for the last forty years every day is a learning day and teaches me new things.

One may not see the instant changes in oneself once we start practising Buddhism Dharma, it is a time taking process and the real change comes slowly. You will come across through the periods when there is no progress but still you have to be working through.

And frankly saying I haven’t practised Dharma under two circumstances. One when I was too drunk and other when I was too sick. But the thing is that no matter what be the situation one should meditate and practise every day.

I started my practice with the Zen Buddhists who are very strict and the practice is monitored very carefully and it was a great pleasure to start the practice under such monitoring.

Today I have been told to speak on the development of Buddhism in the West. I don’t know much about that but I am from the West and I will tell you how it developed with me.

This is my first visit to Sikkim but there is an affirmity that I have roamed these mountains as well, I felt very comfortable, relaxed and eased here. This is a very natural place and I want to come back here again and again.

When I was a young man in my twenties I was a confused man and I tried to figure out why I was confused and I had left college when I was nineteen to become an actor and I was very anxious to get started with my life and I was quite lucky to get started early.

I worked in repertory theatres and was travelling most of the USA, Europe and earning. But there was still a sense inside me that there is something incomplete.

Something which I would call a distress which I wanted to know for long, about the truth. I thought maybe it was a period young people went through, a recognisable period and pretty quickly it was Buddhism that spoke to me when I was searching the answers in the books. I happened to read some books on Buddhism, I find them interesting and divulge it.

The sense of practising the Dharma gave me an immense happiness and console.

The most ideal thing I learnt during the practice was to surrender completely to the teacher (master).

I will now tell you about my first meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It was during the monsoon and for several weeks I had an audience with His Holiness.

I met His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Dharamshala in India. I was told by the people at his office that I can spend a week’s time visiting the Tibetan camps and monasteries at Dharamshala before meeting the Dalai Lama. A week later I got an opportunity to meet him. We started out with a little small talk and his brother introduced me as an acclaimed actor of Hollywood His Holiness then he said: “Oh, so you're an actor?”

He thought about that a second, and then he said: “So when you do this acting and you're angry, are you really angry? When you're acting sad, are you really sad? When you cry, are you really crying?”

I gave him some kind of actor answer, like it was more effective if you really believed in the emotion that you were portraying. He looked very deeply into my eyes and just started laughing hysterically. He was laughing at the idea that I would believe emotions are real, that I would work very hard to believe in anger and hatred and sadness and pain and suffering.

I realised His Holiness’s practise is powerful and powerful in the field of compassion as well and that was the feeling I had. He was so complete, searching for a deep experience to know wisdom and compassion.

In Tibetan Buddhism I feel there are many things which teach you to be compassionate, In Sikkim too I feel that there is something extremely deep, powerful and non-violent.

So that was how I started practising Tibetan Buddhism which has been a practice for the last, I don’t know, may be thirty five years.

We are so fortunate to live in the time of His Holiness, the living Buddha whom we can see and touch and feel the depth of the possibilities of human beings.

So this more or less is my story. The Buddhism which first came to the West is the Japanese Buddhism not the Chinese.

In the fifties, sixties when disaster fell on Tibet and His Holiness and other lamas left, and one of my teachers Chungla Rinponche came to the US in the 1960s.

Little by little Tibetan Buddhism not only came to the USA but also reinterpreted itself. Tibetans have an extraordinary way of becoming comfortable pretty much with Dharma and allowing it to find its own place. The skill required in Dharma is also the skill of communication to talk and to interact about the culture which is meaningful to them.

In ’60, 70 and 80s the Tibetan Dharma spread in the world, it was due to disaster which happened in Tibet. The Dharma that was in Tibet for 1,500 years was now in the world. And we in the West are the recipients of their tragedy in many ways.

It was a great experience for me to find my ways in life through Dharma and I find that here there is a strong Buddhist culture with so many historic monasteries.

I am born Christian and the Christianity which I knew was incapable of answering my questions such as what am I? Why does the world exist? Do I exist? What is my purpose? Where have these men around me come from? And the answers which I used to get wasn’t enough for me. Buddhism is not afraid to at least attempt to answer these questions.

I had a very clear feeling that I’d always been in meditation, that I’d never left meditation. That it was a much more substantial reality than what we normally take to be reality. That was very clear to me even then, but it’s taken me this long in my life to bring it out into the world more, through more time practising, watching my mind, trying to generate Bodhisatva.

There could be no greater gift than introduce someone to Dharma.

I have been fascinated by the lovely people and the practise of Buddhism in Sikkim and would love to come back with my wife and two children in future.

Thank You