Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

The Dalai Lama

In Tibet in 1949, a preternaturally bright and curious Buddhist monk, barely a teenager, was thrust onto the world stage when the Chinese army began its invasion of Tibet. Tenzin Gyatso — the 14th Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people—was quickly empowered as their political leader as well, despite his scant knowledge of worldly affairs. The subsequent brutal occupation by the Chinese forced the young Dalai Lama into exile in 1959, along with tens of thousands of his fellow Tibetans.

His Holiness once told me that at the end of his harrowing escape, he watched his Khampa guards ride their horses back into Tibet, never to see them again. With profound sadness he turned toward India, feeling hopelessly alone, without a friend in the world. After telling me this, he smiled and added, "Now I have friends everywhere" — a rather large understatement.

The Dalai Lama, 69, does not belong solely to the Tibetans anymore — he belongs to us all. With a vast and profound knowledge of Buddhism, an open heart and the exceedingly rare ability to touch deeply people of all religions, races and backgrounds, he has emerged over the past half-century as one of the very few universally respected beings on our planet. His appeal: his utter simplicity and honesty, the uncluttered clarity of his mind, his infectious laughter and his uncanny ability to explain the most complex Buddhist concepts to anyone. His is the face of love and forgiveness in a distressed world, yet he also has the iron will to engage the ills of the world and heal them. For 46 years, he has shown unfailing patience and compassion toward the Chinese — who still occupy Tibet — and has steadfastly opposed the use of violence to settle the issue of Tibet.

I have been with the Dalai Lama all over the world for 25 years. I have seen him with world leaders, children, artists, soldiers, believers and nonbelievers; accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace; consoling a suffering woman in Soweto. No one leaves his presence without feeling uplifted and more hopeful about the possibility of a better world. His innate curiosity and openness have prompted a 20-year dialogue with scientists in many fields that has inspired new avenues of research into our understanding of consciousness, the mind and emotions.

Gere has been an advocate for Tibet for more than 25 years

From the Archive
The God in Exile: A visit with the leader of Tibet, the subject of a new movie, but a star without a stage