richard gere
He is an actor, 'free Tibet' activist and the most famous disciple of the Dalai Lama.

q:  At what age did Tibet first come into your mind?

gere:  Tibet didn't come into my mind until my 20s probably. I had already been studying Zen Buddhism at the time. It was the Japanese culture that was interesting to me and the Zen approach to Buddhism and nature of mind. The first time I went to Dharamsala, I really didn't know much about the Dalai Lama at all, it was more the gestalt of Tibet was interesting to me and entrancing, mysterious, and inspired dreams. I think that's what essentially your question is --when did you start dreaming about Tibet? It would have been in that context.

Real Tibet dream comes when you meet his Holiness because then -- it's actualized. And that's what happened to me. I saw the Dalai Lama but he's also this extraordinary man, extraordinary professor, extraordinary father, extraordinary friend -- all of that. It really shows you there's a way of making this work, of using his system, a religious psychological philosophical system that can really transform everything. The dream really becomes kind of wonderful because it's possible to actualize it.

q:  And is the dream more than sort of a personal salvation? I mean for you does it have an element of the world?

a:  I must say whenever I talk about Tibet or when I write about it --I realized when I was writing the introduction to my photo book, it was really about this sense of universal responsibility, that's what his Holiness talks about, that's what the Buddha talked about.

In the end, that's the freeing mechanism -- is being selfless and it's acknowledging infinite universes of suffering beings, where our little selves compared to them are nothing. That all of our energy should be in sacrifice and services. Suffering at least. Untold universe is filled with suffering beings. That's the way out, our own cage.

q:  You said to me last time we talked that by saving Tibet, in effect you felt you were saving yourself.

a:  No question about it. I mean it's very symbiotic the whole structure of this and the political situation in Tibet, the incredible suffering of the people of Tibet works symbolically but also works in a very fundamental real way .

All the work that all of us have done in the West to help Tibetan culture is ultimately been about our own transcendence no question about it. and in saving Tibet you save the possibility that we are all brothers, sisters. Even the Chinese and the Tibetans are brothers and sisters ... something he freely acknowledges and he interesting calls them their older brother. And maybe their older brother should take care of their younger brother a little bit better. An interesting way to see it. And see it compassionately. But, it's a sense of responsibility.

q:  What is the allure of Tibet? I want to read you something -- This is this wonderful book, The Myth of Shangri-La . And he says in a sense Tibet's a peripheral place, but it gave permission for many Europeans and Americans to use it as an imaginative escape, as a sort of time-out, a relaxation from rigid rational censorship as with dreams issues that are central to everyday life emerged symbolically and is striking, unashamed naiveté.

a:  Yeah, but I think what's interesting about the present Tibet is that it bridges the dreamlike and the utterly real. There's two sides of the coin, the dream side and the real side and -- they coexist in Tibet in the present probably more than any other time and in many ways more so for us in the West than for Tibetans themselves.

As usual with a powerful culture when another culture is in ......, they take it more seriously than the host culture does. Western Buddhists in many ways are much serious Buddhists than Tibetans are. I remember-- I think I told you this before the story many years ago we were trying to figure out how to make the Tibetan issue vital, capture the imagination of American public, touch their hearts. And we'd found a way in Central America to make that [issue]vibrant and meaningful. And personal.

So I was trying to do the same thing with Tibet and we were having a lot of trouble and a film that I had done many years ago I met Roger .... who has totally the wrong politics but he's a very good media consultant. So I said, explain the problem we're having. And he said, oh, it's very simple you see, you've got human rights and meditation and they don't go together. You can't jive one with the other and it's confusing and disorienting.

And it's true, that's part of the problem but it's also part of our mission is to bring those two things together and the key to that is universal responsibility is that I can transcend all of this only by going through it, only by helping my brother, not feel his suffering. Help him through it to achieve some modicum of happiness or at least be on a path towards that is a way that I'm released. Now the Tibetan situation right now is pretty amazing because they are the repository of all this extraordinary wisdom, at the time their libraries have been destroyed almost entirely by the Chinese. Bits and pieces of books come in from nomads and all over Asia, it's extraordinary to see these libraries come piece together.

q:  So why should Americans care about Tibet?

a:  Well I think on a simple ecological level that the diversity of this planet is important for our survival, that all of our different cultures, people are important to the health of the whole the same way that a species of animal should be saved and at a simple ecology level. Obviously on other levels this kind of suffering and abuse of people can exist anywhere or eventually or eventually we're all in danger. We have basic human rights. Bill of Human Rights that's been signed by most of the countries on this planet and there's a reason for that -- is that we will not allow people to be treated less than this. These certain things are not acceptable to civilization today.

q:  Beyond that sort of basic humanitarian impulse, what is it that is so intriguing about Tibet? Westerners have always been intrigued and projected onto it.

What's the dream?

a:  Release. Light. Happiness. I would say that the West is very young, it's very corrupt. We're not very wise. And I think we're hopeful that there is a place that is ancient and wise and open and filled with light.

q:  Are we right in assuming that Tibet is that, or was that?

a:  I think it was a noble experiment in that direction for sure. And that wasn't perfect, there was no way it was perfect. It was run by human beings but I think it was a system that was an experiment of extraordinary courage where institutions were created to foster great human beings, loving human beings, responsible human beings. So the institutions were large. The monasteries were large. They were large in mind, they were large physically very different than our institutions where we kind of create small institutions and we take our best people and make them smaller so that they will fit that institution, the job descriptions. So I think it was a incredibly courageous thing that they tried. The total embrace of Buddhism that happened from the eight century on created a unique society, a unique civilization.

q:  This idea of --when we imagine Tibet in the West and when we see all these movies that are coming out--what is really our desire? What are we projecting onto this subject?

a:  Well I know for myself, my brother,-- we went very far away from where we came from. I think he and I both went as far away from home as we possibly could and I think you have to do that to eventually come home whole, healed. Tibet fulfills that for me. My unconscious which may be connected to other people's collective unconscious, I don't know. In that same way.

q:  Is it an escape for you in a way?

a:  It's probably both. I escape to something and I'm escaping from something, ultimately I get back to where I came from with open heart and some wisdom hopefully and process.

q:  And why can't we do this with our own religion? Our own traditions?

a:  Well I think most of our religious institutions are pretty corrupt so they're not reliable. I think the Christian religion that I was brought up with has very little to do with Christ, really and more an institutions that have built up around the church.

I think they're good hearted, I think they've lost kind of the possibilities that were there in the early church and a kind of courageousness I'm sure that was there philosophically and psychologically in the early church. I mean these guys were very courageous. Saints, mediators in the Christian religion as well as Hinduism and the Buddhists, these are very courageous people. The institutions obviously are created by people who weren't as courageous as that need the safety to fall back on of the structure.

q:  What do you think the effect is going to be of all of these films that are coming out?

a:  Well, I mean this is going to be a real ... both of these films started with terrific scripts, very serious people serious directors, serious actors, serious technicians -- good budgets -- do anything that you want with these films. I think the expectation is very high for anyone who's been associated with the Tibetans and wants the best for the Tibetans, wants more for the Tibetans and protect them in some way. I think all that's possible. -- I think an example would be the Killing Fields. Incredibly powerful wonderful film that came really after it was too late in many ways.

These stories -- both of them are historical. They take place in the late 40s and through the 50s, tell the old story of Chinese invasion and what the values and the cultures of Tibet was before the invasion and-- they're doing the script anyhow includes what's happened since to some extent up until the Dalai Lama escaped in exile in 1959.

q:  Do you think they're going to make the issues jump the firewall into some new dimension that will have political ...

a:  Well I think it does but again they're movies and movies open and then other movies open. And I think it's the danger of mass media --it's on television and you click to the next station, you've seen that already. If it becomes too easy, if the experience of Tibet becomes subjectified too much I think in an entertainment way ultimately there will be ground lost.

But again these are serious pieces of work and they'll generate a lot of talk, the Chinese will be very upset, both these films and all of the press around them and that will generate a lot of real politic I think.

q:  What should the Chinese do?

a:  Actually I'd rather not say because they might actually do it. I love what they're doing now, because they do it all wrong.

q:  And if they did it right what would they--

a:  It's actually very simple and the Tibetans have gotten around to this, his Holiness is speaking about this for many years. They just have to behave truthfully and honestly even for their own self-preservation to deal honestly with the Tibetans and realize that they can be their close friends instead of their subjects. It's better for them.

They don't have to have 600,000 troops in Tibet. They don't have to be subsidizing all these settlers who've come in -- seven, eight million Chinese settlers have been subsidized to come into Tibet. And they have a friendly happy people living there and as the Dalai Lama has been saying for a long time the Chinese can have control of international relations, that's not an issue here. The issue is the survival of Tibetan cultural, survival of people. To raise them from being second or third class citizens in their own country -- and it was their own country until 19 -- till the 50s, till the invasion and his Holiness leaving in '59.

q:  So what should Clinton do? Clinton's going to meet with the President of China. What should he do?

a:  Every successful negotiation that I know of with China has been based on clarity. Just being clear. This what we expect. We won't accept less and do it in a fair way. You know if it isn't about invading countries, it's about dealing concretely, honestly, clearly, trade was a very important way to deal with China. Clinton threw that away and he did it in a very callous way, in a very dangerous way, put a lot of human rights people in jeopardy and it was a very wrong thing to do. He's going to have negative karma from that choice. And I'm sorry but it was the wrong approach, China laughed about it I'm sure that we've got a very weak man over there, we can run this guy you know and as we've seen in the last election, dumping money into the elections, they're dealing with systems which don't have any strong center to them.

q:  Principle in a sense is running right into commerce here isn't it? And I think it would be fair to say that commerce is triumphing. Expedience.

a:  Yeah and it's unfortunate too. I could understand it more if we were not going well in this country and we really need that market badly but we're the richest country in the world. There's no one even close to us right now. We can afford actually to be more moral than we normally would. We can actually afford it now and why we don't it's shortsighted. All these decisions are shortsighted. You know I prefer those kind of decisions that Native Americans made which were I think you have to consider the seventh generation when a major decision was being made. How will it affect them. Not just us or even our children but seven generations down the line.

q:  Not the next quarter?

a:  No, not the next quarter, the next day, the stock market the next day.

q:  What's going to happen to the government in exile?

a:  We got very good news today... Secretary Albright today announced that there would be a position. Unclear exactly what that position is. But someone in the State Department I believe who will be assigned to be the liaison between US Government and the Tibetan people--not through China but specifically to the Tibetans. That's an extraordinary breakthrough.

q:  What do you think will happen when his Holiness dies to the movement outside of Tibet?

a:  It's really unclear -- I know his Holiness is answer of that. I think he realizes that he's going to have to live as long as he possibly can to mostly through compassion for the rest of us and stick around. To him I don't think it makes much difference one way or the other. I think he's transcended so much stuff -- I think there are Tibetans who have emerged, Loti Gary for instance is -- wonderful, extraordinary, talented, capable person who's emerged. I think the secular community of the exile community of Tibetans is going to have to emerge in a much stronger way. And they've been going through their growing pains, learning about democracy, learning about how to do things different.

My own opinion is they have their own system yet to evolve, it will be something fresh like the original Tibet was something fresh, something new, something original. And to be part of the world which they never wanted to be part of and jealously guarded their society in solitude as that all changes obliviously the whole system has to change. Nothing can go back to the way it was and everything is always in a state of change and chaos -- no question about it.

q:  I mean do you think Tibet may lose some its allure and fascination as it becomes more open and more mundane and more accessible?

a:  Sure. Yeah. Of course it will. That's All right. I've been around the scene long enough to see a lot of rather immature people who're drawn to the Tibetan scene through open heart of wanting to just get out of whatever suffering they're in but loading up projections on the Tibetans in ways that are totally unfair. Expecting them to be superhuman which they're not. They're just like us-- you go into a Tibetan monastery and you have nasty Tibetans, you have really great ones, you have sweet ones, you have bitter ones, you have the whole thing. The petty thieves. I would think it's the same as anywhere else in the world. But I think they codified it as something extraordinary. And I think they've been able to hold onto that in exile. When you see the exiled community, know them, love them, embrace them as they embrace you and go to Tibet and see what's happened to the Tibetans there it's heartbreaking to see what they've lost but you also see what they have gained. They create what they have in exile. It has taken them 13, 1400 years.

q:  Well you've been to China -- and what do you think the Chinese see when they look at Tibet?

a:  Well, I'll tell you a story--many years ago I was in a demonstration in New York in front of United Nations and it was on March 10th demonstrations and every year there's demonstrations, all over the world in the Tibetan community commemorating an uprising in 1959, March 10th against the Chinese and it was unsuccessful and tens of thousands of Tibetans were machine-gunned in the streets of Lhasa and all over Tibet eventually .

There was a demonstration and I had left and I got in a cab and I looked at the license there and it was a Chinese person, cabdriver and he asked me where I had come from and I said I just came from a demonstration for Tibetan freedom and he said, oh the Tibetans -- and I said what's wrong? He said oh they're terrible people, kill their children and they cut them up and have children's bones all over the place and they're you know murdering brutal awful people. I got very angry, I said what are you talking about? He said oh it is, and it's absolutely true. I said how long have you been over here and he said I've been over here two years. From where? From Beijing. And I said where did you learn this? He said we learned it in school. They taught us that they're animals.

q:  There are obviously two completely different sort of notions of liberation at work , here aren't they? The one is -- killer landlords-- and on the Tibetan side is this notion of spiritual liberation -- interior liberation. And do you think there is any --

a:  I don't think there was every any respect. Certainly since the time of Mao for the Tibetans, none at all. Certainly in older times, not even that long ago, a hundred years ago, Tibet was definitely Tibet, China was definitely China. Mongolia was Mongolia. Manchuria was Manchuria and these cultures controlled each other at various times. The borders shifted. Power struggles were intense and at any one time the Tibetans were on top, the Chinese were on top, the Mongolians were on top and this goes back now 1500 years.... this changing dynamic.

Since the Communist takeover, the irony being that possibly in some real sense Mao and the communists thought they were liberating the Tibetans. And I would allow for that possibility that it was a genuine revolution that they were involved in but they totally misread the Tibetan people. The Tibetan people were OK with their system. They were fine with it. Even the poor people were fine with it. There was no starvation in Tibet. Starvation didn't come until the Chinese came to Tibet and they forced them to grow their own kind of crops and feed hundreds of thousands of troops.

And then little by little they took all of the jobs, they took the schools over. They gave nothing back and marginalized in every possible way the Tibetans and as you see it now, you go through the streets of Lhasa and the young people are very different sort than one finds outside. A lot of drinking, drugs, everyone plays a kind of strange pool on the side of the roads. There are no jobs, there are no opportunities, there's no education for them and they live through close to three generations now of children being taken away and educated as Chinese of forced abortions of policies that were intended for the Chinese back in China that didn't work at all for the Tibetans, had nothing to do with the Tibetans. It's not an overpopulated place. There were perhaps six or seven million Tibetans in an area that was larger than Western Europe. The Chinese had no concept. And it got worse and worse. So now they consider it some very barren Alaska or Siberia to them and it's a hardship gig for anyone who's sent there. High-paying but you want to go home, you want to make your money and go home.


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