q: For you, do religious convictions carry with them necessity for action,
a: Yeah, I think like everyone else I was in SDS when I was a kid and we
were pretty much the same age I think. You're a lot younger than me I know,
but I don't think so. We all did that and I think it was a genuine impulse, I
don't think it was a deep impulse.
q: But we weren't necessarily religious? Does your Buddhism --
a: No, I guess I was getting through that in many ways --you can circle
back in either direction from politics to religion if you want to call it
that. Spirituality or higher thinking, whatever, where you move from higher
thinking to politics. It ends up being the same voyage. Because they're
really about the same thing. They're about universal responsibility. You see
someone hungry, you feed them. That's religion. It's also politics. And as I
said before this is a kind of an amazing way to be working on both things.
Now clearly when I first started encountering Tibetans it was in the spiritual
realm. I was a Buddhist. I was fascinated with their approach to Buddhism.
As I said before that I had come through the Japanese approach and the Tibetans
had something else. It was so difficult at the same time was a very large
dream and I still find it that way. Endlessly fascinating and life-giving,
When going back to kind of my voyage with them in the 80s I kind of became re
politicized and I had gotten very involved with Central America and became
acquainted with the Quaker ideas of witnessing to the truth. Which is kind of
an extraordinary concept of being responsible without consequence to yourself,
without even being aware of consequence to yourself. The imperative to speak
the truth, speak to the truth, the witness to it, to stand up.
And about that same time I encountered the Tibetans in the early 80s and met
his Holiness then, and the work that we did initially was purely spiritual and
yogic and teacher to student. A few years into that, his Holiness and I had a
talk and he asked if there was something that I could do in the political
realm and in the cultural realm to save them the best we could. He said he
really looked to the West ....Then I thought very hard and deep about that and
that's when we began Tibetan House which is a way of dealing with both those
issues, cultural and political. They're certainly not mutually exclusive,
they're very much the same.
q: You think that's what impels people to be fascinated with Buddhism that
it's the notion that something is missing by the way of conscience,
a: Yeah, I don't find it any different than a hundred years ago -- the
transcendentalists at the end of the 19th century, was a huge movement, huge.
And when the Theosophists started in the turn of the century ---again a massive
movement all over the world, huge fascination, world-famous writers and
politicians and people getting involved with that movement which is essentially
But -- it might be more cyclical and it might be more of a division now between
people who are looking in that direction and people who are looking for money
that we might see that possibly more. But I don't see this kind of coming out
of nowhere or --
q: What do you think it is? I mean this is the land of the ego here in LA
and yet people really love him here.
a: Well it's again-- one of these media consultants tell me there's-- look
you can have politicians, you can have movie stars, there's only one Dalai
Lama. And it's true. In many sense there's only one person has that title but
there's only one person who's done the millennium, infinite number of lifetimes
of work that Dalai Lama has done to create that consciousness and develop
generally that consciousness, the heart.
And this is something you feel palpably. People often ask me what is it about
his Holiness and ultimately the only thing that I really say is you feel safe.
This is someone who wants nothing from you. Except for you to be happy. That's
it. Doesn't want your money. Doesn't want your time. Wants you to be happy
and knows that there is a path that if you give yourself to it with courage and
commitment you will ultimately be happy. I mean not one lifetime maybe many
hundreds of millions of lifetimes of world systems of lifetimes. But it will
happen and when you encounter his Holiness you believe that. It's real. It's
true. And other things start to fall away. You know the kind of egocentricity
falls away and self-consciousness falls away in the golden light of that
Part of the work I think of us as simple human beings who're struggling is
when we encounter people like that, we get jacked up into another space. Very
powerfully but we can't be there all the time. Someone else jacking us into
that space. We've got to do the work that continues to keep it there for us.
We own it and that's courage and work and commitment. And it's not just
religious work, it's human work, it's kind of work that I wish our presidents
would do. And our senators and our supposedly, our best people relooking to
themselves to work, that courageously on themselves to be better people.
q: And yet there's a certain irony to this-- this man who espouses the
demolition of ego coming to Los Angeles, to New York -- where ego in all its
manifestations is dark and chilling. And people loving all of these films
which are showing modest ego, diminution of ego.
a: But for his Holiness, he'd be happier frankly if he was being hunted
like a wild animal I've heard him say, in the mountains ,where he didn't have
to do any of this stuff for himself. But he's not about that, he's made
serious commitments to all of us ... so he goes through all this but he's not
only the Dalai Lama, meaning a religious teacher, he's also the head of a
government of six to seven million people and his job is to save them right
now. And I think he's incredibly astute and has learned enormous amount on how
to do this.
When he left the country Tibet, had nothing, they had no relationships, they
had no resources, they had nothing. And then since 1959 to be where they are
now still with no other governments helping them, with the kindness and
generosity of a few friends really which is growing as everyone trust it more
and more and feels that this is a -- this is actually a way you can live and
you can actually embrace these ideals and live with them.
q: You must have imagined the day when he returns to Lhasa?
a: Oh yeah I've had dreams about that. I had a very clear vivid waking
dream, in 1989 when his Holiness got the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo --
the whole day was extraordinary -- people who had been involved for a long time
came from all over the world and we were all in the hotel and his Holiness was
in his suite and we were all there and having dinners, meetings and
strategizing how we could use this and help the Tibetans more and his Holiness
gave his speech -- he received the Nobel Peace Prize and-- we all gathered that
afternoon outside of the, the place where it was given to his Holiness and dusk
was descending and spontaneously candles(?) showed up -- there may be a couple
of hundred people, there was a thousand people, maybe 1500, two thousand, three
thousand people. And the candles got lit. And light and people started
walking and just somehow it happened, we started moving through the city and
then we found ourselves singing a song in some kind of common language that was
transcendent and beautiful and true and all of our languages were one and our
hearts were one and we marched through the city singing this song in some
strange tongue and found ourselves in the square in front of his Holiness hotel
and we were below his window singing this song, whatever it was, I can't even
fathom what it was, something other worldly. And light out candles.
And his Holiness came to the window and he looked down and you should see the
look on his face, he was just astonished by the love and it was for him, in
appreciation for him. Who he is, who he represents his responsibility being
light. And he came down and came through the crowd and I think he hugged
almost everybody and as a matter of fact I found a photograph that had been
published in the paper the next day of me being hugged by his Holiness and it
was just one of those treasured things that you would never -- for a million
dollars you wouldn't give away. For a billion dollars you wouldn't give away.
And that moment from his hotel with his Holiness up there weeping at all the
love around him had very clear vision of him in the Potala in Lhasa and all of
us around him looking up at him and feeling the wondrous light of who he is,
who he represents, which is really connected to the we are. And you do
prostration to someone like the Dalai Lama, you're not prostrating to a man,
you're prostrating to the god inside of you, to the divine special thing that's
inside of you. And that -- and that's beyond ego beyond all that stuff.
q: Do you think it will happen?
a: Yeah I do. I think it may take time. My own sense is probably within
the next 20 or 30 years it will happen, maybe sooner. Maybe sooner. I think
China is changing so rapidly that it's a wild card.
q: Do you think the United States can help in some positive way?
a: I think monitoring helps a lot. I think just putting focus on Tibet --
we have to have our video camera -- I know it's important. The Chinese have
been very effective to keep all the video cameras out of Tibet. Journalists
are not allowed there. I'm not allowed there. I'm not even allowed in China.
The film that I've just completed, Red Corner, I was not allowed to go to
Tibet. We couldn't shoot there or to China, weren't allowed to shoot there and
obviously not to Tibet either. It's old style a country like China who wants
to be part of the world, wants to be taken seriously, you have to have the
confidence of opening your borders, opening your society to the video camera.
To being monitored, to being documented. And that will undoubtedly happen I
think probably sooner than later. Although you can feel the tension there.
You can feel the rigidity of letting go of how hard it is for them to let go
and ultimately as we all know that's about insecurity. You hold on when you're
frightened. It's not strength that makes you hold on. Strength goes of
course, there's nothing to fear here, there's nothing to hide. I only have
good intentions. And that's why everyone loves America....I think basically we
have good intentions, we welcome people. We welcome to be scrutinized and
that's our modern planet and China wants to be there, it's gonna have to just
let go of the white knuckles, just loosen up. That will have to happen and it
q: Now you are a well-known, wealthy successful handsome intelligent, I could
go on --
a: Go ahead ...
q: What has Tibetan Buddhism meant to you on top of all of these other great
a: The most important thing in my life was having met his Holiness. No
question. More important than any of the things you mentioned which may or may
not be true ... but there's no question in my mind or in my heart more truly
the most important thing that ever could happen to me and to -- especially I'm
proud of myself that I gave myself to it and I have given myself to it and
continue to which is not always easy.
a: It was difficult in the beginning. I was very happy to have my private
practice and not talk about any of this stuff. And be misconstrued as famous
people are always being misconstrued because it's more fun to misconstrue them
... so I would have been happier at that point just to keep this quiet but I
suppose it was part of my teaching and a part of my apprenticeship that I was
supposed to come out. And since I have I can see enormous amount of change in
me. Enormous. More than I ever would have thought. But when you're really
totally naked there's nothing left to lose. I find that speaking to the truth
in that same way. That it is effectively powerfully evident in his Holiness,
in the great Lamas and the wonderful Tibetans, and in the wonderful Americans
and everyone else. The more clothes you can take off the more you can present
yourself totally as you are and as you think and as you feel, the less
suffering there is. The process of me coming out has been very good for me.
q: Can you explain to me what it is like to meet the Dali Lama?
a: My meeting his Holiness would be very different from someone who wasn't
a Buddhist. I carry whole 'nother set of expectations and fears and anxieties
and needs than someone else would. I had all that going for me when I met his
Holiness the first time and I was nervous I had met great teachers before but
I had never met someone who had that kind of celebrity I suppose around them in
the spiritual field.
He's an utterly simple and approachable man and very effective. He doesn't
have much time -- everyone in the world is wanting him, wanting moments with
him, wanting to be zapped, wanted to be fixed and healed and have their moment
with I suppose the God inside of them, to rediscover themselves somehow, to be
He very quickly gets over that. He's found ways of cutting through that really
quick and making it human and direct and making the moment meaningful and
powerful and the time that you do spend with him is as I said utterly simple
and truthful and fun -- he's very funny and personable and easy but at the same
time when you leave there, you think about those moments for years and years
and years. Maybe because of the utter simplicity of it.
q: Pretentiousness --
a: Pretentiousness. It would be unacceptable, intolerable for yourself to
be that way with the Dalai Lama because here's a man who's totally naked,
totally truthful, so you find yourself just kind of giving up and being a kid,
giggling a lot and pig silly --
q: Which in many ways he is.
a: He is. He is. But he's that way from hard work. You got to understand
it's hard work. It wasn't below his birth. It's hard work that makes a high
Lama, a high Lama and they're not just born that way and he would much prefer
to be thought of as a man who'd done the work. And his heart and on his mind
and would see that as his gift, if he could inspire people to do the work on
themselves that other great teachers have done on themselves. The way Christ
did on himself I think you would consider himself to be a more successful