In Hollywood, everyone takes the Dalai Lama very seriously -- except perhaps for the Dalai Lama himself.
The 14th reincarnated primate of Tibetan-style Buddhism -- as well as his scattered people's political leader -- comes pretty close to being the entertainment industry's unofficial spiritual guide. Even many of those with no inclination toward Buddhism have embraced the cause of regaining independence, or, at least, autonomy, for Tibet, which remains under Chinese rule.
For some time now, Chinese authorities have declined to resume talks on autonomy with the Dalai Lama, who gives talks and travels the world from the highlands of northern India, his home in exile. (How many monks have had their MIT lectures collected and published?) Now there's also a crackdown underway inside Tibet, where Buddhist schools are being closed and monks arrested. So some of Hollywood's leading human rights activists, including Harrison Ford and Mia Farrow -- are swinging into action, mounting an international campaign to solicit stars and others to sign a letter by the Dalai Lama's fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the heroic anti-apartheid Anglican cleric. (Hey, Nobel laureates stick together.)
Lucia Noyce of Artists for Amnesty, a branch of Amnesty International, is one of those spearheading the effort. She recently wrote in an e-mail message to supporters, "We are (specifically) looking for support within the entertainment community." Among those who've already added their names to Tutu's letter, according to Noyce, are New Age celebrity types Christy Turlington, Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jordan's star-quality queen, Noor. More celebrity names are expected to be added in the coming days. (For more information, check out the community.com.)
Tutu's letter has an attention-getting first sentence: "We the undersigned Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, human rights leaders and concerned individuals wish to express our concern at the current deterioration of the human rights situation in Tibet, and the apparent breakdown of the talks between the Chinese government and emissaries of His Holiness the Dalai Lama."
The archbishop and co-signers go on to declare, "To our dear friend His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we say: we stand with you. You define non-violence and compassion and goodness. Clearly China does not know you. It is our sincere hope that they will. We call on China's government to know His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as we and so many others have come to know him during the long decades he has spent in exile."
Tutu goes on to call on Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, to visit Tibet in the company of journalists free to report on conditions there.
"Finally," the letter concludes, "we ask that China stop naming, blaming and verbally abusing one whose life has been devoted to peace. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is not simply a holy man. He is recognized throughout the world as one of our few true moral authorities. He is a teacher who has shown us all how to live our lives with compassion, non-violence and love."
One of the most interesting aspects of Hollywood's embrace of the Tibetan leader is that about the only person who doesn't seem to treat the Dalai Lama with unbridled reverence is, well, the Dalai Lama.
Check out his website (of course he has one, www .dalailama.com -- and it's good): There he is smiling his trademark smile and in six of the 10 portraits in the photo gallery section, his eyes are twinkling and he is grinning from ear to ear. At public appearances here in Hollywood, his frequent laughter is a kind of delightful counterpoint to the obvious awe in which even major stars hold him.
On his website, the Dalai Lama says, "I always consider myself as a simple Buddhist monk. I feel that is the real me. I feel that the Dalai Lama as a temporal ruler is a man-made institution. As long as the people accept the Dalai Lama, they will accept me. But being a monk is something which belongs to me. No one can change that. Deep down inside, I always consider myself a monk, even in my dreams."
Not long ago, a group of high-wattage celebs gathered in a small room at Beverly Hills' Peninsula Hotel to welcome the Dalai Lama on a local visit. The room was filled with scarlet and saffron-robed monks and stars in designer clothes; the air was heavy with the scent of the peppermint tea the Tibetans were sipping.
As the Dalai Lama entered -- laughing, of course -- Sharon Stone stood to bow, repeatedly and deeply.
A few moments later she and chum Goldie Hawn -- both of whom described themselves as Buddhists -- were deep in conversation about whether they should shave their heads in the style of Tibetan nuns. Their conclusion? Maybe, but only in a warm climate.
Is it any wonder the Dalai Lama has a sense of humor?