The A-List “Buddhists”

There are many Buddhists among contemporary celebrities.  Tiger Woods, Keanu Reeves, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman, Orlando Bloom, Kate Hudson, and Tina Turner to name a few.  It is difficult to gauge the intensity of their observation, practice, and devotion.  There are fascinating parallels and certain contradictions within these celebrities observation of the faith and the reasons for doing so.  Tiger Woods recently claimed a “re-dedication” to the faith following his latest sex scandal and setback within the PGA by reinvigorating his self-discipline, an act so widely publicized that the Dalai Lama, unaware of Wood’s Buddhist background, commented saying, “Self-descipline, religious or not, is a valuable aspect of life.”

Richard Gere is one of the most well known of Hollywood actors to follow the Buddhist faith.  He constantly speaks in support of human rights in Tibet and the importance of Buddhism.  He was questioned by the Dalai Lama about his emotions in acting.  Their first meeting even included a vital acting lesson for Gere: “‘So when you do this acting and you’re angry, are you really angry?’” Gere recalled His Holiness asking. “ ‘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.” (AP).

Tina Turner credits her trial with Buddhism as the catalyst that led her to finally leave Ike and his abuse saying that, “When I started practicing, something changed inside.” (AP)

These cases are all fascinating to learn of and study in relation to my SYE.  The purpose of my SYE is to examine Buddhism in western culture and to examine the commodification of Buddhism in the west.  However, in accordance with the Mahayana tradition, there is a Buddhist in all of us.  So how are these stories contradicting and peculiar?

Well there is no shame that Buddhist principles and beliefs have helped each of these celebrities in their lives.  In fact, most of them even follow these principles religiously and strictly.  However, it is the celebrity in their lives that provides the contradiction.  Their unique connection to fame, wealth, emotion, and material living is the contradiction I point to.  I, by no means, intend their choice and practice as a degradation to the Buddhist faith, but it is important to be aware of certain contradictions between their lifestyle choices and practice of Buddhism.  Those that practice Buddhism in other parts of the world, who follow the religion strictly, according to the principles of their schools, teachers, and faith, do no obtain celebrity status within their society.  Nor was Buddhism an outlet or means of achieving some sort of self-awareness or self-help.  Buddhism is not just a prescription that can be written to cure ailments in our lifestyle or moments of sadness.  Observance of its philosophies and traditions can certainly help anyone in their daily lives.  But to call these people Buddhist would be incorrect.  A complete devotion to the faith, teachings, and religion is what one would call a Buddhist.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with simply observing the philosophy and beliefs of Buddhist teachings.  Individual tenets and practices are meant for enlightenment and can therefore be of help in guiding people on a path of their choosing.  I personally believe that Buddhism can help any individual regardless of their religious faith.  However, to call one’s self a Buddhist is a different designation altogether.  The fact that we call these celebrities Buddhist calls into play the inherent contradiction of whether a celebrity can truly be a Buddhist.  In fact, by calling attention to their Buddhist lifestyles, these celebrities attract a consumer audience fascinated by the exoticism and “worldliness” of these celebrities’ lifestyle choices.  This in turn affects their name, brand, and fame.

In writing this post, I developed an interesting thought that poses some provocation of thought.  Is the Dalai Lama a celebrity? Is he a celebrity like that of these celebrities? Is this a contradiction to the Buddhist faith? I would like to know your thoughts on this and if you agree or disagree.  My personal belief is that, yes, the Dalai Lama is a celebrity. He has even been rumored to wear Gucci watches and other material goods. I don’t know the validity of these claims but I can comment on what I do know and what is certain.  I am neither a supporter of the Dalai Lama nor do I dislike him.  I believe that there is definite truth to his teachings and his lectures, but I do not necessarily agree with the consequences of his presence in certain worldly spheres.  However, as a third party, I believe that the Dalai Lama’s celebrity is not necessarily a contradiction in the way that it is with actors, singers, and other accumulators of consumer wealth. I believe his current mission is to the world, and therefore cannot adhere strictly to the detachment of worldly connections.  His presence in the west and affect on western culture is something that I will examine further in my later posts.

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