Richard Gere turns to AIDS issue

Richard Gere turns to AIDS issue August 9, 2004


Last month, at the 15th Aids conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Richard Gere told reporters that Aids is a more important issue to him than Tibet. While he said that he still sees the Tibet issue as very important to him, Aids, he said, is the biggest single threat to the planet.

Gere’s words and actions are to be commended, not condemned. Many of us have our hearts so firmly planted in Tibet that it is hard to see the myriad of issues plagueing humanity today. It is also very difficult, for pragmatic purposes, to spend our energy on more than one or two major world issues. But Richard Gere’s ability to address the Aids issue with an open heart reveals the deep commitment to overcoming suffering for all which is central to all Buddhism.

Gere’s words also show his strength and depth of practice. His statement opens him to criticism from Buddhists, particularly Tibetan refugees, many who have seen imprisonment, torture, rape, and murder at the hands of the invading PLA (People’s Liberation Army). He could be accused of turning his back on Tibet, or at least of turning the attention of sympathetic Americans away from Tibet, toward his new favorite cause.

Such accusations and criticisms, however, only reveal the accuser’s narrow attachment and inability to see these enormous global issues. The list of global issues causing suffering in humans, animals, and the environment is seemingly unending, with Tibet certainly not at the top (but how could we truly measure suffering!).Remember Ruwanda, and now Sudan?Ecuador and Iraq? Haiti and Indonesia?Again, pragmatism demands that we work at what we can, allowing that suffering which is beyond our control.

With such a list of global issues, we as Buddhists must commend those good hearts who turn their attention toward the alleviation of human suffering, in whatever form it may come.If any one of us were to open our heart to all of the suffering in the world without extraordinary practice and strength, the result would only be paralysis.If Richard Gere is capable of opening his heart to an issue as powerful as Aids and summoning the strength and creativity to actually act toward alleviating suffering amongst its victims, then all of us must give him our heart-felt support.

And if that giving of support means that some of us divert our energies from the Tibet issue to fight Aids, then all the better.One major and to some extent valid criticism of Buddhist has been our narrow focus on “Buddhist issues” while failing to focus on the greater issues of the world.By reaching out to another great issue, Gere has shown the world that Buddhists are capable of seeing beyond the suffering of Tibet and beyond the general human condition.

It is an example other Buddhists ought to contemplate following. Looking beyond strictly Buddhist issues is indeed difficult and time and energy consuming. But such giving is essential to deepening Buddhist practice, breaking down our clinging, and creating good karma (or simply good habits) that will reward both ourselves and our society.

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