Partying on a Higher Plane of Awareness

By Marissa Newhall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007

Ah, the sweet satisfaction of Being Right.

That might be what Richard Gere felt last night at the Gold Medal Gala sponsored by the International Campaign for Tibet. While the actor basked in the warm, fuzzy glow of the Dalai Lama -- the latest recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal -- no one would have begrudged Gere a hint of "told you so."

But the celebuddhist was ever so modest, keeping his opening remarks brief and declining to talk right after the Dalai Lama's 20-minute speech.

"I'm supposed to be speaking now but there's no way I'm following that," Gere effused from the podium in the Mellon Auditorium. Then he asked everyone to eat their dinners -- lacquered salmon salad and herb-and-spice tenderloin -- and quietly returned to his seat.

With the Dalai Lama's visit to Washington this week, Gere's 30-year quest to raise awareness about Tibet certainly seems validated. He wasn't just a crazy Hollywood activist, after all. Or maybe he is just a crazy Hollywood activist, but one whose time has come.

Because, it turns out, Americans love Buddhists. Buddhists are peace-loving and politically active. And they're a topical salve for the politically troubled: Laura Bush had her say about the recent oppression of Buddhist monks in Burma, and President Bush had no qualms about appearing publicly on Wednesday with the Dalai Lama, despite the Chinese government's protestations.

The gala was billed as the week's party, a celebration of the Dalai Lama's new award, and wasn't short on love. But the Mellon, awash in deep blue, gold and purple lights, was much more a solemn temple than a lively dance hall.

The 500 guests -- among them California Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Tom Lantos -- listened quietly as three choirs and a soloist performed a song Marvin Hamlisch (on piano) wrote after meeting the Dalai Lama 18 years ago. Martin Scorsese followed, introducing a clip of his film "Kundun" ("It's been 10 years since 'Kundun' was released in theaters. Same day as 'Titanic,' actually. A spectrum," he mused cheekily).

But when His Holiness took the stage the real reverence began. In unison, 500 chairs squeaked across the floor as everyone rose to give a standing ovation to the spiritual polestar.

"The last few days, all day, talks, talks, talks," he said with a small smile, rearranging his robes and scratching his forehead. "Now, I think it's time for rest."

He extolled the benefits of religious harmony, described the difficulties of Tibet's present relationship with China and explained how material possessions are not as important as they seem (somehow, it is that part of his speech that is punctuated by no fewer than two ringing cellphones).

Afterward, he bade good night and made his exit. As he made his way through the ever-silent crowd, he spotted some people he recognized and reached toward them, laughing.

And there it was: bottled enlightenment, released. The laugh is pure warmth and joy, filled with the happiness of a child and the wisdom of a guru. He laughs like that because he knows a lot of things we don't.

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