Reincarnation: Film stars set style of worship

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The Independent Online
Conspicuous among the watching foreigners were the actors Richard Gere and Steven Seagal. The two actors demonstrate the contrasting ways in which Westerners can take to Buddhism. Gere, hunched and lawyerly, almost invisible among the crowd in a maroon blouson, has been a Buddhist since he was 20 and a disciple of the Dalai Lama for 15 years.

He has played vigorous part in the campaign to publicise China's brutal policy towards Tibet and while in Nepal last week he visited a Tibetan refugee camp. His demeanour in the monastery was modest and unassuming.

Steven Seagal's is a different kind of piety. The action star of Under Siege, On Deadly Ground and Hard To Kill has long been a student of Japanese Buddhism, but several years ago he started getting into Tibet, too.

Last year, the martial arts hunk was declared to be the reincarnation of a great lama. Accordingly, he showed up for last week's ceremony with his 6ft 4in frame draped in a monk's robe. The elevation of the "ballistic mystic", as Esquire magazine has called him, shocked and divided Buddhists around the world. Some were inclined to indulge him, claiming he is a devout Buddhist.

Others were less happy. A senior foreign monk said: "People here thought his teacher could have said, `keep quiet and do your practice', but instead Seagal made quite a thing about it. The point is that being anointed that way means he has potential; it doesn't mean he can teach.

"The mistake on his part will be to start saying `I'm a guru'. In my opinion his behaviour is mixed up with a lot of ego business."