Why are so many famous actors Buddhists? Here are a few: Brad Pitt, Richard Gere, Keanu Reeves, Uma Thurman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Tina Turner, Orlando Bloom, Goldie Hawn, Jennifer Lopez and director George Lucas. Why is that? Is it that actors are smarter and more discerning? Maybe. Maybe not.
Top actors tend to have special aptitudes. And it so happens that these aptitudes lend themselves well to the practice of Buddhism. Great actors have an exceptional ability to memorize lines quickly, via repetition. The practice of Buddhist meditation involves intensive, prolonged repetition of a mantra. Most people aren’t gifted at doing that, but great actors have that gift.
There is another special aptitude that great actors have…the ability to embark on a mind trip. Isn’t that what Leonardo DiCaprio did when he tried to be Howard Hughes? Or when Harrison Ford tried to be Indiana Jones? The capability of focusing one’s mind very tightly for long periods of time is rare. And yet, that is what is required to effectively practice Buddhist meditation.
How repetitive is Buddhist meditation? A common practice involves a mala, a necklace with 108 beads. One selects a mantra (a single word or phrase) and keeps repeating it, counting out one bead for every time the mantra is repeated. Once all 108 beads have been counted out, one kernel of rice is moved from a full bowl into an empty bowl….until all the kernels are transferred.
How many kernels of rice does it take to fill a bowl? Well, there are about 50 kernels in a tablespoon. A typical bowl might hold two cups of rice, or 32 tablespoons. So that’s 1,600 kernels of rice. Multiply that by 108. That’s 172,800 times the mantra is repeated. Do you get a sense of why not many people are capable of truly practicing Buddhist meditation? And most capable people aren’t willing.
So we see that what attracts many actors to Buddhism is also what makes it an unlikely religion for most people to practice. Few have the special gifts of rapid memorization or the ability to zone out through long, intensive, uninterrupted repetition of a mantra. And so, few people have the willingness to persevere toward enlightenment.
The paradox is that the religion that touts a high level of tolerance of other religions is also very narrow in terms of the very small percentage of people who are willing or able to practice it effectively.