If I had to give advice to Buddhist oriented Hollywood actors and directors like Jeff Bridges and Oliver Stone about Buddhism, specifically, what Buddhism is really about and what to expect, personally, I wouldn’t find it difficult. Trying to be honest and true to the Dharma, I would simply say that Buddhism strictly involves finding the transcendent within yourself which is undying, luminous—and most real. On the personal side, one has to spiritually penetrate through the rind of their psychophysical body in order to reach this undying, luminous substance.
Now, if I were a popular Western Buddhist teacher, I would not be interested in giving such honest advice because, frankly, in my heart of hearts, I don’t care about what the Buddha taught—not when it comes to the transcendent which is almost a taboo subject like UFOs, 9/11, and reincarnation. I only care about my own materialistic ideas about life using Buddhism as a cover.
In the presence of Mr. Bridges or Mr. Stone I would act pious in my robes and grin a lot. I might even say things like Eckhart Tolle, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have” or maybe throw out something from Joko Beck like, “Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for.” Mainly, I would hope these guys would be impressed with all of my shallow wisdom. I could sure use their endorsements to market my inane books about Buddhism which have nothing to do with Buddhism.
Being a celebrity is by no means easy especially when it comes to Buddhism. Like the average person, a celebrity is generally drawn to Buddhists who are great at marketing themselves; who sell lots of books but don’t have much to say about what the Buddha really taught (reading the Buddha’s discourses is required). The only difference between a celebrity and the average person—which is a significant difference—is the red carpet treatment.
This brings me to an important point. Celebrities can easily become victims of Buddhist ‘marketeers’ just like any ordinary non-celebrity person, both failing to realize that the contents of the package often have nothing to do with what the Buddha taught. Case in point, some popular books on Buddhism like Buddha’s Brain, by Hanson and Mendius, don’t even mention the word nirvana! And of course there is Stephen Batchelor’s book, Buddhism Without Beliefs, which only mentions nirvana twice in passing. If there is any consolation in this rather dismal picture, both celebrities and non-celebrities are equal; both can be taken to the cleaners. My advice as always: beware of popular Buddhism.