Dalai Lama addressed crowd at ceremony Richard Gere attended.

Thousands upon thousands of Buddhists streamed into Bodh Gaya, a quiet village in India which was the birthplace of Buddhism, to take part in the “Kalachakra” ceremony. One among this sea of devotees was Hollywood’s favorite Buddhist, Richard Gere, and his girlfriend, Alejandra Silva.

Nearly 200,000 Buddhists had gathered at Bodh Gaya for the Kalachakra initiation which was conducted by the Dalai Lama himself. In addition to receiving spiritual blessings, the devotees had thronged to catch a glimpse of their spiritual leader as well. Of the 200,000, nearly 8,000 were foreigners, not counting the additional 2,000 from China and Hong Kong.

According to Richard Gere, he had been visiting Bodh Gaya ever since 1985, when a Buddhist friend of his, Khen Rinpoche, got ordained there that year. Gere, himself a practicing Buddhist, notes that the power of the Dalai Lama and the ceremony itself has increased over the years and that the number of devotees has swelled a lot.

Kalachakra is a very elaborate ritual where the participants are charged spiritually to attain enlightenment for the good of all beings. The Dalai Lama addressed the gathering saying the real blessing comes from opening up to the pains of others and being truly compassionate towards everyone. The ritual is attended by most of the important lamas of Buddhism, who together with chanting and blessing, also give sermons to the gathering.

Gere says that he takes all the vows that are required from the devotees during the event and he will strive to stick to them, although some can be particularly hard to keep.

Bodh Gaya is believed to be the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago. The Mahabodhi temple, which marks the exact spot of this event, even houses a descendant of the Bodhi tree under which the young Siddhartha transformed into the Buddha. As the cradle of Buddhism, this tiny village is one of the holiest sites for Buddhists.

Thousands of Buddhists from Tibet had to return to their homes without completing the ritual or getting a glimpse of the Dalai Lama, despite the arduous journey they made to the spot. Chinese authorities in Tibet had warned of severe consequences if they refused to return. Ever since Tibet came under China, Buddhists have been facing stiff opposition to religious practice and most of the devotees had to be smuggled into India.

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