TURNING ON THE ENLIGHTMENT: The Dalai Lama gives filmmaker Rick Ray insights into tradition, mankind, the environment and hismedia savvy in ``10 Questions
TURNING ON THE ENLIGHTMENT: The Dalai Lama gives filmmaker Rick Ray insights into tradition, mankind, the environment and his media savvy in ``10 Questions for the Dalai Lama.''
RICK RAY did not plan on meeting his idol — and making a movie about their meeting — when he went to India in 2001 to do a travel documentary. But since he was already there, the Santa Barbara resident e-mailed the Dalai Lama, got through to his personal secretary and waited.

"It's karmic hell to have your e-mail go into the Dalai Lama's spam system," Ray, 47, says. He followed up, made phone calls, was OK'd for an interview three months later at the Dalai Lama's monastery in Dharamsala, India. The results are in "10 Questions for the Dalai Lama," which Ray wrote, directed, narrates and appears in.

The film opens today at the Shattuck in Berkeley, the Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. The Dalai Lama will be in San Francisco 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. today and Saturday at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St. Tickets are $100-$250 for both days. A Sunday show is sold out. Visit

www.billgrahamcivic.com.

Q: Is there anything you learned from your session that's still with you today?

A: I came away with two things. First, the message he communicated was, tell the truth, you have nothing to hide. Nobody has anything to hide if they tell the truth. That's a profound idea. It appeals to me greatly as a journalist. In my private life I was probably not as truthful as I could be and I changed that.

Q: And the second thing?

A: The other thing he said, one of the last he told me, and not on camera, was, "When you leave a room, don't forget: Turn out the lights.


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You will help the Earth a little bit each time." You know what — I can't walk out of a room now and leave the lights on; it's like he's still talking to me.

Q: Why only 10 questions?

A: His personal secretary said, No. 1, he liked to go on too long with his answers — on and on. ... Second, as a sort of aside, it doesn't matter how important or influential his guest is ... He does not see the questions in advance.

Q: How did you pick them?

A: I really did a lot of soul searching. I was in India, which is a great place to do any soul-searching. I e-mailed a lot of people I knew, friends, family, important influential people I knew. I asked them: If you had one question for the Dalai Lama, what would it be?

Q: What did they say?

A: I got answers that were thoughtful, stupid and silly, such as "What's the meaning of life?" Others wanted to ask him for Richard Gere's phone number. Others unexpectedly gave me really thoughtful, good questions. "How much should we be preserving tradition?" "How much should we be embracing this kind of one-world Roman Empire that America's kind of symbolic of today?"

Q: What was meeting the Dalai Lama like?

A: When he walks into a room, the presence you feel coming toward you, (it's) an awareness (that) radiates immediately. He hugged or shook hands of everyone, the cameraman, the lighting. He's so genial. Everyone's equal. It's in the film.

He is fully engaged with you: He's completely listening, responding in full to your questions. He's not a reluctant interview. In fact, just the opposite. So if you don't have something to bring to the table with him, if you quote off a pre-set agenda, he may be prone to ending things early.

After a while during our session, no one was counting. We were there about an hour, an hour and 10 minutes.

Q: Any glitches during the session?

A: We had a microphone fail just before we got started. His Holiness said, "No problem. I know how to fix it." Then there's the thing, how do you wire up a holy man in a robe? I don't know. ... He literally just grabbed (the mic). "Give me that," he says, then puts it on in about 21/2seconds and says, "Testing, testing, 1-2-3."

Q: Can you give an example of what you asked him?

A: Should cultures be working to preserve their traditions or putting them aside in order to modernize?

Most important to me: If you're truly a nonviolent person, then is there no time when you would use violence to defend yourself, your country ...? What about Hitler or the Khmer Rouge? What if someone was breaking into your house and about to kill your family; if you're nonviolent would you really just sit there? In essence, at what point do you make the decision to use force? His answer was very surprising. 

Q: What was it?

A: I don't want to explain. You have to see it. (When I suggested that wasn't a very enlightened answer, Ray said) no one has ever mistaken me for the Dalai Lama.

Q: Why shouldn't people wait for its October release on DVD?

A: I'm hoping that this film is seen by audiences in a theater and not on DVD. There's a feeling of community when we all sit in a theater together. The Dalai Lama told me there aren't many examples of Buddhist meditation in our public lives, but when we go to the theater, there is this aspect of it: Our breathing rate slows; there's a greater awareness in an audience than there would be alone; it's a public meditation.

Reach Barry Caine at bcaine@angnewspapers.com.