MY LUNCH WITH BUDDHA
by James Greenberg
KEANU-SQATSI: The road from surf boy to Buddha, says Reeves, is not so long as one would think.
It's not every day that one gets to have lunch with Buddha, even if he is only Keanu Reeves wrapped in sheets. Assembled on the set of Little Buddha in Nepal, a gaggle of international journalists wants to know the way to enlightenment - the same thing they always want to know from an actor. Displaying Buddha-like qualities of innocence and compassion for the afflicted, Reeves generously shares his wisdom.
"I'm acting," he assures us. "I had no exposure to Buddhism. All I knew about Buddha was that he was a smiling fat man with big ears."
Reeves admits that it was an audacious choice by Bertolucci to cast an American as Siddhartha. Even the crew sees the humor in it, referring to the production as Sid and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Says the Enlightened One, a bit defensively, "Surf-boy films are not all I've done."
It wasn't easy becoming Buddha. "You really try to have an emotive experience with the suffering of other sentient beings. That's a beginning," Reeves explains, cracking up at the heaviness of the thought. "I started to meditate and read about Buddhism and think about old age, suffering, and death."
Now he really spaces out. Something strikes him as so profoundly absurd or amusing in this performance that he rises in midsentence and circles the courtyard where the crew is dining. Just when I think he's totally flipped, he sits back down and continues where he left off, not missing a beat.
"It's terrifying for a westerner. My whole belief system. I'm not happy anymore in my appetites in a lot of ways I used to look forward to," he says. We furiously write down every word. "The kundalinis line up your back, you've had your breath altered, you've had openings in your lower cakras. For me, Buddhism breaks down the personality into the five skandha, the five aggregates. In meditation it really splinters up and..." Again, he comes to a halt, realizing he's left his audience behind in the dust. "Why am I telling you this?" he wonders. "Any questions?"