by Steve Ryfle
How can you tell if your favorite star is on the path to Nirvana? No, don't look for them in the "grunge" section at your local used CD store. Instead, check the meditation temples in the trendy neighborhoods in and around Hollywood and you might find a few of showbiz's biggest names chanting, sitting on the floor in that funny position, and spiritually de-stressing.
Buddhism is one of the oldest religions on the planet, originating about 500 B.C. in India. It's also one of the most prevalent, with an estimated 350 million followers worldwide, most of them in the Asian world. In that part of the globe, Buddha and his teachings, his spiritual solace, his vegetarianism and healthy lifestyle are old hat; in Hollywood, where some people still view it as progressive and exotic, Buddhism is emerging as the latest theology of the hip and famous.
Last year it was the Kabbalah, and before that it was Scientology. In 2005, some stars are looking for a little good karma. Just ask "Beyond the Sea" and "Blue Crush" star Kate Bosworth, who is dabbling in Buddhism with the help of her bodhisatva boyfriend, avowed Buddhist Orlando Bloom.
Bosworth has described her new faith as "... just a really incredible state of mind. It's just a beautiful place to try and be at. It's basically about constantly growing and making yourself a better person and focusing on what you want for yourself and the world and really putting it out there. It's amazing."
Bloom's conversion to Buddhism made a few headlines in December, when he participated in a commitment ceremony, signifying his entry into the Buddhist faith. The "Lord of the Rings" star was among about 60 devotees taking part in the rite at the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist centre in Britain. Soka Gakkai has been called a "cult" and a "controversial sect" by certain detractors, leading a few gossip columnists to wonder whether Bloom is practicing some sort of fringe faith. Thus far, Legolas has not spoken out about his spiritual path.
Bosworth and Bloom are just the latest celebrities to seek out guidance from the gurus and ancient wisdom of Buddhism. Richard Gere, a Buddhist since his twenties, has hung out with the Dalai Lama and testified before Congress on the plight of Buddhists in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Gere is a co-founder of Tibet House in New York, which promotes Tibetan and Buddhist art and culture. Action star Steven Seagal was named a "tulku" (reincarnated lama and sacred vessel) back in 1997 by the Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Adam "MCA" Yauch of the Beastie Boys is yet another high profile Buddhist (remember the Tibetan Freedom Concert organized by the Beasties eight years ago?).
And it's not just celebrities who are fascinated by Buddhism, but the Hollywood machine. In recent years, Tinseltown has given us Martin Scorsese's "Kundun" (the story of the Dalai Lama under Chinese oppression), "Seven Years in Tibet" (with Brad Pitt as a mountain climber who befriends the Dalai Lama) and "Little Buddha" (with Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha, the ancient Indian prince credited with birthing Buddhism).
Of course, planet Earth is populated by billions of people practicing thousands of religions. A handful of western celebs practicing an eastern faith isn't really all that unusual, but celebrity religions get almost as much ink as celebrity diets, hookups, breakups and other tabloid fare.
If not everyone knew what a traditional, conservative Catholic Mel Gibson was before "The Passion of the Christ," they know it now. Gibson rejects many liberal reforms by the Vatican, and he's erecting a church near his home in Malibu, where mass will be held strictly in Latin. Reality-TV diva Jessica Simpson, daughter of a Baptist preacher, started her career as a Christian pop singer and proclaimed herself a virgin until her 2002 marriage to Nick Lachey. Michael Jackson and Prince have declared themselves Jehovah's Witnesses.
More recently, Madonna and Demi Moore, among others, have expressed their devotion to the Kabbalah, a recent faith fad. Teen queen Lindsay Lohan recently declared her interest in Jewish mysticism, saying, "I did start to look into the whole Kabbalah thing a while ago, just because my mom was like: 'Maybe you should try it.'"
And then there are the Hollywood Scientologists, like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Lisa Marie Presley, Jenna Elfman and Kirstie Alley, who pop up occasionally in the news because of their devotion to a faith widely considered a cult and subjected to scrutiny in the press.
But that won't deter new converts like Bosworth, who says she is "focusing on positivity" and cleansing her body as well as her soul. "It's amazing what you can cure through, like, I don't know, herbal remedies," Bosworth was quoted as saying. "When you first go in to see a nutritionist, like, you find everything wrong with you... But it's really amazing."