Jennifer beals: actress speaks on buddhism and the dalai lama

Jennifer Beals is well-known to many Americans as an acclaimed actress with a long list of film credits, including her starring role in the break-out hit, “Flashdance,” and her work with Denzel Washington in “Devil in a Blue Dress,” and her TV roles on “The ‘L’ Word,” “Lie to Me” and most recently, “The Chicago Code.” But Beals is also a practicing Buddhist, and has been involved with the upcoming visit to Chicago by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on July 17-18. Beals, 47, was born and raised in Chicago, and now resides with her family in Los Angeles. She spoke recently by phone to Pioneer Press.

Pioneer Press: What is your formal involvement with the upcoming visit by the Dalai Lama?

Jennifer Beals: I was the spokesperson, interfacing with the press to let people know he was coming. I was the person who was running through the streets going, “His Holiness is coming! His Holiness is coming!”

Pioneer Press: Are you a member of the Theosophical Society in America?

Beals: No, I met the president (of the Theosophical Society), Tim Boyd, when we did a television interview together and I’ve been to the Theosophical Society (center in Wheaton) a few times, played in their labyrinth, they have this amazing labyrinth, and a beautiful library there.

Pioneer Press: For the Dalai Lama visit, will you be present?

Beals: Absolutely.

Pioneer Press: At both of the events?

Beals: Yes, absolutely. I believe on the 17th I may speak.

Pioneer Press: Have you met or been in the presence of the Dalai Lama?

Beals: Yes. I haven’t met him, although I feel like I have met him personally, because he makes you feel that way when he’s in the room. And he’s also very funny.

Pioneer Press: How did you get into Buddhism?

Beals: I don’t remember exactly how it began. It was 14 years ago. Formal study would have been 10 years ago. It’s a very interesting thing. The Buddha doesn’t want you to take anything on faith, but to investigate it on your own, so it requires a lot of analytical thinking. So I started studying at a center, I had a teacher who was a (Buddhist) nun. Before that, I had enjoyed meditating in a group, and remember saying to a friend that I really enjoyed the meditation part of yoga class and wish I could find just a meditation class.

Pioneer Press: Was your family religious?

Beals: No, not at all, in fact I begged my mom to take me to Sunday school. She wouldn’t take me, she had grown up Catholic and (didn’t want that experience for me). Then I asked to go to temple school, but of course we weren’t Jewish. So I just read the Bible at night before I went to bed. And I found a catechism at the back of Silver Surfer magazine that I sent away for.

Pioneer Press: You attended the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago. How did your education there influence you?

Beals: Being a progressive school, we studied world religion early on, and I think every school should have that, so we don’t learn to discriminate, especially out of ignorance. Being in a progressive school was helpful, but you don’t need to be at a progressive school to understand such beliefs. I was just fortunate that it was progressive enough at that time that the curriculum taught world religions, and the need to embrace pluralism — that everyone has a voice to be heard, and that is part of humanity and democracy, and a good way for us to not end up hurting each other.

Pioneer Press: You grew up in Chicago, but do you have a connection to any of the suburban towns in Chicagoland?