When Bernardo Bertolucci was unsure about casting Chinese actor Ying Ruocheng to play a Tibetan monk in Little Buddha, he went right to the top. ''I was very anxious about it, so I spoke to Richard Gere, who is very close to the Dalai Lama,'' says the director. ''Gere asked him for me. A week later Richard called me and said, 'The Dalai Lama has given his blessing.' He said, 'Go with the Chinese actor. He's a good actor.''' Later, Bertolucci met with the Dalai Lama ''three times, and the last time I showed him the film. He was very happy with it.'' Any constructive criticism? ''He told me not to call the film Little Buddha. He told me, 'Buddah is not little, it is grand.'''