Culture — November 2, 2010
Robert Thurman: scholar, author and a tireless proponent of world peace
The first American to be ordained a Tibetan Monk by the Dali Lama, Robert A.F. Thurman is a scholar, author and tireless proponent of peace. In this brief TED lecture Thurman presents a simple summary of the basic principles of Buddhism, including reincarnation, extrasensory perception, selflessness, service, the futility of seeking for union, compassion, prior unity with all, the illusion of the mind, and generosity.
All of these principles are topics we like to consider here in the cafe with our viewers. Thurmond counters the common presumption of the grimness of the modern Buddhist practitioner by speaking about the crazy-wise nature of Gautama Buddha, and of the necessity for humor and non-identification even in the face of human suffering.
In 1987 Thurman created Tibet House, U.S. with Richard Gere and Philip Glass at the request of H.H.XIV Dalai Lama. Tibet House is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help preserve Tibetan Culture in exile. In 2001, a 320-acre (1.3 km2) retreat center (formerly the Pathwork Center) on Panther Mountain in Phoenicia, NY was donated to Tibet House. Thurman and Schlebrugge renamed the center Menla Mountain Retreat and Conference Center. Menla (the Tibetan name for the Medicine Buddha) is currently being developed into a state-of-the-art healing arts center grounded in the Tibetan Medical tradition in conjunction with other holistic paradigms.
Thurman summarizes the essence of the Buddhist teachings by pointing out how the act of self-giving is at the root of well-being as it is the giver who becomes happy first. Dr. Thurman is highly regarded for his lucid, dynamic translations and explanations of Buddhist religious and philosophical material, particularly that pertaining to the Gelukpa (dge-lugs-pa) school of Tibetan Buddhism and its founder, Je Tsongkhapa.
Interestingly, the Blue OK logo can be seen in traditional Buddhist iconography and sculpture. The Buddha is shown at times with his forearm raised and his hand shaped in the vitarka mudra. Or what we like to call, the Blue OK. This timeless hand gesture has been used in most recent times as a sign of good feeling and acceptance in many cultures throughout the world. -the Blue OK
Tibetan scholar Thurman paints a splendid portrait of the Dalai Lama and masterfully elucidates the 50-year-old conflict between Tibet and China in this timely analysis. The author presents an eloquent introduction to Buddhism and the Tibetan concept of the Dalai Lama before focusing on the current living embodiment of the Buddha - a man born as Tenzin Gyatso - the 14th Dalai Lama. Thurman sympathetically renders his lifelong friend as a simple Buddhist monk, a teacher, philosopher, scientist and the political representative of the Tibetan people, who has achieved renown for holding together a large refugee community and preserving its culture.