Robert Thurman is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, President of Tibet House US, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan civilization, and President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies. The New York Times recently hailed him as "the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism."
The first American to have been ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk and a personal friend of the Dalai Lama for over 40 years, Professor Thurman is a passionate advocate and spokesperson for the truth regarding the current Tibet-China situation and the human rights violations suffered by the Tibetan people under Chinese rule. His commitment to finding a peaceful, win-win solution for Tibet and China inspired him to write his latest book, Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet and the World, published in June of 2008.
Professor Thurman also translates important Tibetan and Sanskrit philosophical writings and lectures and writes on Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism; on Asian history, particularly the history of the monastic institution in the Asian civilization; and on critical philosophy, with a focus on the dialogue between the material and inner sciences of the world's religious traditions.
Question: What is your question?
Robert Thurman: Why am I not happy? What’s wrong… with the – with, with me, you know? Why should I not be happy? I’m a human being. This is I’m alive. Now, people who are in a starvation, famine, in Zemlya in some place, you know. Obviously that’s really difficult, although, we – the Red Cross gets there, somebody gets there soon, but some – for some it’s too late. So, obviously you can’t reach those people, and – with such a question, you ought to reach them with food before you expect them to think about anything, (cough) you know ‘cause they’re, but even – although strangely I think actually if you’re starving to death, you reach a kind of point where, you’re kind of high on the starvation and, you know of course if your children are going that’s really agonizing it’s terrible, it is terrible.
So I don’t mean to blatantly say you can you can just go with someone whose leg would just bone up or whatever, and to do that you have to help fix them up first, of course. But then once people are at a modicum, which most of the people are, you know four fifths of humanity are either have some sort of modicum, then that’s the question. And get them, and you – you ask them that question, and then you try to help them see the half full of the glass, or maybe the quarter full or the third full in some cases. Most – all too many cases nowadays I’m sad to say, you know. But that’s a question to ask them. And all of their traditions, and it – if there’s any tradition or religion that they have that tells them they’re supposed to not be happy, it’s a misunderstanding.
Like many Buddhists think, well Buddha says you’re going to suffer, so I’m supposed to suffer, that’s not correct. Buddha said that you will suffer if you persist in being stupid, if you persist in being ignorant and egotistical, you can’t easily overcome that by being more intelligent and more altruistic, and be more cheerful. And you don’t have to do it. And that was just a symptom – diagnosis of the symptom of ignorance it wasn’t like what you have to be.
On the contrary he said you can enjoy life like nirvana if you wake up. So, I think all the traditions kind of say that if you embrace Jesus, then you’ll be happy, if you dance with Krishna you’ll be happy if you venerate the prophet and surrender to the prophet you’ll be happy, you know they all do. Not just pie in the sky later, and there’s some bad priests and some bad institutions might say yeah, only when you get to heaven then you have to suffer and be my slave, those are misinterpretations.
Recorded on: June 1, 2007
Robert Thurman: Everybody has a Buddha in there and Buddhas have more fun.