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: Where is China today?
Robert Thurman: Actually I love China, I’m very fond of China, the Chinese, in respect to my thing about Tibet, I also studied Chinese for a couple of years, I did a little bit blab, I was doing pretty good with the girls in the, you know, that tutor you at Harvard in Chinese class, when I was learning it, and I learning the writing system which is very difficult for us with alphabet – used an alphabet. And, read some classical Chinese and got – and really liked Confucius and so on. So I admire the Chinese civilization in its classical form quite a lot, I don’t like Mao and I feel that Marxism was a disease on China and ruined them as badly as it did other places. And, and I’m very sad for the Chinese people that they’ve had this terrible government imposed on them, that for so long, that has ruined their environment, destroyed for a while their family system, it really messed them up, you know, and it destroyed their spirituality, in a certain way, and, I wish they would wake up from this long nightmare that they’ve been in for like eight – sixty seventy years now. And, I think they will soon, actually, I think they are waking up it. And I think that people over-hype the extraordinary growth, 60% of the trade deficit that goes out to China for example, the hundreds of billions of dollars, is actually earned by American companies who manufacture things in China. Actually our corporations are ripping us off, like we think the money’s going out to China but it’s actually going to them and to their off-shore holdings ‘cause – a lot of them have their main offices in the Netherlands Antilles, or Trinidad or some other place, and it is – it isn’t in the US, even though they pretend they’re a US company. And, so the Chinese are not getting that much cash out of it actually, but, they are getting quite a bit, and, they still have this left over empty shell of a communist party, but this – which has become a total dictatorship. And, that is holding the Chinese people back, actually, and, it’s causing Tibet to be suffered for example and these – these ridiculous people in the politur or something, but – but I really like the Chinese and I think they will wake up on their own, and I think we will realize that the sort of super growth of China is kind of heightened, they have to put all that they’ve earned into repairing their destroyed environment, the Yellow River is dry 400 miles before the sea, they have a plan to reroute the Bava Butra, but I think India and Bangladesh will take exception to that, I don’t think they’ll do that. India is a kind of another kind of miracle too so you’ve got – and they’re trying to impress India of course because they know India is you’s rival, India and its people are much more on the intellect level, Information Age, technology stuff than the Chinese less labor, you know, cheap labor. So, Chinese thing is over hyped, and China is in a bad grip of, of old – old fashioned system the way we are, actually.
Recorded on: 6/1/07
Robert Thurman: Everybody has a Buddha in there and Buddhas have more fun.