It's Up to You to Change Your Destiny
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: From where do you draw your inspiration?
Robert Thurman: But where I do draw my inspiration is from whatever I can glean about the nature of the world, you know, Buddha was a person who, confronted reality actually, according to our understanding of what Buddha was, he was not a prophet who was commissioned by a God to go out and proclaim that everybody should believe in that God so that they’d then – because that God could then save them. Buddha talked to the God and the Gods said, look, we can’t really help, we - we’re very powerful and we help some people in some ways, but we can’t change people’s evolutionary destinies, it’s up to them, and so Buddha taught people that they – if they confront themselves and reality they can understand themselves and reality and when they do, they will be inspired, they will be cheered up, because reality itself is a source of nourishment, it’s a source of health, it’s a source of joy, if you really know it. All the misery and all the unsatisfactoriness and all the dissatisfaction comes from being caught in different kinds of illusions, and trying to manipulate the world to sort of fit with whatever your illusion is, and fit it into your illusion, and to that of course the world doesn’t react to well, and you can’t do that, and so then you get sick or you die or you suffer and then you – you’re frustrated. So my inspiration actually comes from, and I don’t claim to be enlightened, but I have had a little better exposure to reality by developing a little more sharp critical mindedness, and focused mindedness, and by doing that I see the world I think more realistically than I did, and by seeing it that way I get inspired and by – and I get cheered up and by being inspired and cheered up I’d like to see other people inspired and cheered up. But the problem is you can’t just inspire them and cheer them up by telling them to believe in something like a religious thing, you have to encourage them, and that’s why teaching is a great privilege and a wonderful thing to do, because by teaching you – in the true sense, it doesn’t mean indoctrinating and it doesn’t mean sort of brainwashing in this sort of thing. Truly teaching means bringing out people’s own intelligence and letting them suddenly feel their own critical mind that they could see through the delusions that they are – that are foisted upon them by their culture and by you know, the media and by all sorts of things, and that is a real thrill that someone said wow, understand something new and has like a profound either aesthetic or philosophical experience, and it’s a real joy to see that happen in someone, really is, so that’s what, that’s where my inspiration comes from is trying to be more aware of reality really. We know foolish people say ignorance is bliss, but it’s the opposite, ignorance is suffering, and, wisdom is bliss, you know, meaning realistic knowledge of the world is bliss.
Recorded on: 6/1/07
Columbia Professor, Robert Thurman explains some of the teachings of Buddha.
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