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: Is the Dalai Lama one of your greatest inspirations?
Robert Thurman: Yeah, nowadays. Earlier he was a great friend, but he is too close a little bit to my age at an earlier time, so I don’t count him as one of my originating gurus so to speak, you know, his own teacher, and he doesn’t either, he recommended me to his teacher, who was my main teacher, he’s only six years older than me, but then, since the eighties, he’s become quite marvelous in his own right, and, since his teacher’s passed away and my teacher passed away, and slowly but surely he’s grown into what I consider a great inspiration yes, and really a wonderful, wonderful man. Question: Why do you think the Dalai Lama’s teachings have not been universally received?Robert Thurman: Well it’s tremendously popular. It isn’t that he’s un-received, he has a lot of bestsellers in Europe and here and Australia, and even in India, but, but it’s just that, you know, he’s kind of ahead of his time, or something like that, you know, like talks like he announces at the European Parliament five ten years ago that war is obsolete, and that people should give them up, and there should always be only dialogue, even in seemingly hopeless situations, and through dialogue everything can be worked out, he’s been saying that. And, they go, they nod, sagely, and everybody talks about how they’re going to make peace here and there and then nobody’s making peace, and nobody, and then people say, “Oh, he’s just idealistic, and well look the Chinese are not talking with him and so on, so, you know, as if he was, like, to take up guns, that wouldn’t do any good either, you know, like the Ghandis, they got rid of the Russians and they’ve been killing each other ever since. The, you know the guns are not working for anybody actually, nobody’s getting anywhere with guns, a few people are having short term gains, but in the long run they’re destroying themselves with violence, and so he is the person who leads a movement for liberation from oppression and invasion and colonialism, with nonviolence. And that should be paid attention to. Question: What role do you have in moving forward in this quest?Robert Thurman: Well I don’t have a very important role but, you know he’s really doing the job the best he can, but I try to help him be better heard really, basically I would say, and, somehow you know I guess I can be dismissed as just a hapless follower of him and – or as hopelessly idealistic, but I continue to make the argument, and, perhaps, when, when, when the people who are making profit, short term profit, out of war, and getting short term status and privilege and power out of war, when they realize that they are actually just destroying themselves and not making themselves happy thereby, then perhaps people will pay more attention. And, so then as soon as they pay attention and start to act, according to what they say they want, then we can easily solve all these problems on the world. The world doesn’t really have that many terrible problems if people would put their energy into solving them. I mean if you look at this country for example, we, I would, we were having a terrible time with our info structure, education system, health system, all these things, and we just threw away something like a trillion dollars on this stupid war that is complete loss and did not help anybody, and there had been complete moral outrage, in fact, slaughtering unnecessarily many many people, not only our own people but other people, and not helping at all, making the situation far worse, and none, no resources left over to go to or toward our real problems. If those trillion dollars had been on our real problems we’d be in a really good state right now in our society.
Recorded on: 6/1/07
Thurman talks about his friend and inspiration, the Dalai Lama.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.