Robert Thurman: A Life in Buddhism
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken interviews Robert Thurman, renowned scholar of Buddhism and friend of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In this rich conversation, we first find out why Robert originally dropped out of Harvard as a senior and went to India, and how Geshe Wangyal brought him to the Dalai Lama, who took on Thurman as a student. Robert was ordained by the Dalai Lama, but we hear why he never followed the path to becoming a geshe. He eventually returned to the U.S., disrobed, and met his wife-to-be Nena.
Robert shares how he came to become a professor of Buddhism and also talks about Geshe Wangyal’s clairvoyance in guiding his (Thurman’s) major life choices. We also hear his thoughts on secular Buddhism and mindfulness and his recommendations to those who have just discovered mindfulness on what they should explore next.
Robert then tells us his first impressions of the Dalai Lama (when His Holiness was just 29 years old) and his view on whether Buddhists are atheists. He reflects on the state of Buddhism today in the U.S., what he considers his main life work to be.
Robert and Daniel’s conversation covers much more, including some of the revolutionary ways that certain scientists are talking about religious and spiritual experiences and how to find a genuine teacher, and what to do when a teacher turns out to be corrupt.
Robert Thurman with His Holiness the Dalai Lama
A young Robert Thurman, still in robes
What is the subtle relationship between mind and body? What can today’s scientists learn about this relationship from masters of Buddhist thought? Is it possible that by combining Western and Eastern approaches, we can reach a new understanding of the nature of the mind, the human potential for growth, the possibilities for mental and physical health?
MindScience explores these and other questions as it documents the beginning of a historic dialogue between modern science and Buddhism. The Harvard Mind Science Symposium brought together the Dalai Lama and authorities from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, and education. Here, they examine myriad questions concerning the nature of the mind and its relationship to the body.
Robert Thurman holds the Jey Tsong Khapa Chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. After education at Philips Exeter and Harvard, he studied Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism for almost thirty years as a personal student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He has written both scholarly and popular books, and has lectured widely all over the world. As President of the American Institute for Buddhist Studies, he convened the First Inner Science Conference with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Amherst College in 1984. He is also a founding trustee of Tibet House New York.