The Wisdom Podcast

Robert Thurman: A Life in Buddhism

Robert Thurman 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.

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Elsie Walker: The Dalai Lama and the Presidents Bush

Dalai Lama President Bush

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast we hear a story of Buddhism and American politics: how Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush met the Dalai Lama, as told by President Bush Sr.’s cousin Elsie Walker.

Elsie begins with the story of how she got involved with Tibet House and then reached out to her cousin, President George H. W. Bush, to tell him how she wanted to support the Tibetan people. She then tells us how President George H. W. Bush became the first U.S. president to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We hear about the President’s spiritual side, the great pressure on the U.S. government to avoid contact with His Holiness, and how at the last minute Elsie managed to arrange a meeting in April 1991.

Elsie describes the President and the Dalai Lama’s meeting in detail, and also shares how she herself met the Dalai Lama and what they discussed. She then tells how she arranged the meeting between the Dalai Lama and President George W. Bush.

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Stephen Batchelor: After Buddhism

Stephen Batchelor: After Buddhism

This Wisdom Podcast episode features Stephen Batchelor, renowned Buddhist author, teacher, and proponent of secular Buddhism. Batchelor tells us of his coming of age in the 1960s counterculture—listening to bands like Pink Floyd, reading Herman Hesse and Alan Watts, and being inspired to visit India, traveling there overland from France in 1972.

He then shares how he began studying Buddhism at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, in the presence of the Dalai Lama and Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, and living amongst Tibetan refuges. We hear what the Buddhist scene was like for Western “seekers” in India and Nepal in the early 1970s, and Batchelor’s experience practicing with Geshe Rabten. Batchelor describes his experience as a monastic and how he reached a point of crisis in his Tibetan Buddhist training when it came to believing certain fundamental doctrines.

He then tells us how he learned vipassana meditation from S.N. Goenka and began developing his own view of Buddhism, also inspired by Aristotle’s concept of flourishing. Next we hear how he practiced as a Zen monk in South Korea for three years, and what he found uniquely helpful in the Zen tradition. Batchelor and host Daniel Aitken also discuss classical Greek philosophy in tandem with Buddhism philosophy, analyzing several interesting parallels. Batchelor then shares his thoughts on secular Buddhism: defining the word “secular,” the social responsibility that secular Buddhism implies, and his vision of what secular Buddhism has to offer the world.

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Deborah Schoeberlein David: The Meaning of Living Mindfully

Deborah Schoeberlein David

In this new episode of the Wisdom Podcast, our host and associate publisher Daniel Aitken interviews mindfulness author Deborah Schoeberlein David. They begin by discussing how her new book Living Mindfully came to be, and go on to the importance of understanding mindfulness deeply as it becomes increasingly popular. Deborah reflects on the difference between mindfulness and meditation in modern terms, how to have a more meaningful experience of mindfulness, and the debate around what mindfulness is. She brings up the importance of morality in mindfulness and shares what she thinks it actually means to be mindful in everyday life–for example, when going to the movies. Deborah then tells us about the experience of being with her father during his death in summer 2015, how her practice helped her during that time, and how the experience was both “extraordinarily painful and absolutely fine.” We hear how her father’s death was a profound teaching for her. Finally, we learn how to have a flexible, resilient, useful mindfulness practice; Deborah’s take on what mindful parenting really means; and the danger of trying to “force” mindfulness on children.

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Jeffrey Hopkins: The Life of a Buddhist Scholar

Jeffrey Hopkins

Jeffrey Hopkins was translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 1979 to 1989 and Professor of Tibetan Studies at University of Virginia, and has published more than forty books.

Jeffrey started meditating while at Harvard and then, inspired by Thoreau and W. Somerset Maugham, spent time in a cabin in the woods in Vermont. He describes this and other adventures as a young man where he discovered the power of the meditative experience, including a wild ocean voyage through the South Pacific. We hear how he developed various meditative practices without any formal knowledge of Buddhism and how he first encountered Buddhism directly when he met Geshe Wangyal. Jeffrey shares amusing and heartening stories about life with Geshe Wangyal and Geshe Sopa in Madison, Wisconsin, and how these two great teachers inspired him to begin delving into the intellectual exercise of Buddhist philosophy and guided him in his study and practice. He then tells of his many private conversations with the Dalai Lama about the books they created together, and how he was one of the first westerners to receive initiation from the Dalai Lama. We also hear about how Jeffrey began translating for the Dalai Lama, and how working with the Dalai Lama has influenced Jeffrey’s thinking and translation. Additionally, our host Daniel Aitken asks Jeffrey to share his thoughts on the definition of emptiness, and the challenging experience and practice of having Lyme Disease.


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