A Welcome from Bob Thurman

Dear Friends,

For more than the past half century, I have been learning from many teachers, while also serving as a teacher to undergraduate and graduate students of philosophy and religion, as well as serving people seeking understanding and practice in spiritual settings outside the academy. I have shared with them teachings that have proved helpful in my life’s journey, especially teachings which have come from my long experience with Theravada and Mahayana teachings descended from the Shakyamuni Buddha. I have also found and shared a lot of valuable insights and practices sourced from other Eastern traditions, Western philosophies and sciences, and from Western esoteric traditions.

During this long teaching career, I have often been asked by people, “How can I find a spiritual teacher?” “What should I study?” “even “I have a problem which the usual doctors and teachers have been unable to help me with; what alternatives are there?”

To the academic students of whatever level, I never recommend specific spiritual teachers, but share with them a “rule of thumb.” Study a lot from books and also meet lots of teachers, but politely part from anyone who tells you he or she has everything you need and urges you not to consult with anyone else.

To the spiritual students, on the other hand, I may recommend a teacher but my main focus would be to urge them to learn a lot through broad study, no matter with whatever teacher or teachers they may engage in specific practices. I have observed there is a tendency today to think that learning becomes unnecessary when one has a teacher, that one just has to follow the teacher’s advice and just meditate. In fact, in most traditions, experiential wisdom is the true door to liberation, and there are three types of wisdom—born of learning, born of critical reflection based on that learning, and only thirdly wisdom born of meditative realization based on both.

In this setting, I am delighted to welcome you to TheLifeSite on the world wide web. In the parts of The Site I am responsible for, I and my colleagues will finally able to introduce seekers to responsible and capable servants of their quests. Of course, we do not pretend to be omniscient ourselves, so we may not always succeed in steering you to the very best persons, studies, opportunities for you. There are undoubtedly may excellent teachers and teachings we may not find right away, and there may be some avenues we may cease to recommend upon further investigation—final judgment is still the seeker’s responsibility. But we have made our best effort to assure you of the highest quality of everything we direct you toward.

A while back, in a conference setting, I came up with a principle I would like to leave you with. Religions and spiritual traditions are “service industries,” they were founded by great beings who sought to serve other sentient beings to the best of their abilities, and their succeeding ministers and teachers must carry on as servants of succeeding generations of students and disciples. When they become institutions and their authorities come to think that they own their followers and must expand their numbers, they betray their founding purpose. So as you bravely set out on or continue with your quest for life’s meaning and best fulfillments, do not be afraid to expect the best service of teachers and companions, do not accept domination from anyone, and while you may yourself wish gratefully to offer service and devotion yourself sometimes, always remember that the best reward of a good teacher is for the student to realize the teaching, and express that realization in benevolence toward others.

Welcome to TheLifeSite! And best of luck in your joyful journey toward the meaningful, the truly blissful, and even the miraculous!

Robert A. F Thurman

JeyTSong Khapa Pofessor of Buddhist Studies, Columbia University
Author on Buddhism, 50 Year friend and student of H. H. Dalai Lama

Prayer From a Young Soldier

Author: By Laurence Eldred, Chelan, Washington

It sounded like the world was exploding, but something, someone, led him to safety.
Okinawa. A shiver passed through me when we were told it was there our troop transport was headed. The men in my 713th Tank Flamethrowers Battalion stared at one another.

The island was the last stepping stone prior to invading the Japanese mainland. We knew it was going to be bloody. I was a 21-year-old Army private. I had no expectation of coming out alive.

We entered Nakagusuku Bay—later called Buckner Bay in honor of our commanding general, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.—late morning in early April 1945. Almost immediately the Japanese opened fire.

I was below deck with the rest of my battalion when the battle-stations siren sounded. This is it, I thought. Above, we could hear the whine of a squadron of approaching Japanese Zeros, the long-range fighter planes flown by kamikaze crews.

We were part of a convoy. There were several other troop transports —I can’t remember how many—as well as a destroyer, a cruiser and a hospital ship. There was no mistaking why the hospital ship was there.

And then our ship’s twin, 90-mm antiaircraft guns opened fire. So did the guns on every other US ship. The noise, the power—I’d never heard anything like it. Never had imagined anything like it. It sounded like the world was exploding.

I had to see this for myself. Maybe to take some control over my fate. The other guys thought I was crazy. “You’ll get yourself killed,” one said. He might have been right. But I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t stay below deck a moment longer. Protect me, Lord, I prayed, and headed for the companionway stairs.

I climbed to the deck and made my way just beneath those big guns. The sailors who manned them fired at the Zeros with everything they had. There must have been two dozen planes bearing down on the ship like hungry raptors.

The sailors kept firing and firing. The planes kept boring in, no more than 100 feet off the ground.

One plane burst into flames, then pinwheeled into the sea. Then another. And another. Artillerymen on the other ships opened fire too. Plane after plane fell from the sky.

Me, I stood there, transfixed. It’s like a duck hunt, I thought. Just like when my older brother and I would head out to the river near our house and take aim at a covey of ducks passing over us.

For some strange reason, I wasn’t afraid. Till one Zero cut through all the artillery fire and aimed straight at us. It’s going to hit us, I thought. It’s going to destroy the ship.

The artillerymen didn’t flinch. They did the job they were expected to do. I stood there unable to move.

Then I felt something. Something that set me in motion. Two hands, gently but urgently pressing on my back. They pushed me toward the companionway ladder that led below deck. Who’s that? I wondered, and swiveled my head around.

No one was there.

I paused at the top of the companionway ladder. Again, the two hands. Now they were pushing me down the ladder, as fast as I could go.

I reached the lower deck and stopped, wondering how I had gotten there and why. That’s when I heard the boom. A boom that rattled the ship, that exploded in my ears. I shook my head, trying to clear the concussive sound. Alarms were going off everywhere. Sailors raced past me to their posts.

I remained where I was, not that I had any choice. I was too shaken to move. I kept waiting to feel the ship start sinking. But after a few tense minutes, I realized we were okay.

I waited a few more minutes, then climbed back up the companionway ladder to the deck. What struck me was the silence. I couldn’t figure what was missing. Then I turned to where the sailors had stood, firing the twin, 90-mm antiaircraft guns.

The men were gone. Out in the water, halfway between our ship and the hospital ship, a Japanese Zero was rapidly sinking. Only its tail section remained afloat.

I blinked, trying to put it all together. A soldier from my unit tapped me on the shoulder. “Man,” he said, “were you ever lucky. If you had stayed on deck, you would have been blown to bits.”

A shiver ran through me. I’d been protected. Why, I didn’t know. But how was with two powerful hands.

Author: By Laurence Eldred, Chelan, Washington

Bob Thurman

Robert A.F. Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, President of the Tibet House U.S., a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan civilization, and President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, a non-profit affiliated with the Center for Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and dedicated to the publication of translations of important texts from the Tibetan Tengyur.

standingBobTime chose Professor Thurman as one of its 25 most influential Americans in 1997, describing him as a “larger than life scholar-activist destined to convey the Dharma, the precious teachings of Siddhartha, from Asia to America.” The New York Times recently said Thurman “is considered the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism.”

Thurman is known as a talented popularizer of the Buddha’s teachings. He is a riveting speaker and an author of many books on Tibet, Buddhism, art, politics and culture, including The Central Philosophy of Tibet, Circling the Sacred Mountain, Essential Tibetan Buddhism, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, Worlds of Transformation, Inner Revolution, Infinite Life, and, most recently, Why The Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet, and the World.

His own search for enlightenment began while he was a student at Harvard. After an accident in which he lost the use of an eye, Thurman left school on a spiritual quest throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia . He found his way to India, where he first saw H.H. the Dalai Lama in 1962. After learning Tibetan and studying Buddhism he decided to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk and was ordained by H.H. the Dalai Lama, the first Westerner to earn that distinction. However, some years later, he gave up his robes when “he discovered he could be more effective in the American equivalent of the monastery: the university”. He returned to Harvard to finish his PhD. A very popular professor, students call his classes “life-changing”.

As part of his long-term commitment to the Tibetan cause, at the request of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Thurman co-founded Tibet House US in 1987 with Richard Gere, Philip Glass. Since then Uma Thurman, Melissa Mathison Ford, Natalie Merchant, Leila Hadley Luce and others have joined the board. Tibet House US is a non profit organization in New York City dedicated to the preservation and renaissance of Tibetan civilization. It maintains a lively museum and cultural center, and offers programs in all aspects of the Tibetan arts and sciences. It recently founded the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in the Catskill Mountains to advance the healing arts and wisdom of Tibetan and Asian medicine traditions and offer their resources to the growing demand for alternative and complementary health practices.

Inspired by his good friend the Dalai Lama, Thurman stands on Buddhism’s open ground, but thence takes us unfailingly into an expanded vision of the world, whether the sweep of history, the subtleties of the inner science of the psyche, or the wonders of the life of the heart, helps us to clear away shrouds of fear and confusion, and leaves us with the cheerfulness of an enriched present and the realistic hope for a peaceful future.

Do Guardian Angels Really Exist?

Investigating Our Invisible Companions

Author: Jay Schadler and Harry Phillips via Nightline

In the moment of mayhem or in an instant of exquisite fear, people often report being comforted by an invisible companion, what some call a “guardian angel.”

But who is the guardian angel?

John Geiger is an internationally known explorer and author who has been investigating this phenomenon for years and said it remains a great mystery.

“The stories are always similar — that there’s a sense of another being, a presence very vividly,” Geiger said. “There is never any fear or panic when this being appears. There is just a sense of calm, peace and a sense of benevolence, a sense that there’s something good there, something that will help them.”

There have been numerous reports of this vivid presence.

Stephanie Schwabe, 54, of Charleston, S.C., was cave diving for a research project in the Bahamas when she lost her safety line.

“I suddenly realized I was in trouble,” she said. “My heart rate, I could hear it bouncing in my eyes, and I just kind of sat down on the [cave] floor and cried.”

Schwabe’s husband and diving partner, Rob Palmer, had died in a diving accident in the Red Sea only weeks before. Now, alone, she was facing her own dark death.

“Suddenly, the whole cave brightened up,” she said.

Schwabe said that into that watery world floated the words of her late husband: “Believe you can, believe you can’t; either way, you are right.”

“And then I calmed down and then I suddenly looked around and I saw what I thought was a white thread,” she said. “It was kind of like he was there for me, in a way — in an emotional way.”

So what was going on there? Geiger said he doesn’t think people like Schwabe are having hallucinations, but instead are experiencing a “very concrete survival mechanism” that is part of human heritage. In a life- threatening crisis, Geiger believes, our minds experience both the terror of the moment and the peace of perspective.

“The brain is able to sort of stand back from that, and sort of rise above that and rationally help this person get through that,” he said. “The guardian angel is us.”

Angles MiraclesIn extreme cases, our subconscious companion appears to take the form of a physical or spiritual entity.

Rose Benvenuto, 71, of Poughquag, N.Y., said she saw hers at the scene of a terrible car wreck.

“Only my guardian angel could have saved me from such an accident,” she said.

She believes that the proof lies in a photograph, seen by millions on the Internet, that she said shows the guardian angel who helped her escape from a near-fatal car accident. But Geiger disagreed.

“When I see a picture like that, I’m skeptical,” he said. “I really think the basis of this is neurological. … I do think this is something our brain is creating.”

Yet voices, he said, like the one Schwabe said she heard, seem to be almost commonplace.

“They will always say they heard a voice,” Geiger said. “I’ll say, ‘Was it audible? Would other people have heard it?’ [They’ll say,] ‘No, no, but I heard a voice,’ so there is a communication that’s happening inside them.”

Sometimes, the communication isn’t with sound but with images.

A few weeks ago, Marty Hodges, 46, of Kalamazoo, Mich., took his two teenage boys skiing in Colorado. The wide-open spaces seemed perfect for a man who suffers from extreme claustrophobia, but then an avalanche happened.

“When I was hit by the snow and I was immediately turned inside out in this complete blackness, I was sure I was going to die,” Hodges said.

“It’s really fast,” added his son, Jordan. “I saw it just coming towards me and I couldn’t do anything and, finally, my goggles ripped off. Then I had snow coming down my throat and I couldn’t breathe for 15 seconds.”

But instead of being paralyzed by his claustrophobia, Marty’s mind delivered an even more chilling vision and a reason to fight his way free.

“I could see myself literally at Denver International Airport, out on the tarmac, watching my son, watching him going in an old-fashioned pine box being slid into the back of a 757,” he said. “I could see it very clearly.

Driven by the haunting image, Hodges battled through the snow and was able to search for and then reunite with his sons.

In the end, all of these cases remind us that it can be a very rough universe out there. To survive it, a little help from our guardian angels just might be essential.

“Humans are very resilient creatures,” Geiger said. “I think that the basis of that resilience, in part, is this capacity, this sense that we are not alone.”

From ABC News