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

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.