Robert A. F. Thurman,
Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Department of Religion, Columbia University; President, Tibet House U.S., President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies
Khyentse Professor and Chair, Dept. of South and Southeast Asian Studies, UC Berkeley
The Institute for South Asia Studies (ISAS) at UC Berkeley in collaboration with the Vedanta Society Berkeley (VSB) are proud to launch a new lecture series on religion in the modern world. Titled the ISAS-VSB Lectures on Religion in the Modern World, this series seeks to invite distinguished scholars of world religions to campus with the aim of improving and diversifying conversations about the role of religion in modern societies.
Our first lecture in this series will be delivered by Prof. Robert A. F. Thurman, a recognized worldwide authority on religion and spirituality, Asian history, world philosophy, Buddhist science, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, and H.H. Dalai Lama.
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, at 82 years of age is a distinguished scholar and author. He is the virtual headmaster and teacher in the large Buddhist monasteries that Tibetan exiles have re-constructed in India, serving many thousands of monks from among the exiles, from Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan, and Russia. As he has matured as a scholar, he has emphasized his debt to the great master scholar/sages of Nalanda Monastic University that flourished for at least 700 years in the Bihar province of India. During his studies as a youth, he memorized in toto key works by Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Shantideva, Maitreyanatha, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dharmakirti, and Gunaprabha. More recently, he wrote a poem eulogizing the "Seventeen Great Pandits of Nalanda," and he even commissioned and personally designed a set of larger than life statues of the Panditas on a parikrama circling the Golden Temple in Elista, capital of the Kalmykia Mongolian Republic of the Russian Federation. In his effort to create an "Abhidharma 2.0" he has instituted the teaching of modern materialist science in the large monasteries, so that the Buddhist "Inner Sciences" can more effectively collaborate with the modern "Outer Sciences." In short he considers himself and his Tibetan tradition as the heir and continuer of the academic tradition of ancient Nalanda University.
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 artistic and scientific treatises from the Tibetan Tengyur.
Time 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 Shakyamuni Buddha, 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 Buddhas 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, the Jewel Tree of Tibet, Why The Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet, and the World, and, most recently, with Sharon Salzberg, Love Your Enemies.
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 the first Westerner to be ordained by the Dalai Lama. However, some years later, he offered 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 Tenzin Tethong, Richard Gere, and Philip Glass. Since then Uma Thurman, Melissa Mathison Ford, Natalie Merchant, Leila Hadley Luce and many others served on 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 Buddhisms open reality, and thence takes us along with him 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. He always shares the sense of refuge in the Dharma, which unfailingly helps us clear away the shrouds of fear and confusion, sustains us with the cheerfulness of an enriched present, and opens a door to a path of realistic hope for a peaceful future.