Friday, May 2, 2008

Question of the Week - Dr. Robert Thurman

I had the honor and privilege this weekend to spend time with Professor Robert Thurman. Dr. Thurman is the Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, as well as the President of Tibet House. In town for several events at UBC, I had an exclusive interview with Professor Thurman about his new book, “Why the Dalai Lama Matters”.

Warm and engaging, Professor Thurman is one of my personal heroes. An excerpt of the interview will be posted shortly. . .

One of the things Professor Thurman spoke about was China’s characterization (really a mischaracterization) of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. He said that the Dalai Lama recently received an upgrade from being a “Wolf in Monk’s Robes” to a “Jackal in Monk’s Robes”. Of course, everyone knows that the Dalai Lama is person of Peace, similar to Ghandi or MLK or Kennedy, symbolizing the greatness of human potential and human spirit, that is present in all of us.

Its difficult for the His Holiness to respond to these baseless accusations. The whole situation with the Tibetan Uprising has placed Dharamsala in a very difficult position, with the Government-in-Exile taking most of the blame, but having little control over the protestors, or the Chinese response, or even the Chinese propaganda machine. In fact, the Chinese have been negotiating with the Dalai Lama’s representatives since 1995, but they still downplay his Holiness' importance.

With regard to a Global Civilization Matrix, Buddhism can indeed play an important role in our lives. As a model for Democracy, Peace, Understanding, and Compassion, Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy. That’s what the Dharma is - it is the “do” or the “Way” of life.

The other big thing to consider is that Buddhism is not the road to ‘Nothingness’. And ‘Nothingness’ is not the same as ‘Emptiness’. These terms are vastly different. Nothingness, is just that – nothing. While Emptiness means ‘To be free of’. So when we say, one of the goals of Buddhism is ‘Emptiness’, this means we want to be Empty of Hate, Empty of Fear, Empty of Envy, and Empty of Greed. Remember the Wheel of Life, and the three animal vices? Exactly.

The goal is to rid ourselves of the delusion of ignorance, the delusion of separation, to Empty our Prejudices, so there is no separation between the Object and the Observer. So, we realize, that ultimately, we are all One. Buddhism is not disintegration, but Unity. A Unity with the Cosmos . . .

Its hard when people say things about us that are untrue. But I think you should measure a person by their actions and their words. What do their friends and peers say about them? Does this person walk in a path of harmony with the planet? Do they live the Dharma? Are their actions beneficial to the sum of humanity? And lastly, of course everyone knows that the Dalai Lama isnt a Jackal. Especially the Chinese . . .

- O.

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