I found out last night, in an entertaining evening at the War Memorial in San Francisco. It was a Recce conversation, sponsored by Geographic Expeditions, in which Don George interviewed Robert Thurman, to the extent that Thurman can be interviewed.

Bob Thurman is one of the world’s leading experts on Tibetan Buddhism, “the founder of Tibet House, the President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, and the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. He was the first American ordained as a Tibetan monk and Time magazine named him one of the 25 Most Influential People in America.” (GeoEx)

He hardly looks like a scholar. Thurman strode onto the Herbst Theater stage wearing tight black pants, a bright peach shirt with a contrasting blue ascot, and a large silver belt buckle, oval, with engraving. A shock of grey hair rose above the dark sunglasses that hid his eyes for the entire evening. He was excited about being in California.

“America’s number one Buddhist” (that’s what the New York Times calls Thurman) was talking about his latest book, Why the Dalai Lama Matters, in which he discusses his anger at the people who think HH the DL has a “cute” philosophy, but is out of touch with the real world. In fact, it is our demented world leaders—barely past 19th century imperialistic thinking, and still steeped in the 20th century superpower mindset—who are out of touch, Thurman argued. The 21st century is about negotiation, doing business together, interdependence. China and the US desperately need 21st century leaders. (The crowd agreed.)

Thurman doesn’t talk like a scholar, either. He used “genocide” as a verb. Several times. He likes happy endings. “In fact,” he says, “I insist on them. We are supposed to be afraid of happy endings, although you do have a little more license here in California than we do on the east coast.” (More info: HH the DL’s bestselling book, The Art of Happiness.)

Now I want to read Thurman’s Inner Revolution. Publisher comments: “Written with insight, enthusiasm, and impeccable scholarship, this is not only a practical primer on one of the world’s most fascinating traditions but a wide-ranging look at the course of our civilization — and how we can alter it for the better.”


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