“They are a civilization that cultivates generosity, gentleness, justice, wisdom, compassion, and creativity,” said Robert Thurman in a lecture about Tibet’s Buddhistic culture. “By consuming peaceful things, good teachings, and reducing coarseness, by choosing to live that way, they have shown that a country can make that choice.”
Thurman was the featured speaker of New Paltz’s fall 2013 Distinguished Speaker Series. The lecture, titled “Tibetan Culture as World Treasure: What It Is, How It Came to Be, What are Its Gifts Today,” drew an audience of roughly 465 individuals, filling Lecture Center Room 100 for the Nov. 4 event.
In an overview of Tibet that began with its “modernization” in the 17th century, Thurman addressed its practice of Buddhism, its relationship with China, and what lessons the United States could learn from its history. Referencing the current Dorsky Museum exhibition, “Anonymous: Contemporary Tibetan Art,” Thurman discussed individualism as it is understood and practiced in Eastern and Western cultures. Describing some of the central tenets of Buddhism, such as karma, ego, suffering, compassion, and enlightenment, he explained that Tibetan society was built around the practice of nurturing spiritual development.
He emphasized the importance of learning and actively building on and increasing knowledge in Tibetan culture. He presented a hopeful vision of the change this could initiate if similar priorities were adopted in the United States. As an example, he asked the audience to consider an American society in which half of our defense budget was reassigned to fund education.
Thurman is co-founder and president of the Tibet House in New York City, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and president of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies. An expert in Tibetan Buddhism and former Tibetan Buddhist monk, he was named by Time magazine as one of its 25 most influential Americans. He is the author of many books on Tibet, Buddhism, art, politics, and culture, including Circling the Sacred Mountain, Essential Tibetan Buddhism, and Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet, and the World.