How to Live Forever Right Now

Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman invites everyone -- no matter what your religion -- to awaken to 'infinite life.'

BY: Interview by Lisa Schneider

 
Robert Thurman was personally ordained by the Dalai Lama in 1965, making him the first Westerner to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He still holds the first endowed chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, at Columbia University. Author of the international bestseller "Inner Revolution," he is co-founder and president of Tibet House U.S., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture. Thurman's latest book is "Infinite Life."

You've been called the "Buddhist Billy Graham" and a "Dharma-thumping evangelist." What do you think the people who refer to you this way are getting at?

I am not an evangelist in the sense that I'm trying to get people to be Buddhist. But I believe every liberal academic -- not liberal in the sense of liberal vs. conservative, but in the sense of liberal arts -- is an evangelist for wisdom. Is an evangelist for decency and compassion and ethics. Wants to educate people to live a better life and to be better persons, to be more kind, more wise, more intelligent, and to understand the world better.

Buddhism means awakening, so I am an evangelist for awakening. I agree with the Dalai Lama that it doesn't mean becoming a Buddhist; it means becoming an awakened Christian, an awakened Jew, an awakened Muslim, an awakened Secularist Humanist. But awakened meaning understanding what's going on, being kind to others, which is a source of your own happiness after all. I don't mind being accused of being an evangelist for wanting to help people awaken to that.

The Buddha's first noble truth is "life is suffering." How do we overcome suffering?

The Buddha was referring to the suffering of unenlightened living, which means the suffering of self-centeredness and disconnection from others, shutting yourself off in a world of narcissistic self involvement.

The minute you awaken to the cause of suffering, which is your self-preoccupation and your self-misperception, your ignorance, then you'll begin to have a happy time. And the more you awaken to your interconnection with others, the more free of suffering you'll become.

The whole Buddhist path has to do with altruism and loving your neighbor, just as Christianity does. Christianity doesn't mean I love Jesus and he will save me and Jesus will love my neighbor. Christ says, You love your neighbor.

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