Tapestry

Tapestry@25: renowned Buddhist Robert Thurman

Robert Thurman was the first Westerner to be ordained by the Dalai Lama. He no longer wears the robes but he has been a guide to Tibetan Buddhism for many people and has some fascinating views on how to live a spiritual life in this very hectic world.
Professor and author Robert Thurman during his visit to The Strand Bookstore on July 17, 2008 in New York City. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Originally aired in 2004.

He may have been educated by the Dalai Lama, but Robert Thurman sums up his slow-and-steady approach to Buddhism by pointing to his "favourite guru": actor Bill Murray.

"If you remember the film of his called What About Bob? Baby steps. You know, bit by bit, you progress. You don't pretend I'm going to be enlightened next week or even after three years or five years. You have to work at it bit by bit," Thurman explained.

"And the second big message to me is Groundhog Day. You have to keep at it, life after life, until you get it right. And it might be many lives. And yet that shouldn't discourage you or shouldn't make you feel well there's no point trying to do anything in this life. You do your best you can."

Fifty-five years ago, a young Thurman became the Dalai Lama's first Western student.

Though he eventually abandoned his robes, Thurman has spent his life writing about, teaching, and popularizing the Buddha's teachings. He teaches Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, he's the president of Tibet House U.S., and he's written extensively about Tibetan Buddhism.

Thurman's approach to the Buddha's teachings is at once fiercely smart, astute and funny. He spoke to Tapestry host Mary Hynes in 2004 after the publication of his book Infinite Life: 7 Virtues for Living Well. Their conversation remains a stand-out more than 15 years later.

(And yes, if the name is ringing a bell, he is actress Uma Thurman's father.)

Produced by Susan Mahoney and Marieke Meyer.

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