Dharamsala Dispatch 2: Interview with Robert Thurman: Why the Tibetan culture matters

by Eva Cirnu

DD2Anyone interested in Tibet has probably seen Robert Thurman in countless documentaries on Tibet or read his numerous books. In my case, these two mediums were already overwhelming (both in their wide span and in their depth)… so I never thought a third one was possible: a meeting with Robert Thurman himself!

Dr. Thurman was in Dharamsala last week, attending the 26th edition of the ‘Mind and Life Conference’. The event is a unique cross-cultural exchange platform for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, prominent Tibetan Buddhist scholars, as well as researchers and thinkers from all over the world.

As the first American monk of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and long-time Tibet scholar, Dr. Thurman was one of the main event guests. He has studied Tibetan Buddhism with the Dalai Lama himself, and became close friends. At the Dalai Lama’s request, Thurman has created Tibet House U.S., with Richard Gere and Philip Glass: it is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help preserve Tibetan culture in exile.

And that is what brought me to my question: ’Why does the Tibetan culture matter for the rest of the world?’ Cultures disappear every year, languages die, art pieces, stories and songs are lost forever. In the face of the cultural genocide carried on by the Chinese Communist Party, the Tibetan culture is in great danger of being lost as well. And yet, beyond the beauty of the Tibetan arts, the depth of its religion, the richness of its traditions, the Tibetan culture holds another, very important key to the very survival of humanity.

‘The Tibetan culture is a jewel’, an example ‘of what a demilitarized nation can be like’, and of ‘how people can be happy without armies’, Thurman believes.

‘Buddhism tends to demilitarize a culture. There is a pattern in history: when monasteries become powerful in a country, militarism declines. Men have a better quality of life, being more non-violent, meditating, finding inner bliss’, he continues. ‘The example of a culture that persisted, was glorious and had a lot of beauty, literature, art, and educated, peaceful people, happy people, without military (…) that’s Tibet’s contribution to the world’, he concludes.

Dr.Thurman’s vision of a future Tibet is an optimistic one. Through dialog, non-violent means, and by following the Middle-Way Approach, the Tibetan people and their culture would be able not only to survive, but thrive once again on the roof of the world, in harmony with their Chinese neighbors.

Read more on Robert Thurman and his book ‘Why the Dalai Lama matters’: http://dalailamamatters.com/

‘Dharamsala Dispatch’ is a series of notes from in and around Dharamsala, covering the Tibetan artistic and cultural scene through reports and interviews with prominent Tibetans involved in community events.

Dharamsala Dispatch is written by Eva Cirnu, Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section.

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