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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 63 beings are capable of understanding themselves and their world, and only by doing so will they become happy. Which is their aim, the aim of all living beings, to be happy, and you can only be- come truly, reliably happy by understanding your world. “That’s a shocking discovery, actually. And in the end the Bud- dha may be wrong, but we can’t be sure unless we become a bud- dha ourselves. But that’s what he discovered and announced.” And that’s what Thurman is announcing, in his own unique way. In two recent conversations—in Toronto and New York—he talked about Buddhism as an agent of individual and social trans- formation, about the meaning of true individualism as the key to the path to enlightenment and a response to the false individual- ism of American cultural mythology, about reincarnation, about his thoughts on theistic religion and its fundamentalist believers and proselytizers (Thurman would have some of them prosecuted for human rights violations), about dropping out of George Bush’s America, and about his vision for a Tibetan medicine center. He addressed criticisms that Buddhism is being adulterated for trendy Western consumption, stripped of its spirituality, and turned into mere humanism and a me-first focus on winning enlightenment only for the self. Buddhism, said Thurman, is perfectly applicable and adapt- able to Western culture. “It can be delivered anywhere, and has been historically. It went to China, it went to Japan, it went to vastly different cultures from India. It kept developing wherever it went and it changes at any one place where it stays because people’s needs change.” Quite rightly, he said, it is called humanism, “maybe the first true humanism,” but it is not secular humanism “with its dogma that only matter exists—no soul, no spirit, and the mind reduced to a bunch of neurons so they can give you Prozac and other sophisti- cated drugs because your whole consciousness is nothing but some neurotransmitter.” Far from being a me-first philosophy, Buddhism is a moral and ethical force for social activism, he said, because it teaches an awareness of the world from everyone else’s perspective— “a unique evolutionary opportunity to become awakened to this truly different way of being aware to the world.” And with David Henry Thoreau’s words echoing in the background, Thurman said the teachings of Buddhism advocate civil dis- obedience for Americans when the rules of their society are counter to the ethical development of their beings. ROBERT THURMAN GREW UP in a household of WASP privilege. His mother, Elizabeth Farrar, dropped out of college to pursue an acting career. His father, Beverley, left his doctoral