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Lions Roar : September 2018
A WHITE MARBLE STATUE of the Buddha, a crack across its smooth face and two fingers of its right hand missing thanks to an encounter with a candle years ago, presides over the fireplace in Robert and Nena Thurman’s charmingly Bohemian home in Woodstock, New York. The statue is special, Nena explains, because when the aforementioned candle toppled over, the statue did, too. And falling just so, so the story goes, it snuffed out the flame and saved their home, which is girded by visible wooden beams, from burning down. Robert points out another sacred statue in the living room—this one of Songtsen Gampo, the first Buddhist king of Tibet, depicted with a tiny second head on top of his own, to represent his guru. That was a gift from the Dalai Lama, who also happens to be a lifelong “buddy” of Robert’s and the man who in 1965 ordained him as the first American monk in the Tibetan tradition. Robert gave up monkhood two years later to marry Nena, but has remained close enough to His Holiness, as he often calls him, to joke with him when they’re together. The Dalai Lama once, for instance, referred to Robert as his “ogre,” which Robert explains is “kind of an in-joke among Tibetans about Westerners.” But Robert objected: “You don’t call me your ogre. You call me the king of the ogres!” To talk with Robert and Nena, who have been married for fifty-one years, is to hear many such stories. Particularly when it comes to the loquacious Robert, every knickknack, every thought, unlocks another thought, another story, each one as interesting, funny, or Buddha’s Champion Renowned activist and scholar Robert Thurman can translate sutras, joke with the Dalai Lama, and call in a favor from George Lucas. Retirement, says JENNIFER KEISHIN ARMSTRONG, won’t slow this man down. Friends and allies, Robert Thurman was twenty-three and the Dalai Lama was twenty-nine when they met. PHOTO BY A. JESSE JIRYU DAVIS LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2018 31