Robert Thurman of Columbia University holds the first endowed chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in America. A co-founder and the president of Tibet House New York, an organization dedicated to preserving the endangered civilization of Tibet, he was the first Western Tibetan Buddhist monk and shares a close, 35-year friendship with the Dalai Lama. He is the author of the national bestseller Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness. In that book, Thurman presented his vision of a society of enlightened beings who take responsibility for ending the suffering of other beings and are supreme artists of life and agents of compassion.
In this new book, Thurman urges us to move beyond our narrow view that life is random and terminal and that we have a "fixed, unchanging, limited self that is totally separate from other beings." People can develop spiritual capacities that displace Western thought-traps of self-preoccupation, depression, and pride, and embrace the understanding of an "infinite" life with no beginning and no end. Tibetan Buddhism offers "a joyous science of the heart" which leads to transformation and daily experience that is "free, boundless, happy, and full of wisdom and natural purpose."
This tradition, the most popular form of Buddhism in America, spells out seven virtues for infinite living, and Thurman shows us how to practice them. Wisdom teaches us to take seriously our nature as selfless beings who are not limited or confined to mind, body, or this world. Generosity is expressed in giving material goods, bringing protection to the defenseless, or sharing the Dharma. It enables us to let go of all possessions and not to be enslaved to dissatisfaction. The practice of reaching out gives generosity its clout. Justice prevents harm, does good, and accomplishes the evolutionary aims of all beings. In a bold section on injustice, Thurman identifies some shadow elements of American culture before he discusses ways to work for global justice and extend compassion.
Patience is viewed by Tibetan Buddhism as the opposite of anger. Thurman, who admits to having an explosive temper, suggests that this demon must be tamed not only in our private lives but also in the public realm. He suggests taking baby steps in what Shantideva called "the patience of nonretaliation." Thurman includes several meditations designed to help people adjust their attitudes to anger-sparking events.
Creativity frees us from the bonds of self-loathing and despair. It is a source of limitless and joyful energy. Contemplation empowers us to "a new level of focus and serenity." The last chapter covers self-creation or the process of becoming a bodhisattva by embracing the truth that "we can only attain happiness when all beings attain happiness." And finally Thurman invites us to take Shantideva's Bodhisattva Vow after we have reflected upon deep meaning of each verse.
This is a watershed work in Robert Thurman's mission to bring to the West the amazing spiritual riches of Tibetan Buddhism. It is filled with a treasure trove of ethical practices and meditations that reveal the bounties of selflessness, interconnectedness to others, and a life filled with meaning. The author's winsome presentation of the evolutionary quality of lives underlines with some urgency how our actions have consequences not only in the present moment but extending through time to future generations. In a teaser near the start of this ambitious work, Thurman writes: "Stop taking for granted your inherited conventional reality. Question even your habitual instincts. Take the plunge into the ocean of boundless freedom. Discover the reality of infinite life." All those who take this plunge will be amply rewarded.