#404. What Is Nirvana? | Robert Thurman
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If you want to make change in a world filled with all sorts of horrors and obstacles, does it help or hurt to stay cheerful while you go about your business? Robert Thurman argues passionately in favor of cheerfulness, although he will admit to still being miserable in his own way. This is an expansive conversation that covers everything from: what is nirvana to the Buddhist Four Noble Truths to why the Buddha was a scientist.
Robert Thurman is a legend. As a young Harvard student, he got into an accident and lost the use of one of his eyes. He dropped out and went on a spiritual quest that brought him to India, where he became the first Westerner to be ordained as a monk by the Dalai Lama, with whom he remains close friends. Thurman later disrobed, got married, and had a bunch of kids, including the movie star Uma Thurman. He also became an academic. He was a Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University until December 2020 and is the President of the Tibet House U.S., a non-profit in New York City dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan civilization. He and his wife, Nena, also run an affiliated center, called the Menla Retreat, which is north of New York City.
Bob just turned 80, but he is very busy. He has a new book called Wisdom is Bliss: Four Friendly Fun Facts That Can Change Your Life. He also writes a regular newsletter for Substack and hosts The Bob Thurman Podcast.
This is a wide-ranging interview with a fast-moving mind that talks about: bliss-void-indivisible, why we feel unsafe when we’re happy, and why Robert was happy to lose his eye. Robert also offers his frank reflections on the promise and limits of the dharma from someone who has been practicing and studying for sixty years. If you don’t understand every reference, try to let it wash over you because the net effect is pleasantly head-spinning.
Check out the Dalai Lama’s talk – “The Ultimate Source of Happiness,” which is free for everyone in the Ten Percent Happier app.
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