25. April 2012
Prof. Robert Thurman, a scholar, author, former Tibetan Buddhist monk, is a close personal friend of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, father of five children including the actress, Uma Thurman, and acclaimed Yoga expert Dechen Thurman, he is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. We met the man who the NY Times Magazine refers to as "The Dalai Lama's man in America”, during his recent visit in Berlin, where he held a seminar on the Tibetan Path to Enlightenment at the Jivamukti Yoga Center.
In a previous interview you mentioned that peace is to be found through inner joy and happiness. Do you think that people who merely have substituted aerobic lessons with Yoga lessons, will find answers to their problems without having any in-depth knowledge about the philosophy of Yoga?
I think so. Actually I am very liberal about that. Some people think that you can't do it unless you have a whole Asian world view. I think that even if you approach it only as athletics it still helps the body. People become more aware of themselves, hence they find their own inner potential. Asian psychology is more sophisticated than European psychology, it is thousands of years older but applies to people worldwide. So Yoga is one of this scientific disciplines from the East that helps the body and mind working together. It opens up the sensitivity of a person, they get more self-confident, they feel better and are less sick. So overall it is really really useful for your health.
Do you think people should be more conscientious with their bodies?
Absolutely! People might think it's naïve to say that we have to help save the world with inner peace. The Dalai Lama always says 'world peace through inner peace'. A hundred years ago the world was in a similar difficult situation. The communists were the worst. We got Stalin, we got Mao - we got all kinds of bad people creating wars and even harming their own citizens. The new revolution that we need now, that we are having now, is a feminist revolution, it's a happiness revolution. It's people being peaceful, being patient, dealing with things, not being so exclusively after only material goods and not really hating the upper people with the big money. But realizing they also are part of a system. When you are really poor and get more wealth you get more happy. But when you reach a certain point like middle class type level, the more you get then you don't get any happier. Therefore we need a new kind of wisdom revolution. And a kind of compassion revolution. That is what we need. This is India's great lesson: The overall Yoga of life: if you balance your inner being then you can deal with the outer world in a sensible way.
Do you share the opinion that Tibet's independence is of great benefit towards its neighboring countries like India, Burma and others? And if so, why is that?
Yes, I do. Tibet has always been independent. Nobody can live in Tibet who hasn't been born there. China's own scientists, along with a team of Finnish, Swiss and US scientists, discovered a gene that produces nitric oxide which makes the oxygen work at three miles altitude. The average altitude of the Tibetan plateau is 14.000 feet that is more than 3000 meters. If you live at sea level you can't live there. If China could occupy Tibet, or India for that matter, or any other country, they would have been there. Tibet is as big as all of Western Europe. Any attempt by the Chinese to colonize Tibet will fail, because they can not bring more air in there. The second reason is that all the headwaters of all the rivers of China, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand , India and Pakistan come from Tibet. If you ruin the environment of Tibet by cutting too many trees, by making a desert out of the step where the animals graze, if you try to built cities there, it melts the glaciers, it ruins the headwaters of the rivers. This is very dangerous because they have Monsoon cycles in Asian countries. In the dry seasons the glaciers are worn and if there's no melting glacier everyone dies, because there wouldn't be any water. Hence it is really dangerous to over-populate Tibet the way the Chinese are intending to. The Dalai Lama knows that the Chinese consider Tibet their own and that the Chinese people are wrongly educated by thinking they always had Tibet and that they have always been there - this is just not true, but they still think that. Hence he would except the same status as Hong-Kong, real autonomy. Which is actually guaranteed to them by the Chinese constitution. It is against the Chinese law, to smother a local population in a vast Chinese population. But they are still trying to do so. They can't afford it, they'll eventually give it up. They do it now because they have extra money. Only on the surface though. There are many poor people in China too and they should be spending the money on them. But instead they are spending it on having an empire. All the Dalai Lama wants is one country, two systems, local autonomy and then they'd be happy to participate in a Chinese federation. They should offer that to Taiwan too. So if they offered it Tibet then Taiwan would relax. Most of the people in Taiwan don't want to be swallowed by China. They want to invest in China but they want to have the communists control them.
Why do the Chinese fear a direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama?
Because they have bad Public Relations advice. They have some sort of 20th century Public Relations advice. 'If anybody says anything to you- crush them!' That's their advice.
Do you think that it will ever be possible to conduct a democratic dialogue with a communist dictatorship that not only fights the peace in Tibet or denies Tibet's right to exist but tortures and domineers over its own people?
Absolutely. Their dictatorship is very tenuous. Their own people are fed-up with it. Actually back in 1989 and the events on Tiananmen Square- that wasn't just Beijing it was everywhere in China. And the fact that they were able to turn back to dictatorship, unlike Russia, that is actually the fault of the West. Of Europe and America. The West made Russia change, up to a point, because the West refused to do business with Russia, unless they became more democratic. So Russia, with Jelzin and Gorbatschow tried to change.
Germany was ok, but America was bad. Dick Chaney that stupid idiot thought he could conquer the world, surround them with NATO and put them under pressure with Ukraine. So instead of investing huge in Russia they invested in China, who killed everybody and went back to dictatorship. And then China started doing business with everybody, which got them a lot of money. So now, how do we rekindle the economy and how do we rekindle the world? Everybody has to be happy. That's all.