Robert Thurman is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, President of Tibet House US, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan civilization, and past President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies. The New York Times recently hailed him as "the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism."
The first American to be ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk and a personal friend of the Dalai Lama for over 40 years, Professor Thurman is a passionate advocate and spokesperson for the truth regarding the current Tibet-China situation and the human rights violations suffered by the Tibetan people under Chinese rule. His commitment to finding a peaceful, win-win solution for Tibet and China inspired him to write his latest book, Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet and the World, published in June of 2008.
Professor Thurman also translates important Tibetan and Sanskrit philosophical writings and lectures and writes on Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism; on Asian history, particularly the history of the monastic institution in the Asian civilization; and on critical philosophy, with a focus on the dialogue between the material and inner sciences of the world's religious traditions.
Professor Thurman's scholarly and popular writings focus on the "inner revolution" that individuals and societies successfully negotiate when they achieve enlightenment. He defines this inner revolution as accurate insight into the true nature of reality and determined compassion for the suffering beings. He also works toward what he terms a "Second Renaissance," which he sees currently taking place as Western culture goes beyond the 14th century European discovery of the natural sciences of the ancient Greeks that catalyzed the "first renaissance" to discover and apply in practice the advanced "inner science" of ancient Indian culture.
Popularizing the Buddha's teachings is just one of Thurman's creative talents. He is a riveting speaker and an author of many books on Tibet, Buddhism, art, politics and culture, including Circling the Sacred Mountain, Essential Tibetan Buddhism, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, Infinite Life: Seven Virtues for Living Well, Inner Revolution, The Jewel Tree of Tibet and, most recently, Why the Dalai Lama Matters. He is credited with being at the forefront of making Tibetan art accessible and understandable in the West and, with distinguished art historians, he collaborated in curating several important traveling exhibitions, including "Wisdom and Compassion," "Mandala," and "Worlds of Transformation," which set a standard in the art world.
Thurman's work and insights are grounded in more than 35 years of serious academic scholarship. He has a B.A., A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard and has studied in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in India and the United States. A long-time advocate of Buddhist monasticism, Thurman was ordained in 1962. He gave up his robes after several years, however, when he discovered he could be most effective in the American equivalent of the monastery, the university. He is a popular professor at Columbia, where he holds the Jey Tsong Khapa chair in Indo-Tibetan Studies.
Thurman’s knowledge of Tibetan history and culture is often sought by policy makers. He has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Additionally, a plan he authored, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 1998 as an op-ed piece entitled "Freeing Tibet Is in China’s Interest" is regarded by many as a practical plausible blueprint for peacefully ending the human rights violations and cultural destruction in Tibet and was the foundation for” Why the Dalai Lama Matters”.