Lecture focuses on Buddhism, Tibet

by Neha Jaganathan, The Daily Bruin, November 6, 2007

Berkeley, CA (USA) -- The center for Buddhist Studies held its third and final event in an initiative to establish a permanent endowed chair in Tibetan Buddhist studies on Monday.

<< Robert Thurman, an ordained American Tibetan Buddhist monk, spoke Monday.

Robert Thurman, the president of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, presented a lecture on the importance of Tibet in Buddhist studies.

“These events demonstrate that there is activity,” said Elizabeth Leicester, program representative from the Asia Institute. “We are making the program visible and hoping to draw attention from the community.”

The initiative to gain an endowed chair began last April and is headed by Professor Robert Buswell, director of the Center for Buddhist Studies.

Buswell said the lack of an endowed chair is a major gap in the Buddhist studies program.

UCLA currently has the largest Buddhist studies program outside of Asia, with 500 students enrolling in courses in Buddhism every year.

“One thing a chair would do is ensure that there is always coverage of Tibet in Buddhism on campus from this point forward. Tibet has a lot to offer not only in our understanding of Asia, but also in world culture, science, religion and at large, I think,” Buswell said.

Thurman’s lecture, titled “The Gifts of the Tibetans: Sparking New Directions in the Arts and Sciences,” fit with Buswell’s message.

Time magazine named Thurman as one of the 25 most influential Americans, and he was ordained by the Dalai Lama as the first American Tibetan Buddhist monk. He is currently a professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University.

Thurman’s lecture began with a general discussion of Buddhism and its role in academia.

Thurman said he believes Buddhism is more than a religion because, for him, it is about achieving wisdom, as opposed to following a prescribed doctrine.

Thurman then went on to discuss the role of Buddhism in university settings. He said that Buddhism should be incorporated into multiple departments, since disciplines such as philosophy and psychology have principles that overlap with Buddhist ones. Thurman added that both Buddhists and scientists are ultimately on a search for reality.

Thurman’s lecture also touched on the role of Buddhist principles in the modern world. He said that most individuals today maintain detrimental prejudices and post-modern chauvinism contrary to Buddhist ideology.

“Intellectually, we look down on people from the past and from other cultures,” he said.

The lecture concluded with Thurman’s discussion of the importance of Tibet in the overall study of Buddhism. He emphasized that Tibet remains a foundation of all forms of Buddhism because of the prominent role the religion has played there.

“Tibet is what will reinforce all the other kinds of Buddhist studies and all the other kinds of Buddhist traditions,” he said.

The talk concluded with Thurman urging the audience to support the initiative to create an endowed chair.

“There is a lot of interest among students as well as among faculty members. There isn’t anyone we can attract to the program without having an endowed chair,” said Susan McClary, a professor of musicology.

Leicester said the Center for Buddhist Studies is hoping to get one to three large donors to raise the $1 million necessary to establish an endowed chair.