Robert Thurman is an American Buddhist author and academic who has written, edited, and translated several books on Tibetan Buddhism. He was the Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, before retiring in June 2019. He held the first endowed chair in Buddhist Studies in the West. After education at Philips Exeter and Harvard, he studied Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism for almost thirty years as a personal student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He has written both scholarly and popular books, and has lectured widely all over the world. As President of the American Institute for Buddhist Studies, he convened the First Inner Science Conference with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Amherst College in 1984. He is also a founding trustee of Tibet House New York.
Books, Courses & Podcasts
What is the subtle relationship between mind and body? What can today’s scientists learn about this relationship from masters of Buddhist thought? Is it possible that by combining Western and Eastern approaches, we can reach a new understanding of the nature of the mind, the human potential for growth, the possibilities for mental and physical health?
MindScience explores these and other questions as it documents the beginning of a historic dialogue between modern science and Buddhism. The Harvard Mind Science Symposium brought together the Dalai Lama and authorities from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, and education. Here, they examine myriad questions concerning the nature of the mind and its relationship to the body.
The Life and Teachings of Tsongkhapa
A must-read for students of Tibetan Buddhism, The Life and Teachings of Tsongkhapa provides a thorough exploration of the great teacher’s wisdom.
In The Life and Teachings of Tsongkhapa, you’ll discover Tsongkhapa’s teachings on:
transcendental aspects of sutra, tantra, and insight meditation,
mystic conversations with great bodhisattvas,
deeply spiritual songs in praise of Manjushri and Maitreya,
and much more.
The anthology concludes with a number of intensely moving songs in praise of Tsongkhapa and his immeasurable contribution to Tibetan Buddhism by such realized and remarkable Tibetan Buddhists as the Seventh Dalai Lama, the Eighth Karmapa, Dulnagpa Palden, and Khaydrup Je.
This edition has been substantially corrected by Robert Thurman and contains a new introduction and a bibliography of all the works referenced in the text.
Brilliantly Illuminating Lamp of the Five Stages
The Brilliantly Illuminating Lamp of the Five Stages (rim lnga rab tu gsal ba’i sgron me) is Tsong Khapa’s master commentary on the perfection-stage practices of the Esoteric Community (Guhyasamāja), the tantra he considered fundamental for the “father tantra” class of unexcelled yoga tantras, as the primary source for the development of the “magic body” technique for attaining buddhahood. Based on Nāgārjuna’s Five Stages (Pañcakrama) and Āryadeva’s Lamp That Integrates the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa), as well as a vast range of other works by Indian and Tibetan scholars and adepts, it also reveals openly the experiences of the author, himself a master practitioner.
This blockbuster work of Jey Tsong Khapa opens a window on one of the most amazing, incredibly advanced attainments ever claimed to be possible for a human being within a single lifetime. The author explains in detail the relation between exoteric and esoteric teachings and practices on the path to complete enlightenment, with its seemingly superhuman awarenesses and abilities. He clarifies the interconnections between the various categories of secret tantras, inspires by showing how far-reaching are the systematic methods of positive personal transformation developed and taught in India and Tibet, and openly shows what this tradition considered possible, giving us a whole new vision of life’s meaning and a strengthened confidence in our horizon of opportunities. This bold and well-reasoned work presents a fascinating new way to understand our own body and mind, to manage more confidently our own life and death trajectories, and to rejoice in the sense of the extreme value of our human lifetime as a platform for realizing our personal evolutionary potential.
Sutra and Tantra: The Profound and Miraculous
Join Wisdom Experience All-Access and get access to this course and many other Wisdom Academy courses for only $30 a month. Click here to find out more.
In this extraordinary course, Professor Robert Thurman explains Tsong Khapa’s essential points for understanding the union of relativity and voidness, and the crucial instructions for the creation and perfection stages of Unexcelled Yoga Tantra. By guiding students through Tsong Khapa’s biography and his masterworks—Essence of Eloquence, Great Stages of Mantra, and Brilliant Illumination of the Lamp— Thurman brings to life and makes accessible the most profound aspects of Tsong Khapa’s teachings.
Thurman guides students in a penetrating survey of the exoteric and esoteric techniques and philosophies of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism according to Tsong Khapa’s systematization. Students will learn the inner science behind the tantric and sutric methods employed by countless scholars and adepts of India and Tibet on their paths to enlightenment, as well as how to apply such learning to their own personal practice of the path.
Robert Thurman: A Life in Buddhism
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken interviews Robert Thurman, renowned scholar of Buddhism and friend of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In this rich conversation, we first find out why Robert originally dropped out of Harvard as a senior and went to India, and how Geshe Wangyal brought him to the Dalai Lama, who took on Thurman as a student. Robert was ordained by the Dalai Lama, but we hear why he never followed the path to becoming a geshe. He eventually returned to the U.S., disrobed, and met his wife-to-be Nena.
Robert shares how he came to become a professor of Buddhism and also talks about Geshe Wangyal’s clairvoyance in guiding his (Thurman’s) major life choices. We also hear his thoughts on secular Buddhism and mindfulness and his recommendations to those who have just discovered mindfulness on what they should explore next.
Robert then tells us his first impressions of the Dalai Lama (when His Holiness was just 29 years old) and his view on whether Buddhists are atheists. He reflects on the state of Buddhism today in the U.S., what he considers his main life work to be.
Robert and Daniel’s conversation covers much more, including some of the revolutionary ways that certain scientists are talking about religious and spiritual experiences and how to find a genuine teacher, and what to do when a teacher turns out to be corrupt.
The Esoteric Community Tantra with The Illuminating Lamp
This volume is a translation of the first twelve chapters of The Glorious Esoteric Community Great King of Tantras (Śrī Guhyasamāja Mahā-tantra-rāja), along with the commentary called The Illuminating Lamp (Pradīpoddyotana-nāma-ṭīkā), a commentary in Sanskrit on this tantra by the seventh-century Buddhist intellectual and tantric scholar-adept Chandrakīrti. Regarded by Indo-Tibetan tradition as the esoteric scripture wherein the Buddha revealed in greatest detail the actual psycho-physical process of his enlightenment, The Esoteric Community Tantra is a preeminent text of the class of scriptures known to Indian Buddhist scholar-adepts as great yoga tantra, and later to their Tibetan successors as unexcelled yoga tantra. The Illuminating Lamp presents a system of interpretive guidelines according to which the cryptic meanings of all tantras might be extracted in order to engage the ritual and yogic practices taught therein. Applying its interpretive strategies to the text of The Esoteric Community Tantra, The Illuminating Lamp articulates a synthetic, “vajra vehicle” (vajrayāna) discourse that locates tantric practices and ideals squarely within the cosmological and institutional frameworks of exoteric Mahāyāna Buddhism.
The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature (Mahāyānasūtrālaṁkāra)
The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature (Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra) was transmitted from the bodhisattva Maitreyanātha to Āryā Āsaṅga, the fourth-century Indian Buddhist scholar-adept. The most foundational of the set of the famous Five Teachings of Maitreya, the Discourse Literature is considered the wellspring of what the Tibetans call the “magnificent deeds trend of the path,” the compassion side, which balances the “profound view trend of the path,” the wisdom side. The Discourse Literature is also considered to be metaphysically aligned with and foundational for the Idealist (Vijñānavādin) school of Mahāyāna thought. Translated from Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese by Lobsang Jamspal, Robert Thurman, and the AIBS team, the present work contains a fully annotated, critical English rendition of the Discourse Literature along with its commentary (bhāṣya) by Āsaṅga’s brother, Vasubandhu. It also includes an introduction covering essential historical and philosophical topics, a bibliography, and a detailed index. This long-awaited work is the founding cornerstone of the AIBS Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences series.