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Robert Thurman – First American Ordained as a Tibetan Monk

This is something someone pointed in a comment yesterday. On the back of Robert Thurman’s books it is often stated that Robert Thurman was the first American to be ordained as a Tibetan monk. Like this quote on the back of Why the Dalai Lama Matters

Thurman has dedicated his life to the study and preservation of Tibet’s cultural heritage, and is the first American ordained as a Tibetan monk.

Here’s something it doesn’t say on the back of his books. Robert Thurman was also the first American to disrobe. He was only ordained for 2 years. Two years is a very short amount of time to be ordained as a monk. Why is his two year ordination promoted as one of his good qualities? Isn’t this a sign of weak moral discipline?

The Dalai Lama’s Translator Helmut Gassner’s Comments about Robert Thurman

The paragraph below comes from the article on the Dalai Lama and Dorje Shugden by Helmut Gassner

“Robert Thurman thought it appropriate to portray for Newsweek magazine a murderous Dorje Shugden cult describing it as “the Taliban of Buddhism.” Yet Robert Thurman, presumably before he begot Uma, had been one of the first Western monks with Buddhist vows and had tried twice to obtain Dorje Shugden initiation from revered masters well before the controversy began. Both masters, however, had refused on grounds of his fickle character. Thurman should know quite well what Dorje Shugden actually is about.”

Did Robert Thurman Beg for Dorje Shugden Empowerment?

Thomas Canada has stated that Robert Thurman has begged for Dorje Shugden empowerment in the past. Thom said: “Bob Thurman literally crawled across the floor and begged for the Dorje Shugden initiation. The answer was always no to Bob.”

Thomas Canada isn’t the only person I’ve heard this from, and I’d like to have more info about this for my blog. Does anyone have more information about Robert Thurman begging for Dorje Shugden empowerment in the past?

Robert Thurman Also Interferes with Other Traditions

Robert Thurman has also interfered with the Kagyu tradition. He has tried to use his power in the past to have the current Karmapa who was chosen according to the traditions of the Kagyu lineage replaced by the Karmapa recognized by the Dalai Lama.

Shamarpa Rinpoche wrote him a response which I think relates to Robert Thurman’s attacks on Shugden practitioners. Below are a couple quotes from Shamarpa Rinpoches letter to Robert Thurman:

You are a professor of Buddhism, a political activist, and a Buddhist, so I encourage you to not mix up these many facets of your life. For example, your political campaign for Tibet should not be mixed with your job as a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism. My personal request to you is to not to be sectarian in your profession, and to please be an honest scholar.

I am concerned that you may one day go so far as to discourage students and speakers who have ever critiqued H.H. Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Government in Exile, and further, even discourage or block the careers of anyone who is friends with any such people. Buddhists should not violate the freedom of religion and discriminate against others. In a country like the United States, which prides itself on democracy and freedom, it is a shame that a tradition like Buddhism can be used to suppress and limit people.

Open Letter to Robert Thurman

From the Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden Blog

For over a decade Robert Thurman has been the Dalai Lama’s righthand man and greatest promoter in the West, including when it comes to maligning Dorje Shugden practitioners and spreading false information. He has called Dorje Shugden practitioners a cult, murderers, crazies, the Taliban of Buddhism, Chinese agents, sectarian — misleading people about them in a Newsweek magazine in 1997 and in various public lectures since then.

He has never given valid reasons or concrete evidence to back up his hostile statements. Instead, it seems he blindly follows the Dalai Lama’s policy on discrimination against Dorje Shugden practitioners and the propaganda of the TGIE, hiding behind his various academic credentials and especially his personal friendship with the Dalai Lama. For example, his claim to fame on various profiles is that he was the first Westerner to be ordained as a monk by the Dalai Lama (an odd boast considering he was also one of the first Westerners to disrobe).

At the various Western Shugden Society demonstrations in the US, he refused to engage in any civilized dialogue or debate with the WSS spokesperson and instead angrily insulted her. His wife likewise rudely refused to have a discussion with a senior Buddhist nun (ordained for almost 20 years) and patronizingly told her to go away and learn about Buddhism.

On September 10 2008, the Western Shugden Society wrote Robert Thurman an Open Letter requesting him to back up his public claims:

Extract: If you, Robert Thurman, are not yourself lying, then you must show your evidence to prove your public statements: that Shugden people are sectarian, “the Buddhist Taliban” as you named them; and that the Western Shugden Society is working for the Chinese. You should show your evidence publicly through the internet before 25th October 2008. If your evidence does not appear by this date then we will conclude that you have lied publicly and are misleading people.

A Challenge to Robert Thurman

From the Dorje Shugden Truth Blog

On 28 April 1997, Newsweek magazine published an article by Tony Clifton called “Cult Mystery – did an obscure Tibetan sect murder three monks close to the Dalai Lama”. The article was the start of the propaganda against Shugden practitioners in general and the New Kadampa Tradition in particular by the Dalai Lama and his followers. It was in this article that the Dalai Lama unfairly and unjustifiably used the word ‘cult’ in relation to the NKT, mud that has stuck for ten years.

The article contained personal attacks and unjustified accusations from the Dalai Lama, supported by Robert Thurman. Robert Thurman has always supported the Dalai Lamas views. In the article Thurman claimed that Shugden practitioners were responsible for the murder of Lobsang Gyatso and his two assistants. He also made other unjustified attacks. Here’s a selection of Thurman’s quotes from the article:

“I think there’s no doubt that Shugden was behind the killings,” says Robert Thurman, America’s foremost Buddhist scholar and an old friend of the Dalai Lama’s. “The three were stabbed repeatedly and cut up in a way that was like an exorcism.”

Dorje Shugden has had an underground following among Tibetans obsessed with doctrinal purity for centuries. “It would not be unfair to call Shugdens the Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism,” says Thurman, referring to the Muslim extremists of Afghanistan, who believe in swift and brutal justice.

“Shugden appeals to crazies by offering instant gratification,” says Thurman. “Once you get involved, you’re told you have to devote your lives to the cult, because the god gets very angry if you don’t attend to him every day. It’s really bad stuff, the way they’re draining money out of people.”

Now the Western Shugden Society has issued an open letter to Robert Thurman asking him to justify his claims.

If Robert Thurman uses his academic qualifications and his fame in the Buddhist community to lend weight to an attack on the reputation of Shugden practitioners you’d expect him to have some research and some data to back it up his claims as any good academic would, so let’s see if it’s there.

Open Letter to Robert Thurman

10th September 2008

To Robert Thurman,

We the Western Shugden Society are writing this letter regarding your previous public statement that Shugden people are sectarian, naming them “the Buddhist Taliban”; and your recent public statement that the Western Shugden Society protestors are “working for the Chinese”.

As you know, Shugden people want to practice the Gelug tradition purely, without mixing with the Nyingma tradition. Because of this the Dalai Lama has said to Shugden people that they are sectarian. In truth, the Nyingmapa also want to practice their Nyingma tradition purely without mixing with the Gelug tradition; and it is the same for the Sakyapa and Kagyupa. So according to the Dalai Lama’s view, the Nyingmapa, Sakyapa and Kagyupa are also sectarian, but he only says that Shugden people are sectarian. In reality he is lying.

If you, Robert Thurman, are not yourself lying, then you must show your evidence to prove your public statements: that Shugden people are sectarian, “the Buddhist Taliban” as you named them; and that the Western Shugden Society is working for the Chinese. You should show your evidence publicly through the internet before 25th October 2008. If your evidence does not appear by this date then we will conclude that you have lied publicly and are misleading people.

Sincerely,

Western Shugden Society