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by Robert Thurman
Sounds True, 2001
Review by Elizabeth McCardell, Ph.D. on Aug 2nd 2004
Several years ago I woke early
to a countryside cloaked in fog. As I gazed toward the mountains I became aware
of a mulberry tree slowly emerging into sight. Then the sun broke through the
clouds and the tree became alive, jewels shining in the glorious colours of
brilliant ruby, gold, emerald, sapphire, … The image broke through my thoughts
and wonderment enveloped me.
As a meditator of many years,
I gladly volunteered to review this six tape collection (comprising nine hours)
of Robert Thurman's retreat guide into the unifying principles of Tibetan Buddhism,
for meditation requires more than just sitting, understanding is essential.
He is an ideal candidate to provide it.
A scholar and teacher, Robert A. F. Thurman is the Jey Tsong
Khapa Professor in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist
Studies at Colombia University. He is an author and translator of both
scholarly and popular works; a former Tibetan Buddhist monk (the first
Westerner to become one), Director of Tibet House in New York City, and a close personal friend of His
Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
These tapes reflect beautifully Thurman's deep scholarship
and the insight borne from many years reflection. They are the embodiment of
what he believes is required of meditators: knowledge and understanding of
Buddhist principles and ethics. Indeed, at the heart of the meditator is the
jewel tree of Tibet: teachings on the
interconnectedness of all beings, a knowledge that gives birth to
non-attachment of self and outpouring compassion for others.
In this retreat we are called to an understanding of life as
not a void, but a pleroma of relationality with the "mothers" of
existence. The "mothers" is a uniquely Tibetan concept, because
Tibetans have never been attached to concrete ancestor worship (unlike the
Chinese), but saw death as not "the end", rather death is viewed as
liberating, of bringing a sense of interconnectedness, of relationality. The
mothers of existence are those who've given us life, clothed us, taught us,
sustained us; that is, all beings that share in our existence: our own genetic
mothers and fathers, the parents and teachers and friends of previous lives;
the tailors, carpenters, farmers, road builders, pottery makers, chefs, etc
who've contributed to our life and livelihood. In as much as these people have
contributed to the making of us, so our lives are made sensible by our
contribution to their lives.
The tree of gems is interconnected, all teaching and all
traditions (Buddhist, Christian, Hebraic, Muslem, Hindu, etc) are
interconnected here, for this a tree with many branches as well as many
jewels. This tape collection too is a treasure trove for students of Tibetan
Buddhism and meditators alike. Highly recommended.
© 2004 Elizabeth McCardell
McCardell, PhD, Independent scholar, Australia