Robert Thurman

Robert A. F. Thurman, Yankee Springs, Michigan, 1993 – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Robert (“Bob”) Thurman, the pre-eminent Tibetan Buddhist scholar and Allen’s great friend and spiritual brother in the dissemination of the dharma, turns 81 today.

Here’s Bob on Allen (from his notice from the 2021 exhibit, “Transforming Minds – Kyabje Gelek Rinpoche and Friends”, at the Tibet House in New York, a photo-exhibit that was co-organized in conjunction with the Ginsberg Estate  (Thurman, Emeritus Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, is also active as co-Founder and President of that organization):

“Allen Ginsberg” – he writes -“is an extraordinary being”. “I met him in the ‘Sixties when  I was still a Tibetan monk, when we worked on translating a certain Tibetan song. He had found profound things in India before me, and had extraordinary creative energy. We kept bumping into each other over the years sharing a determination to discover more of there truth and beauty of our infiniverse. A last memory was a call in the post midnight hour in the same morning when he passed. He was leaving a message on the answering machine which my wife Nena heard and woke me to rush and pick up the phone to touch base with Allen, who said he wanted to thank me for introducing him to Tibetan Buddhism, meeting and learning from his teachers, Trungpa Rimpoche and Gelek Rimpoche. What he most wanted me to know was that he was in the process of dying and was not in the slightest bit afraid, he would have liked to hang for longer but he was totally ready for the adventure and was himself amazed and delighted about the lived fact of it. I thanked him for all he had given, wished him the very best, and told him I hoped I could recognize him when we meet again in our future lives and could pick up our unfinished translation work. We both laughed.”

Thurman is, of course, the esteemed translator of The Bardo Thodol (commonly known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or in Thurman’s translation The Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between), alongside scores of other crucial Tibetan texts.

He goes on:

“Since then I have learned more from his fabulous poetical work, even recently hearing that in Allen’s early twenties he received transmission from William Blake that he must dedicate his life to poetry. Indeed, my friend Jonathan Cott directed me to a poem of Blake’s that I quote here as an inspiring description of and tribute to Allen’s great achievements.
In the song from a mythic figure, a woman from Blake’s Four Zoas, presented in the lines he rendered, without punctuation – “Now my left hand I stretch to earth beneath/And strike the terrible string/I wake sweet joy in dens of sorrow and I plant a smile/In forests of affliction/And wake the bubbling springs of life in regions dark death”
Allen certainly did sing like that, playing his harmonium, putting an end to wars and despair, and celebrating love and joy! He shared his tremendous gift at many our Tibet House annual benefit concerts with Philip Glass, and it is our honor at US Tibet House Cultural Center to host this exhibition of some of the traces of this precious man, great poet and beloved friend of the Tibetan people and all living beings!”

And it is an honor to salute Professor Thurman on the occasion of his 81st birthday.

Find out more about Robert Thurman and the Buddhist path here on his web-site.

We’d particularly draw your attention to his on-going series of podcasts, stimulating lectures and discussions on a wide range of teachers and teachings (almost 300 now – and counting!).  Listen in.

Happy Birthday!

Robert A. F. Thurman, Yankee Springs, Michigan, 1993 – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

One comment

  1. Great post! And a happy birthday to Professor Thurman. I had the good fortune of taking a class of his at Amherst College in the 1980s. He was such a dynamic teacher that at the end of one session, so inspired was the class of some 40 students that we all broke into spontaneous applause. One of the most memorable experiences of my entire career.

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