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Thurman: “Education is the purpose of life”

Tenzin Robert A.F. Thurman delivers the baccalaureate address.
Commencement '08: Highlights & photo galleries

At Sunday’s baccalaureate service, Tenzin Robert A.F. Thurman, the man whom The New York Times hailed as the “leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism,” told the Class of 2008 that learning is a life-long process.

“You are graduating tomorrow, but do not think that you are getting away from education,” said Thurman, the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. “For the Buddhist, education is the purpose of life.”

With umbrellas in hand, his audience came in from the storms that passed through the region Sunday afternoon and found seats or stood along the walls of a very crowded Packer Church.

Buddha, Thurman said, “saw that human beings had the ability to understand the nature of their reality—not only their own self, but the world. In truth, they must understand this in order to have some kind of salvation or liberation.”

Liberation, he added, “only comes through understanding the nature of the world.”

The society that recognizes this internal liberation can exist will also believe that “there will be freedom from suffering and that you can be happy, that you should be happy, will be happy,” he said.

Besides seeking understanding, students ought to develop compassion and kindness, which Thurman said, is the Dalai Lama’s secret to inner peace.

“Human nature mandates kindness,” he said. According to Thurman, this kindness for all living things has allowed the Dalai Lama to forgive the Chinese government’s mistreatment of his country and to seek the welfare of the Chinese nation.

In introducing Thurman, Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain and professor of religions studies, described his visit to Lehigh as the “culminating event of a whole year of activities that have tried to prepare the Lehigh campus for the upcoming visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”

The Dalai Lama will come to Lehigh in July for a series of teachings and a public lecture.

Preceding Thurman’s address, the interfaith ceremony incorporated text and words from the Hindu tradition, presented by Rita Shankar ’08; the Muslim tradition, presented by Ahmed Salim ’08, and the Jewish tradition, presented by Joni Feldbaum ’08.

Steffen and Rev. Wayne Killian, the Catholic chaplain and director of the Newman Center, officiated, and the Concord Chamber Singers performed several choral anthems.

“Make your life a monument”

Thurman chats with Ahmed Salim ’08 outside Packer Church.

For his text, Thurman—who was the first American ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk and was named one of the 25 most influential people in America by Time magazine in 1997—drew from a collection of Zen Buddhist paradoxical stories called koans from the Blue Cliff Record, which was compiled in 12th century China.

“I wanted to use something from China because of the current situation,” Thurman said. Throughout his address, Thurman referred to the current unrest between China and the people of Tibet, suggesting that “the Dalai Lama is able to really help China and to solve China’s problems” – a case he also presents in his new book, Why the Dalai Lama Matters, which will be released in June.

Thurman selected a koan about an emperor who wished to honor an aging and well-respected teacher. The teacher instructed the ruler to “build that seamless stupa (monument) to give to this old monk.”

The teacher was requesting that the emperor memorialize his teachings by learning them and living them, Thurman explained.

“The teacher doesn’t want to be immortalized any way other than that people live his teaching,” he said. The seamless monument is one that is “embodied and embedded in the life of the nation.”

Finally, Thurman encouraged his audience to live their beliefs.

“Make your life a monument, and make your profession be what you love,” he said.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit will include a series of teachings as well as a sold-out, half-day public lecture on July 13. Following a July 10 session featuring world-renowned Tibetan Buddhist teachers, the Dalai Lama will appear for four-and-a-half days of teachings, sponsored by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, N.J.

All of the events will take place in Stabler Arena on the Goodman Campus.

For the latest information on the Dalai Lama’s visit, check out Lehigh’s Dalai Lama Web site.

For more photos of the baccalaureate service, plus photo galleries and coverage of the 2008 commencement and Hooding Ceremony for Doctoral Candidates, visit Commencement 2008 Highlights

--Becky Straw

Photos by Theo Anderson

Posted on Monday, May 19, 2008

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