The Bodhi Lectern



      Professor Thurman, whose Dharma name is Tenzin Cho tuag, was born in August 1941, in New York City. His deep involvement with the Dharma began more than a decade ago when he began studying with Geshe Wangyal at the Lamanist Buddhist Monastery of America in New Jersey in 1963. His interest went so deep that after three years he traveled to India where he studied with the Dalai Lama for a year, concentrating on Buddhism and the Tibetan language. He then returned to the United States to complete his formal education, and received his Ph.D. in Buddhology from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies.

As a translator Dr. Thurman has already completed work on several texts including Nagarjuna’s Suhrllekha, various works of Tson Khapa, the Vimalakirtinirdesasutra, a biography of Tson Khapa, and a work fitted Eloquent Essence Differentiating Interpretable Meaning and Definitive Meaning in Buddha’s Teaching.

He is also working in the Abhidharmakosa, and a work by Tson Khapa called Golden Rosary. He is fluent in Tibetan, Sanskrit, French, and Spanish, and can work easily out of Chinese, Japanese, and German.

Dr. Thurman is currently a Research Associate for the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions, and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Amherst College. He has participated in a variety of projects sponsored by the institute including the compilation of a new multilingual Buddhist dictionary, and is also translating Buddhist Texts under the auspices of the Institute. He lives with his wife and three children in Shady, New York.

On one occasion Professor Thurman had an opportunity to meet and talk with the Venerable Master Hua, Abbot of Gold Mountain. Dr. Thurman opened the conversation with some comments about translation to which the Venerable Master replied:

Venerable Master Hua: The methods and styles used by the Chinese in translations are not necessarily right for America. It's the scientific age.  In China Kumarajiva and Hsuan Tsang had many assistants. Eight hundred High Masters helped do the work. Where could you fine eight hundred High Masters now? In America and China together there couldn't be more than thirty. So everyone should make use of his own original wisdom in order to translate the Buddha's sutras. Although there are not many people, we should make use of scientific methods (i.e. computers etc.) in order to translate. It’s not for certain that the old methods were correct. I wish to accord with current circumstances. Therefore these Americans like to be with me, because what I say is reasonably scientific.

Dr. Thurman: All of Buddhism is scientific. Those with realization know the science. But Western science is basically ignorant.

M: In the scientific age, one should use scientific methods. If you want to know the way, don’t ask a blind man; ask a man who has eyes. That’s my opinion. Perhaps I can help, as much as a mote of dust.

T: In Chinese traditions are there "Orders" of monks, like in the West? What I mean is, are there other masters who share your view?

M: My views are unique.

T: There is not a group of monks who share the same opinions then?

M: No. None of them are crazy.

T: In Tibet, everyone has his own "bag."

The Master replied that they are all the same in the fact that they all have "bags", which is not as good as the Master who has no bag at all.

M: Not only am I a person without a bag, but I’m a person without a person. If I had a person I wouldn’t be able to go crazy. Do you understand?

T: Completely.

M: I am the Pu Tai Ho Shang (Pun on Pu Tai Ho Shang, the Cloth Sack Monk, that is, the "No Bag Monk "). When I meet a Catholic, I am a Catholic. When I meet a Protestant, I am a Protestant. The five schools and the eighteen sects I don't belong to any one of them and there is not one of them to which I do not belong. That's just the way it is.

T: Vimalakirti said when Manjusri asked him where the Enlightenment of the Buddhas was, "In the sixty-two views of the heretics." I am trying to figure out the meaning of that statement. (Note: Dr. Thurman has just completed an English translation of the Vimalakirti Sutra from the Tibetan). I find that when I try to teach or explain Buddhism I am pro-Buddhist. One should not hold such foolish sentiment about the Dharma. I am trying to overcome this.

M: What isn't Buddhadharma?

T: One shouldn't have preferences. Attaching to views, even the views of Vimalakirti or Nagarjuna, perverts. But it's hard not to when one is attached.

M: Of course when one is first investigating the Dharma one has this kind of problem. But after you have gained experience and have been through it, then attachments cease to arise and there is nothing further to say.

T: Vimalakirti says that the sixty-two false views of the heretics are enlightenment. Would the Master care to amend the statement?

M: Enlightenment is non-enlightenment.

T: He's faster than Vimalakirti.

M: Don't have so much false thinking about the sixty-two views.

T: Of course when one is sitting in the position where one neither cones nor goes, one can hardly be interested in such considerations.

M: Without coming or going, then how could there be "speed" (referring to "faster than Vimalakirti"). Do you agree? If you agree, you are like a piece of wood.

T: The Master wants some opposition; it's more fun that way.

M: I am a democrat. I hope their everyone will oppose me and that nothing I say will stand. I insist on accepting all opposition. What do you think about that?

T: It would be hard to give the Master as much opposition as he needs, since he works in this way.

M: I have no way. If I did have a way, I wouldn't tell you what it was and I would have prepared in advance.

T: Do you play chess?

M: No, but if I did I would certainly win.

T: The Mongolians play chess a lot and usually always win.

M: I know I would win, but I don't play. Because I don't play, I always win.  How could I possibly lose? I like to speak with intelligent people. I don't like to speak with stupid ones, who don't understand principle. Smart people can taste the flavor of my words.

T: In Tibet they hold the eschatological belief that, opposed to the exoteric view of Maitreya appearing in the world, our gloomy future at a point a few years from now will undergo a reversal, i.e. Shambala, the Dharma heaven on earth. What does the Master think of this type of view?

M: You should take a look at the Realm of the Avatamsaka Sutra. One thought may be limitless kalpas and limitless kalpas may be in one thought. If you understand this principle then there is no longer any question of long or short periods of time.

T: Isn't it a question of levels of understanding? Of course if one takes the absolute view, then there is inconceivable liberation in which everyone shares. All of us are small fellows on a small planet and in such a short period of time cannot come to understand. The Master says he likes smart people, but most people are stupid.

M: You can change the entire level with the Avatamsaka Sutra.

T: In Tibet there are also stupid people; perhaps they can be brought around. Am I worrying about too many things?

M: Don't worry. Wait a minute. When little kids grow up they understand.

T: Hopefully.

M: You spoke of the Proper Dharma leaving and a Wonderful Dharma coming to take its place. That time is just right now.

T: I should be able to see this Wonderful Dharma, but every parent knows that in the big cities there is pollution, carcinogens, and modern science is trying its best to ruin the planet and may succeed. If people are going to survive in order to study the Avatamsaka Sutra the Bodhisattvas had better turn these scientists off or no one will be left to study the Dharma.

M: No world left, that's no problem. We'll invest in a new one.

T: That's possible. It could be done possibly out of boredom, if nothing else.

M: The things of this world are in pairs of opposites. That is, without harm, there could be no benefit, without good there could be no evil, without the deviant Dharma there could be no Orthodox Dharma and without harmful things there could be no rescuing. If there were no demons, there would be no need for Bodhisattvas. And what is more, Bodhisattvas can observe the conditions and administer the proper teaching, speaking the Dharma appropriate for the needs of men. They don't need people to supervise them. We can't boss the Bodhisattvas.

T: If they were Bodhisattvas, why would they mind being bossed?

M: They don't care, but your thinking is what's out of line. You are thinking outside of your proper authority.

T: True. That's how I dislocated my knee.

M: Because you were trying to walk the Bodhisattva Way?

T: Yes, in five feet of snow.

M: I have chatted with you a lot. Basically I do not chat with people. When people come to study at our place it might be more than a year before I even speak to them.

Bhiksu Heng Ching: Yes, Bhiksu Heng Pai wanted to leave home. When he came to the Buddhist Lecture Hall, our former residence, which was very small, scarcely two rooms, he was there half a year before the Master said a word to him. And so the Master's talk with you today, as you no doubt can see, is most unusual.

T: The Master is very kind. The Master knows that people like me are nervous and worried. I would have benefited even from his silence.



The Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra

The Pure Land and Ch'an Dharma Talks of the Venerable Dhyana Master Hua

Record of the Lives of the High Masters

The Sages' Trek for Peace

Poetry, Songs, Vegetarian Recipes

    You are reminded that if you wish to submit a manuscript for the fifth anniversary issue, the deadline is only a few months away.