Robert Alexander Farrar Thurman (born August 3, 1941)
Is an American Buddhist writer and academic who has written, edited or translated several books on Tibetan Buddhism. He is the Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, holding the first endowed chair in this field of study in the United States. He also is the co-founder and president of the Tibet House New York and is active against the People's Republic of China's control of Tibet.
Life and career
Thurman was born in New York City, the son of Elizabeth Dean Farrar (1907–1973), a stage actress, and Beverly Reid Thurman, Jr. (1909–1962), an Associated Press editor and U.N. translator (French and English). He is of English, German, Scottish, and Irish ancestry. His brother, John Thurman, is a professional concert cellist who performs with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra., He attended Philips Exeter Academy from 1954 to 1958, followed by Harvard University, where he obtained his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.
He married Marie-Christophe de Menil daughter of Dominique de Menil and John de Menil and heiress to the Schlumberger Limited oil-equipment fortune, in 1960; they had one daughter, Taya; their grandson was the late artist Dash Snow. In 1961 Thurman lost his left eye in an accident while he was using a jack to lift an automobile, and the eye was replaced with an ocular prosthetic.
After the accident he decided to refocus his life, divorcing his wife and traveling from 1961 to 1966 in Turkey, Iran and India. He became a Buddhist and was ordained in 1964, the first American Buddhist monk of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He studied with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who became a close friend.
In 1967, back in the United States, Thurman resigned his monk's vows of celibacy and married his second wife, German-Swedish model and psychiatrist Nena von Schlebrügge, who was previously married briefly to Timothy Leary. Thurman and Schlebrügge have four children, including actress Uma Thurman and Ganden Thurman, who as of 2012 is Executive Director of Tibet House.
Thurman obtained an M.A in 1969 and a Ph.D. in Sanskrit Indian Studies in 1972 from Harvard. He was professor of religion at Amherst College from 1973 to 1988, when he accepted a position at Columbia University as professor of religion and Sanskrit. At Amherst College Thurman met his lifelong friend Prof. Lal Mani Joshi, a distinguished Indian Buddhist scholar.
In 1987, Thurman created Tibet House U.S. with Richard Gere and Philip Glass at the request of the Dalai Lama. Tibet House is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help preserve Tibetan Culture in exile. In 2001, the Pathwork Center, a 320-acre (1.3 km2) retreat center on Panther Mountain in Phoenicia, NY, was donated to Tibet House. Thurman and Schlebrügge renamed the center Menla Mountain Retreat and Conference Center. Menla (the Tibetan name for the Medicine Buddha) is being developed into a state-of-the-art healing arts center grounded in the Tibetan Medical tradition in conjunction with other holistic paradigms.