The Key Note Speech for the Symposium was given by Prof. Tenzin Robert Thurman. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now, I should add that I fancy myself to be an aspiring Buddhist practitioner, as well as an alternative health practitioner, so I was in agreement with almost everything he said. For someone else with different values and opinions, his speech might have quite a different reception.
Thurman did very little to disguise the fact that he actually gave a Dharma talk. But at least he gave it in a way that empiricists and academics could stomach. He had very little mythological or metaphysical information, but rather he started out by saying that the Buddha was one of the first authentic scientists, truly an empiricist. Thurman questioned whether or not Buddhism was a religion in the sense of the major religions of the world, what with the Buddha saying that no one can save us but ourselves.
I appreciated how Thurman said the Buddha recommended that we take responsibility for our health and for our spiritual health. That Buddhism suggests that a form of “karmic darwinianism” exists and that we are capable of a “conscious evolution” if we commit ourselves to doing more than Freud suggested, and go into the unconscious and subconscious realms and clean up our psycho-spiritual hubris. I appreciated this both as an alternative health practitioner (I have a private practice for Biodynamic Craniosacral work in C’ville Va.) and for the fact that I believe here in America, religions are too often practiced one day a week at best. I am grateful that Buddhism (and other religions too of course) challenges us to become better human beings in each moment. According to Buddhist theory, once we produce a cause, the result is guaranteed to follow. Therefore we must be careful / mindful what we say and do every second.
Thurman touched on this as well, mentioning that Buddhism is much much more than a philosophy of suffering which is often what is grasped from a superficial investigation of it. He said that any idiot can tell you about suffering, rather, what the Buddha found was that causation and interdependence is the letter of the law and that we must work to eradicate the causes of suffering. Then we can move toward nirvana and true, ultimate understanding.
Considering the title of the Symposium, Thurman eventually got onto the subjects of Tibetan Medicine and Contemplative Science. He said that in Tibetan Medicine, a part of the process of creating the Precious Pills, is that the Tibetan Doctors and Lamas chant mantras and prayers over the medicine to imbue and empower it. He therefore suggested that Tibetan Doctors send teams out to conventional pharmaceutical companies and to have these teams chant mantras and prayers over Aspirin and Tylenol pills before they leave the factory, thereby ensuring that these medicines have both an effect on the body and the mind of their imbibers.
On the subject of Contemplative Science, he mentioned that here in the West, we are exceptionally good at producing graduates who have high IQs and who have very clever brains. But he suggested that that was not enough. He quoted the Dalai Lama in saying that we need to teach good hearts in addition to clever brains. And Thurman mentioned that if possible, we needed to increase our EQs (emotional quotients). I definitely resonate with this.
Thurman was very humorous, sometimes bordering on being boisterous, and other times seeming a bit more restrained. I believe someone was recording all the speeches and panels at the Symposium, so maybe it would be possible to view his key note address. He had an hour in which to present, so he actually rushed for about fifteen minutes, then startled himself and us by stating, “Oh gosh, I have time!” Therefore the last half hour of his speech was more of a patient pace.