The Two Faces of Robert Thurman

Photo from

How a leading Dalai Lama supporter and Buddhist scholar begged for Dorje Shugden’s initiation.

Anyone interested in the subjects of Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama will know of Robert Thurman, a self-professed “personal friend” of the Dalai Lama and prolific writer about the Dalai Lama and his teachings.

In light of the Dorje Shugden issue over the last decade or so, Robert Thurman has remained significantly quiet on the subject, refusing to answer any open letters to him nor engage in debate. He is even known to have launched accusations against Dorje Shugden practitioners, calling them Chinese spies. He seems to be very stoically on the side of the Dalai Lama, and not at all empathetic to the plight of Shugden practitioners suffering under the ban.

Now, we learn that in fact, Thurman was known to have “begged” very prominent high Lamas for Dorje Shugden initiation.

In his paper, “Dalai Lama Dorje Shugden”*, respected translator Helmut Gassner – who worked very closely with the Dalai Lama as his translator for many years – recalls,

For his part, Robert Thurman thought it appropriate to portray for Newsweek magazine a murderous Dorje Shugden cult describing it as “the Taliban of Buddhism.” Yet Robert Thurman, presumably before he begot Uma, had been one of the first Western monks with Buddhist vows and had tried twice to obtain Dorje Shugden initiation from revered masters well before the controversy began. Both masters, however, had refused on grounds of his fickle character. Thurman should know quite well what Dorje Shugden actually is about.

(It is interesting to note also that Robert Thurman was one of the first Westerners to have been ordained as a monk in the Tibetan tradition. However, he was also among the first to disrobe, returning his vows only 2 years after taking them. Fickle? It certainly seems so.)

An online commentator and former supporter of the Dalai Lama who goes by the moniker “Thomas Canada” further confirms that these Lamas who denied Thurman the initiation were the renowned Dromo Geshe Rinpoche and Gelek Rinpoche. He writes,

Gelek told me [...] that Thurman even begged him, and it was no. For however that is decided. [Dr. Ursula Bernis] (personal attendant to Dromo Geshe Rinpoche) told me Dromo Geshe Rinpoche denied Bob several times. [She told me] that Bob used to push and connive for the Empowerment and he was always denied. Dromo Geshe said, Bob crawled across his floor begging and crying for it and he told him no way.

Interestingly, it wasn’t that these lamas had denied everyone the initiation. Thomas Canada himself reveals that he had received the initiation, along with other prominent personalities at the time, such as poet Alan Ginsberg. Also, these lamas did have close connections with Thurman; they were not just lamas that he met in passing.

For example. Dromo Geshe Rinpoche founded the New York and New Delhi Tibet House and Thurman is very much involved in running the New York branch. So their decision not to have given him the initiation cannot have been an arbitrary one, but one they made in full knowledge of how Thurman is or how he would maintain the practice.

Observing the way he now behaves towards Dorje Shugden practitioners, it is clear why the lamas had refused him the initiation “on grounds of his fickle character”. Would he have done even more harm if he had been given the initiation? Perhaps. And if he did, he would have damaged both his own spiritual path and the faith of the many thousands who read his books and follow his writings.

* Download the full paper by Helmut Gassner here


The information in this article was extracted from the blog For more interesting reads on the subject, please visit the blog directly.

Please support this website by making a donation.
Your contribution goes towards supporting
our work to spread Dorje Shugden across the world.

Related Topics: , , , , , ,

Share this article
5 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. No wonder he never get the initiation. These Lamas are Buddhas means they are clarevoyant. So means if they don’t want give to him before, they know it is not good to give because they know what he is going to become.

    If your motivation is not good and you are not in dharma for attain anything, but you only come to make your name look good, then very easy to change your mind all the time. Then becomes your practice is not stable, so you can break your commitment.

    When we see how Thurman is react after he doesnt get his way and he doesnt get initiation, you can what his motivation is.

  2. Two faces? Haha that’s so rude but it’s true, the guy has two different faces, literally and metaphorically. What I find funnier is that Thomas Canada received the initiation, and Thurman didn’t. From what I’ve read online, Mr Canada has been accused of being a ranting fanatic or being under Communist pay. But if he got initiation, and Robert Thurman didn’t…what does that say about the level of Thurman’s practice, and the level of Mr Canada’s?

  3. The guy literally has two faces?

  4. How amazingly compassionate these Lamas were to had denied Robert Thurman his request for initiation for Dorje Shugden practice. Now on hindsight, how much negative karma Robert Thurman would have gotten from the way he conducts himself against the Dorje Shugden practitioners. He has such over the top kind of character, very dramatic. Just like the way he crawled and begged for the Dorje Shugden practice, Robert Thurman is overzealous about putting Dorje Shugden practitioners down to please the Dalai Lama. Not at all trust worlthy. But then again, he associates himself with sex predator like Soygal Lakar instead of condemning and exposing them. His daughter Uma Thurman had suffered in the hands of sex predator too.

  5. Robert Thurman is not fit to be a Buddhist and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s man in the west. He is bringing Buddhism bad name and destroying other’s faith in Buddhism. It is very bad for him to do this.

    I am glad he did not receive the initiation of Dorje Shugden’s sogtae. Those 2 high lamas must have clairvoyant powers to see that Bob Thurman will probably not stick to the practice when the ban is announced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

    Him prioritising fame and money in his life will definitely stop the practice and join His Holiness’s gang to be more famous. Because of this, he is able to get an endorsement from His Holiness which I think made his book sell much better.

    Now he is calling Shugden people online as Buddhist Taliban when he himself wanted and begged for the practice so many years ago. Such a hypocrite.

Submit your comment

Please enter your name

Please enter a valid email address

Please enter your message

Show More
Show More

(Allowed file types: jpg, jpeg, gif, png, maximum file size: 10MB each)

You can now upload MP4 videos to the comments section. "Choose File" -> click "Upload" then wait while your video is processed. Then copy the link and paste it into the message box. Your video will appear after you submit your comment.
Maximum size is 64MB

Contemplate This

.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

Dorje Shugden and Dalai Lama – Spreading Dharma Together | Terms of Use | Disclaimer

© 2020 | All Rights Reserved
Total views:9,666,151