The recent Bob Thurman Podcast (#79), recorded during our Journey with Robert Thurman in Bhutan expedition, reveals the answers to two questions I am frequently asked regarding the film: What is the point of Buddhist education? And what does Bhutan have to do with Tibetan (or Vajrayana) Buddhism?
It also coincides with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987, which I had the privilege of celebrating at NZ’s Parliament. Not only did the legislation prohibit nuclear ships from entering New Zealand waters, it committed New Zealand to “promote and encourage and active and effective contribution by New Zealand to the essential process of disarmament and international arms control.”
But what is an effective strategy to promote international disarmament in a world of accelerated weapons development and production and the proliferation of militarism in everyday life?
Thurman proposes that the most powerful way to demilitarize society is through inner revolution, disarming internally, and that’s what Buddhist education is about:
For World Buddhism, what the Vajrayana countries can do, is they can represent in the planet today, at the moment of the planet’s greatest crisis, where we literally are faced with self-extinction. You know, supposedly the cold war is over, but the nuclear missiles of the Soviet Union still point at America. And the American ones still point at the Soviet Union. And the Chinese are adding a lot of nuclear missiles. Then there’s India and Pakistan. Then there’s Israel. Then there soon will be Iran and Brazil. We are not out of the woods at all in this militarized planet. And we must come up with a solution of how to demilitarize society.
My slogan is, we have to shift from MAD to MUD. Mutual Assured Destruction will be everyone’s destruction. That’s the current policy. Mutual Unilateral Disarmement – that’s MUD – that’s what I like. Where everyone disarms mutually but unilaterally, unilaterally but mutually. To do that, we need a discipline of the mind, that enables people to disarm internally. And that’s what the Buddhist education is all about.
Whether or not one adopts Buddhism as a religious belief, one can adopt the psychology, the psychiatry of Buddhism, of disarming the falsely absolutized self in its battle with the universe. And become ready to give and interconnect, and realize the universe is your friend, because it is you. And it is not your enemy. And therefore you can disarm internally and be harmonious with the universe.
As to the second question: Why look to Bhutan to study Tibetan or Vajarayana Buddhism?
Within the Vajrayana societies that have this knowledge still in some way, Bhutan is the one that has not been destroyed. The others were all invaded by capitalist imperialism (British) or by communist imperialism (Chinese or Russian), and they totally destroyed them. They’re of course scattering the knowledge worldwide, so it’s not so lonely, Bhutan, actually. There are people in every country almost who are deeply into it. And even within the communist countries now, there are people who deeply admire this.
But Bhutan is the one that somehow miraculously — thanks to the Shabdrung’s mummy sending out weird rays, or thanks to His Majesty the King, or thanks to Buddha Amitabha or Guru Rinpoche, who knows. But for whatever reason, it’s the one that has not been totally trampled and destroyed by any outside force so far. But the economic power of the development model, and the ideological power of the materialist pseudo-scientific model are a serious threat at this time. And the Gross National Happiness is a very good step in defense of that, but the educational change must be taken as an urgent and radical priority in my view.