Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness

Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness

by Robert A. F. Thurman, Amy Hertz
While the Western world was launching the scientific revolution that would ultimately produce an industrialized society, parts of India, Tibet, and China launched a revolution of inner science that began a social revolution that we now have an opportunity to complete. Based on his in-depth knowledge of Tibet and a thirty-year close relationship with the Dalai Lama,


While the Western world was launching the scientific revolution that would ultimately produce an industrialized society, parts of India, Tibet, and China launched a revolution of inner science that began a social revolution that we now have an opportunity to complete. Based on his in-depth knowledge of Tibet and a thirty-year close relationship with the Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman gives us a handbook for enlightening ourselves and the world.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A renowned scholar of Tibetan Buddhism issues a popular appeal to the West to refashion its inner life according to Buddhist enlightenment teachings. For Thurman, Tibetan Buddhism is life philosophy, object of study, and worthy cause; he practices it, teaches it (at Columbia University), and promotes it through Tibet House, an advocacy group for the Chinese-occupied nation. His latest book introduces the history and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism to those unfamiliar with it and urges Westerners to appropriate five of its central ideas: individual spiritual development, nonviolence, spiritual education, social altruism, and democracy. Thurman envisions an evolutionary entry into these ideas—the inner revolution of the title—that will complement the West's outward, technological revolution. What distinguishes this book from others on Buddhism is the pains it takes to connect personal enlightenment to social ethics, especially in the chapters on the ancient Indian king Ashoka and the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. Thurman underscores the role of institutions in the moral life of societies, and provocatively casts monasticism and militarism as mirror-image competitors for the soul of nations. But he is sometimes careless. He aggrandizes when he suggests that spiritual developments in 14th-century Tibet precipitated the European Renaissance; generalizes unfairly when he identifies the West's inner life with its declining Christian monastic traditions; and tells only half the story when he celebrates the equality of women in Buddhism's religious past (the tradition records the Buddha's initial resistance to orders of nuns; their advocate was the Buddha's undersung disciple Ananda).Still, for readers new to Tibetan Buddhism, Thurman makes an impassioned and engaging guide. The more deeply curious will want to consult his introductory anthology of Tibetan texts, Essential Tibetan Buddhism (1995).

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Penguin Publishing Group
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6.36(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.23(d)

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There is a story that 2,500 years ago, while he was giving a teaching, the Buddha placed his big toe pointedly on the earth and with that dramatic gesture revealed to an audience that the universe we live in is pure paradise. Not that what we see normally is the best of all possible worlds, as Voltaire's Candide tried to convince himself, but that if we understood the true nature of reality, we would see the planet we live on as the perfect theater for positive evolution that it truly is.

A pure land is the environment created by a fully enlightened being so that as many others as possible have the potential also for developing into fully enlightened beings. This enlightened individual is called a Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha was not simply an historical figure who lived and taught 2,500 years ago -- he is an example of the full flowering of human potential, reached by undergoing inner revolutions, coups of the spirit in which the power of negative impulses and emotions is toppled and we are freed to be as happy, good, and compassionate as we can evolve to be. The Buddha developed an inner science for achieving this revolution, one that was preserved in Tibet after invaders nearly wiped it out of India 1,000 years ago. Since Tibet was built on the foundation that a society's top priority is to provide all the means for each individual to achieve this inner revolution, Tibet is our toehold for seeing where inner revolution might lead, giving us a glimpse of the architectural plans for building that pure land revealed by the Buddha's toe pointing.

Internationally renowned biologist Rupert Sheldrake has a theory he calls "morphic resonance." Sheldrake hypothesizes that an individual's or group's actions, beliefs, and insights create resonances that make it more likely that other people, otherwise unconnected and unaware of the thoughts or occurrences, will experience the same events or insights as if spontaneously on their own. If I have an insight, the theory goes, people around me are more likely to experience something similar, even if I do not tell them about it. Sheldrake's views are controversial, but they make intuitive sense, and experimental data is beginning to prove him right.

Our empirical bent leaves us incredulous in the face of this sort of possibility. Consider, however, the phenomena of radio, television, and microwave transmissions. Their signals are generated as patterns in subtle energy fields that move out in broadcast patterns which hang in the air, so to speak. None of us can see, hear, or feel them, but if a receiver with the proper components is constructed, the raw pattern can be translated back into sounds and images, a radio voice, a television image. We take this for granted, clicking on and tuning in with no sense of mystery or wonder.

The human brain is an amazingly complex transmission and receiving device. Its hundred billion neurons must be sensitive to many things our outer bodily senses cannot discern. Sensory stimuli are translated for us through complex software programming, which enables us to recognize the percepts -- the images we perceive as familiar objects -- and to have ideas, to see internal images, hear internal voices, have profound feelings, and so forth. Once certain programs have become routine in our brains, we can articulate those programs to other people through language, image, song, rhythm, or a multitude of other means. Why might we not also radiate the patterns of those programs so that they can "hang in the air" and be directly received by other brains? How many times, for example, have we found ourselves commenting on a friend's statement, "I was just about to say the same thing"?

Our involvement with others does not begin with just our speech and physical movements. Each of us individually has an effect on the lives of beings around us through the quiet processes going on in our minds. If we are full of good feelings they radiate around us and people want to be near. If we are full of bad feelings, others tend to stay away. So if we would be activists for good, for the positive, we must assume responsibility for our minds as well as our speech and our physical activities, otherwise our negative mental habits will drag down the entire community of beings. On the other hand, when we break through into the liberty of heart, mind, and spirit in the process of enlightenment, we free others at the same time.

We can envision the planet as the residence of billions of human beings each living around a bubble of inner awareness, each having an inner theater of sounds and lights and impulses that is interconnected with everyone else's through broadcast vibrations and patterns. When one of those bubbles explodes in a burst of insight or joy -- when it releases a knot in its interior energy circulation -- it influences ever so slightly all the other bubbles. When an educational, cultural, or civilizational movement influences a large number of those bubbles in certain ways, an even more powerful resonance which affects all the other bubbles is created. If we see morphic resonance as a principle operating in history, we can conceive of the possibility that when a whole country or a group of countries adopts a new pattern of perception or behavior, surrounding countries can be profoundly influenced as well.

The enlightenment movement's inner revolution has, for the 2,500 years since the Buddha's emergence, acted as a subtle wave rippling through the ocean of bubbles that is the world of beings. During the enlightenment process, each individual bubble becomes aware of the totality of its own potential and of its resonance with and support of all other bubbles. When a bubble goes through the enlightening unfoldment, it stimulates a parallel experience in so many bubbles that it brings an era of spiritual growth to the planet. Think about the world during the sixth century B.C.E., when the Buddha's bubble burst into enlightenment. Zoroaster had revolutionized Iranian religion; Deutero-Isaiah and his colleagues were beginning to codify five books of Moses; Socrates was soon to educate the youth of Athens; Confucius was setting down the code for Chinese civilization, and Lao Tzu was providing spiritual relief from it; and Buddha's India was seething with creativity. Historian Arnold Toynbee has called this period the Axial Age -- it was pivotal for all Eurasian civilizations. Such waves have occurred since, driving parallel spurts of spiritual growth in India and Tibet and worldwide. In our time of nearly limitless communication and freedom of choice in so many countries, our civilization is ripe for another step in what the Buddha saw as our inevitable evolution toward happiness.

What People are saying about this

Sogyal Rinpoche
"An enthralling and important work. Professor Thurman is one of America's most farsighted and daring Buddhist thinkers. In this passionate book, he foretells an extraordinary and universal destiny for the teaching of Buddha, as a force which could transform the world. In a way never attempted before, Inner Revolution explores the impact of these teachings, with their principles of selflessness and non-violence, on social development. It reveals how enlightened society is a real possibility for us in the 21st century, inspiring and supporting anyone who reads it ot take part in making it a reality."
Ken Wilber
"A wonderful introduction to the entire sweep of Buddhism, pointing out its continuing powerful relevance for today's world. All of Buddhism's breakthrough realizations are carefully explained, along with their direct application to our own experience and awareness right now, so that Buddha's radical enlightenment can be our own, here in the midst of ordinary existence."
Daniel Goleman
"Robert Thurman is a living treasure, one of today's most provocative spiritual thinkers."

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