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Learning from Dying: Buddhist Understandings of Consciousness and Death – Conversations with Robert Thurman, Ph.D.

Monday, September 11, 2017; 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Cole Hall Auditorium, UCSF

513 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, California 94143

Join us for renowned Tibetan Buddhist scholar and Columbia University Professor Dr. Robert A.F. Thurman in conversations with his colleague Dr. Isa Gucciardi and UCSF's Dr. Eve Ekman and Dr. David Bullard, exploring Buddhist understandings about consciousness and death. Dr. Thurman translated one of the most important texts on the subject, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, from Tibetan into English, as well as many other works.

Inspired by his good friend His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thurman takes us along with him into an expanded vision of the world: whether the sweep of history, the subtleties of the inner science of the psyche, or the wonders of the life of the heart. He shares the sense of refuge in the Dharma, which helps us clear away the shrouds of fear and confusion, sustains us with the cheerfulness of an enriched present, and opens a door to a path of realistic hope for a peaceful future.

On this 16th anniversary of a day of immense suffering from human violence, Dr. Thurman will discuss His Holiness the Dalai Lama's life and teachings as depicted in the graphic novel, Man of Peace (2017). A guided Buddhist meditation will also be included in the presentation.

 A majority of funds raised will be donated to the International Rescue Committee

Robert A.F. Thurman, Ph.Dis the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, President of the Tibet House U.S., a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan civilization, and President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, a non-profit affiliated with the Center for Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and dedicated to the publication of translations of important artistic and scientific treatises from the Tibetan Tengyur.

TIME Magazine chose Professor Thurman as one of its 25 most influential Americans in 1997, describing him as a “larger than life scholar-activist destined to convey the Dharma, the precious teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, from Asia to America.” The New York Times recently said Thurman “is considered the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism.”

Thurman is known as a talented popularizer of the Buddha’s teachings. He is a riveting speaker and an author of over 20 books on Tibet, Buddhism, art, politics and culture, including The Central Philosophy of TibetCircling the Sacred MountainEssential Tibetan BuddhismThe Tibetan Book of the DeadWisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of TibetWorlds of TransformationInner Revolution, Infinite LifeThe Jewel Tree of Tibet, Why The Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet, and the World, and, most recently, co-authored Love Your Enemies, and Man of Peace: The Illustrated Life Story of the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

His own search for enlightenment began while he was a student at Harvard. After an accident in which he lost the use of an eye, Thurman left school on a spiritual quest throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He found his way to India, where he first saw H.H. the Dalai Lama in 1962. After learning Tibetan and studying Buddhism he decided to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk and was the first Westerner to be ordained by the Dalai Lama. However, some years later, he offered up his robes when “he discovered he could be more effective in the American equivalent of the monastery: the university”. He returned to Harvard to finish his PhD. A very popular professor, students call his classes “life-changing.”

As part of his long-term commitment to the Tibetan cause, at the request of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Thurman co-founded Tibet House US in 1987 with Tenzin Tethong, Richard Gere, and Philip Glass. Since then Uma Thurman, Melissa Mathison Ford, Natalie Merchant, Leila Hadley Luce and many others served on the board. Tibet House US is a nonprofit organization in New York City dedicated to the preservation and renaissance of Tibetan civilization. It maintains a lively museum and cultural center, and offers programs in all aspects of the Tibetan arts and sciences. In 2001, it founded the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in the Catskill Mountains to advance the healing arts and wisdom of Tibetan and Asian medicine traditions and offer their resources to the growing demand for alternative and complementary health practices.  

Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. is the Founding Director of the Foundation of the Sacred Stream, a school for consciousness studies in Berkeley, CA.  She is the creator of the contemplative counseling model, Depth Hypnosis, which incorporates key principles of Buddhist philosophy into the clinical setting. A hospice volunteer for many years, she teaches workshops on Grief and Loss and Worlds Beyond Death in addition to assisting individuals with end of life issues through her private practice. Author of Coming to Peace and Return to the Great Mother, she teaches nationally and internationally. 

Eve Ekman, Ph.D., M.S.W. is a Founding Teacher and Director of Research and Development for Cultivating Emotional Balance Training, developed in collaboration with H.H. the Dalai Lama and with her father, Dr. Paul Ekman, to elucidate Tibetan Buddhist understandings and processing of emotions. She has worked extensively as a medical social worker in emergency room situations, and her research interests include technology that fosters emotion regulation and mindfulness, developing a dynamic measurement for empathy, and assessing the impact of provider empathy on the quality of patient care. Eve is also currently involved in NCCAM Postdoctoral Training in Research in Integrative Medicine (TRIM), Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, UCSF.  

David Bullard, Ph.D., is Clinical Professor of Medicine and of Medical Psychology (Psychiatry) at the University of California, San Francisco, where he currently consults with the Symptom Management Service (which provides outpatient palliative care) at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and with the Professional Advisory Group, Spiritual Care Services, Clinical Pastoral Education Program.  David has been practicing individual psychotherapy and couples therapy in San Francisco for 40 years, and has enjoyed teaching at UCSF Medical School, San Francisco Zen Center's City Center and Green Gulch, at many Bay Area psychological associations, and at Tibet House US in New York City.  He is grateful to have explored Tibetan Buddhism in Bhutan with Dr. Thurman, and has been with him at many workshops and talks over the past twelve years. David's presentations and interviews (for and with both Dr. Thurman and Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D., H.H. the Dalai Lama's primary English translator and editor, can be found here. 


  • Spiritual Care Services, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital
  • Symptom Management Service
  • Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, UCSF
  • California Institute of Integral Studies
  • San Francisco Zen Center
  • Foundation for the Sacred Stream
  • KUNDE Institute: Center for Tibetan Wellness and Healing
  • Zen Hospice Project