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Infinite Life:
Seven Virtues for Living Well
Robert Thurman
New York: Riverhead, 2004
304 pp.; $24.95 (cloth)

With Infinite Life, Robert Thurman, the charismatic and controversial Tibetan Buddhist scholar, offers what may become his most influential book to date. Probably because he’s taught Buddhism to college students for so long, Thurman has a knack for using metaphors from Western culture to explain Buddhist concepts. When inviting readers to embrace the notion of immortality—a hard sell even to many longtime practitioners—Thurman refers to the popular movie The Matrix. He likens himself to Morpheus, the rebel leader who offers Neo, the latest recruit in the battle to free humanity, a fresh perspective on life:

Neo must choose between a red pill, which allows him to discover the truth, and a blue pill, which will return him to his ignorant, imprisoning, yet familiar reality. Like Morpheus, I am offering you a new way of looking at the world. Will you take the red pill or the blue pill? Will you choose to expand your concept of reality? Or will you choose to be “safe,” to continue to live with your preconceived notions despite the fact that they may be false and thus will radically constrict your ability to improve your situation and that of those around you?

Of course, most of us who pick up a book by Robert Thurman will find ourselves eyeing the red pill. After all, we’re not unfamiliar with the concepts of karma and reincarnation. It’s rather comforting, actually, to see ourselves as constantly evolving—everlasting works-in-progress. And who wouldn’t choose a reality that promises unlimited heights of spiritual bliss, understanding, love, happiness, and creativity, from here to eternity?

Just as we confidently reach for the red pill, Thurman/Morpheus issues a stern warning: “Embracing infinite life means embracing infinite interconnection with all other beings.” For us to be truly enlightened and happy, all other beings must also experience happiness. No sooner have we left the Matrix than Thurman tosses another metaphor into the mix—the creed of the Three Musketeers: “All for one and one for all.” Infinite life means infinite responsibility.

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