Dechen Karl Thurman was born on January 18, 1973 in Shady, New York, and is named for a Tibetan word meaning 'great bliss'. He is the middle son of Robert A.F. Thurman, the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies and the first American ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Time magazine named him one of the "25 Most Influential Americans." His mother is Nena Birgitte Caroline von Schlebrügge Thurman, psychotherapist and former fashion model. He is the brother of the actress Uma Thurman, Ganden Thurman, Mipam Thurman and Taya Thurman. His maternal grandparents were Colonel Baron Friedrich Karl Johannes von Schlebrügge, a German military officer, who had become one of the senior Nazi spies in the Americas, but who was also jailed by the Nazis for protecting Jewish friends, and Brigit Holmquist who served as the model for a 1930 statue of a nude woman that overlooks the harbor of Smygehuk in Sweden. He is the paternal grandson of the stage actress Elizabeth Dean Farrar and Beverly Reid Thurman, Jr., Associated Press editor and United Nations translator. His uncle, John Thurman, is a professional concert cellist who performs with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Growing up, Dechen's family was a multicultural pioneer in hosting such luminous Tibetan refugee scholars and monks as Geshe Wangyal, Lama Govinda, Tara Tulku Rimpoche, Dr. Yeshe Donden and Gehlek Rimpoche, a paramount time in Dechen's life as he learned to cultivate his meditation practice with the help of these brilliant scholars. He first met His Holiness the Dalai Lama at age seven in Dharamsala, India.
Dechen attended Eaglebrook Junior School in Dearfield, Massachusetts, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and Columbia University in New York City, and is an alumni of Playwright's Horizon Theatre School and New York University Tisch School of the Arts Experimental Theatre Wing, founding Teleotheater NYC, a multi-media collaboration, which focuses primarily on producing and presenting new plays, and refurbishing decaying performance venues to defray the high cost of putting up new plays in New York. As a teen and in his twenties, he worked as a model for agencies such as the Elite Model Agency.
From 1995 and on, Dechen has produced and acted in over two dozen films and off-Broadway plays. He has starred and appeared in films such as Sunny Side Up, When the Devil Comes, Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe, Henry X, Coitus Interruptus, Circle of Death, Fast Food Fast Women, Guildenstern, Home Sweet Hoboken, Way Off Broadway, Zoolander (NY Times Critics' Pick), Hamlet, This is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis, Mixing Nia, Sue, Code of Ethics, I Think I Do, Julian Po, Myth America, Loose Women, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Gods and Generals, Animal Room, and The Next Big Thing.
In 1997 Dechen formally began training at the Ohashi Institute having developed his own style of bodywork derived from Tibetan techniques. In 1999, his massages received international praise in the form of print articles (July'99 Vogue, Elle, Paper Magazine) and an appearance on the E! channels' Mind Body and Spirit Hour. Dechen graduated with distinction from the Ohashi Institute in 2004 and was immediately accepted into the certified Ohashiatsu Instructor training program. An interest in yoga led him to pursue yoga teacher training, and in 2005 he completed an 800-hour advanced certification instructor course with the Jivamukti Yoga School. Dechen also studied with Indian spiritual leader Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and on the day of his death told a class that his beloved guru never "got bored of yoga." He added that it was Jois's dedication to maintaining a personal practice that made people want to follow him. "You can all be a Pattabhi Jois," he said. Meaning, we can all dedicate ourselves to something so passionately and...