Buddhist theologian Robert Thurman has lived many lives. Father to Uma and friend to Richard Gere, the 53-year-old New York native was raised a ''typical WASP,'' though a typical childhood scene chez Thurman included Bette Davis, a close friend of his actress mother's. Then came some ''Great Gatsby-like'' merriment (motorcycle racing and drinking as a Harvard undergrad), followed by his spiritual rebirth, five years of monastic living in India and New Jersey, and another change of heart. ''I wanted to contribute more to society,'' he explains. ''So I resigned as a monk, fell in love, got married, became a professor. Then life became boring, except for Uma!'' And except for his partnership with Gere, who helped him found New York's Tibet House; his fight to preserve Tibetan culture; and his mentorship of Eightfold Pathers like Harrison Ford and Natalie Merchant. But Thurman (shown at this year's Oscars) would rather talk about the day a certain 3-year-old snuck out of their home in Amherst, Mass., to buy red shoes: ''That's typical Uma. She walked through traffic, clutching money she'd stolen from her mother's purse, and convinced the shopkeeper to fit her for the shoes.'' Which incarnation does Robert Thurman like best? Proud dad.