Lives of the Masters Series

Lives of the Masters Series

Kurtis Schaeffer, Lives of the Masters series editor, introduces the series with this note:

"Buddhist traditions are heir to some of the most creative thinkers in world history. The Lives of the Masters series offers lively and reliable introductions to the lives, works, and legacies of key Buddhist teachers, philosophers, contemplatives, and writers. Each volume in the Lives series tells the story of an innovator who embodied the ideals of Buddhism, crafted a dynamic living tradition during his or her lifetime, and bequeathed a vibrant legacy of knowledge and practice to future generations.

Lives books rely on primary sources in the original languages to describe the extraordinary achievements of Buddhist thinkers and illuminate these achievements by vividly setting them within their historical contexts. Each volume offers a concise yet comprehensive summary of the master’s life and an account of how they came to hold a central place in Buddhist traditions. Each contribution also contains a broad selection of the master’s writings.

This series makes it possible for all readers to imagine Buddhist masters as deeply creative and inspired people whose work was animated by the rich complexity of their time and place and how these inspiring figures continue to engage our quest for knowledge and understanding today."

Related Titles

The Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi

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Gendun Chopel

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By: Donald S. Lopez Jr.

Atisa Dipamkara

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By: Atisha & James B. Apple

S. N. Goenka

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About the Books

Tsongkhapa: A Buddha in the Land of Snows

By Thubten Jinpa

H. H. The Dalai Lama introduces this monumental and definitive biography authored by his long-time translator Thubten Jinpa, and released 600 years following Tsongkhapa's parinirvana:

"An important part of Tsongkhapa’s legacy is the emphasis he placed on critical analysis as essential to the attainment of enlightenment. He revitalized the approach, typical of the Nalanda tradition, that takes reasoned philosophical scrutiny as essential to understanding the nature of reality. . . .

Tsongkhapa had a far-reaching impact on Tibetan tradition. In terms of the three higher trainings in ethics, concentration, and wisdom, he wrote, “Those who wish to discipline others have first to discipline themselves.” His strict adherence to the culture and practice of vinaya, or monastic discipline, set a widely admired standard. His thorough and illuminating writings about Madhyamaka philosophy profoundly enriched Tibetan understanding of Nāgārjuna’s school of thought, stimulating critical thinking about the deeper implications of the view of emptiness. Moreover, his systematic exploration of Buddhist tantra, especially the highest yoga systems of Guhyasamāja and Cakrasaṃvara, has ensured not only that their practice has flourished but also that they have been more clearly understood."

See more about Tsongkhapa in our Reader's Guide to his life and works.

Here is Thubten Jinpa sharing his experience composing this biography:

Atiśa Dīpaṃkara: Illuminator of the Awakened Mind

By James B. Apple

Atiśa perhaps had the greatest impact on Buddhism in Tibet of all the Indian masters who visited there. A founder of the Kadam school, the origin of the Geluk tradition of the Dalai Lamas, Atiśa was a brilliant synthesizer whose contributions to Madhyamaka, Tantra, Mind Training (lojong), and the lamrim tradition have continued to be fundamental for practitioners and scholars of Tantra and the Mahāyāna.

Enjoy an excerpt from the preface to the book:

"Atiśa’s life and teachings are a Tibetan story, and what an amazing story it is. Atiśa’s life is guided by dreams, visions, and predictions from buddhas and bodhisattvas, including the savioress Tārā. In the story of Atiśa’s life, we enter a world of gold, sailing ships, palm-leaf manuscripts, and mantras, rather than credit cards, automobiles, social media, and cell phones. The story involves transactions in over two million dollars’ worth of gold and travels throughout maritime Buddhist Asia. The Tibetans have faithfully preserved what is known of Atiśa Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna, the vicissitudes of his life, the struggles in his travels, and the spirit and meaning of his teachings."

Gendun Chopel: Tibet's Modern Visionary

By Donald S. Lopez Jr.

Artist, poet, iconoclast, philosopher, adventurer, master of the arts of love, tantric yogin, Buddhist saint, world traveler—these are but a few of the descriptions of one of Tibet's most famous modern visionaries, now presented in a single, definitive volume. Having written six books on Gendun Chopel, Donald Lopez takes the culmination of his intimate study and six published works on this figure to present in a comprehensive way his achievements, legacy, and journey—from his recognition as a tulku, to his travels throughout Tibet, India, and Sri Lanka, to his controversial imprisonment in Lhasa and death following the communist invasion of Tibet.

In the introduction Donald Lopez Jr. presents Chopel alongside the politically charged atmosphere that shaped the life, travels, and writing of Tibet's modern visionary,

"Indeed, unlike other important figures in Tibetan history, he was a man who made his name abroad, his life beginning and end­ing with the two most consequential foreign invasions in Tibetan history. He was born in August 1903, four months before British troops, under the command of Colonel Francis Younghusband, crossed the border into Tibet. He died in October 1951. On September 9, he was lifted from his deathbed to watch the troops of the People’s Liberation Army march into Lhasa.

. . . Near the end of his life, one of the few disciples who remained loyal after he was released from prison asked him, in the traditional Tibetan way, to compose his autobiography. Rather than do so with a lengthy work characteristic of the genre, he responded spontaneously, with a four-line poem:

A virtuous family, the lineage of monks, the way of a layman,
A time of abundance, a time of poverty,
The best of monks, the worst of laymen,
My body has changed so much in one lifetime."

The most wide-ranging work available on this extraordinary figure, this inaugural book of the Lives of the Masters series is an instant classic.

gendun chopel