Donald S. Lopez Jr.

Donald S. Lopez Jr.

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He specializes in late Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism and is the author of numerous books, including A Study of Svatantrika, The Madman’s Middle Way, and Prisoners of Shangri-La.

Donald S. Lopez Jr.

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He specializes in late Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism and is the author of numerous books, including A Study of Svatantrika, The Madman’s Middle Way, and Prisoners of Shangri-La.

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Buddhist Poetry - A Reader Guide

Recent Releases

Until NIrvana Time

$21.95 - Paperback

Until Nirvana's Time: Buddhist Songs from Cambodia

By Trent Walker

Until Nirvana’s Time presents forty-five Dharma songs, whose soaring melodies have inspired Cambodian Buddhist communities for generations. Whether recited in daily prayers or all-night rituals, these poems speak to our deepest concerns—how to die, how to grieve, and how to repay the ones we love.

Introduced, translated, and contextualized by scholar and vocalist Trent Walker, this is the first collection of traditional Cambodian Buddhist literature available in English. Many of the poems have been transcribed from old cassette tapes or fragile bark-paper manuscripts that have never before been printed. A link to recordings of selected songs in English and Khmer accompanies the book.

Click here to listen to songs from the book, performed by Trent Walker.

Chan and Zen Poetry

The Poetry of Zen, edited by Sam Hamill & J.P. Seaton

Here, poet-translators Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton offer up a rich sampling of poems from the Chinese and Japanese Zen traditions, spanning centuries of poets, from Lao Tzu to Kobayashi Issa. While a few of the poets included were not Zen practitioners, their poems nonetheless illustrate a strong Zen influence. Hamill and Seaton open the anthology with an overview of the Zen poetic tradition, and provide historical, philosophical, and biographical context to the works throughout, showing readers how poetry “is one of the many paths to enlightenment” (7). With a compact trim size, this collection makes a wonderful travel companion.

The Poetry of Zen Edited by Sam Hamill and J. P. Seaton

$18.95 - Paperback

Poetry from Chinese Chan Masters

By Indara (因陀羅) (Yintuoluo) (Emuseum) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Poetry of Enlightenment: Poems by Ancient Chan Masters, by Chan Master Sheng Yen

Look inside the minds of enlightened masters with this collection of Ch’an teaching poems. Chan Master Sheng Yen offers commentary on ten poems by ancient Chinese Ch’an masters, selected both for their simplicity of language and depth of meaning. Written by Ch’an practitioners post-enlightenment, these poems touch on the experience of Ch’an, how to practice, cultivating the right attitude, and obstacles to avoid, as well as offering a glimpse into the state of mind of enlightenment.

$18.95 - Paperback

The Complete Cold Mountain: Poems of the Legendary Hermit Hanshan, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi & Peter Levitt

Capturing readers with its insightful, light, humorous, and often rebellious spirit, Hanshan’s Cold Mountain poems have long been enjoyed by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. This new translation of these centuries-old writings by Kaz Tanahashi and Peter Levitt presents readers not only the full body of poems in its entirety, but also provides a wealth of insight into the poets behind the poems, full Chinese text of the poems, historical context, and the Buddhist elements present throughout the collection. The translators’ deep appreciation for Hanshan shines through the collection. Translator Peter Levitt notes in the introduction, “Because of the compassionate discernment, profound tranquility, unexpected insight, and the occasional outrageous humor of his poetry, Kaz Tanahashi and I have gratefully considered Hanshan one of life’s treasured companions for fifty years. As a result of the kinship we feel with him, we gathered together, translated, and now offer readers the most complete version of the poet’s work to date in the English language” (2).

The Complete Cold Mountain

$22.95 - Paperback

Poetry from Japanese Zen Masters

The Poetry of Ryokan

Widely admired both for his character and poetry, Ryokan remains one of the key poets of the Zen tradition. Though written in eighteenth century Japan, Ryokan’s poems seem to transcend time and space, with reflections on the human experience that are as relevant to today’s readers as they were centuries ago.


“Who says my poems are poems?
My poems are not poems.
When you know that my poems are not poems,
Then we can speak of poetry!”


*Image by Ryōkan (English: Replica before 1970) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

$18.95 - Paperback

Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, translated & edited by John Stevens

Providing brief biographical context, John Stevens introduces us to the world and work of Ryokan. The collection demonstrates the spirit of Ryokan’s Zen outlook, with poems covering the full spectrum of the human experience and focusing on “things deep inside the heart.” Throughout the text are ink paintings by Koshi no Sengai, a devotee of Ryokan, many of which include calligraphy of Ryokan’s verses.

$19.95 - Paperback

One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan, translated & introduced by John Stevens

In comparison to Dewdrops, this collection offers a more detailed introduction to the life of Ryokan and his relationship to Zen Buddhism. Ryokan was not married to one poetic style, and thus this collection is broken up into classical Chinese style poems, and Japanese waka and haiku, organized by season.

$18.95 - Paperback

Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi

For readers who want to take a really deep dive into Ryokan, this is the collection to read. Not only does Tanahashi present Ryokan’s poetry (organized chronologically), but he also offers selections of Ryokan’s calligraphy, maps of relevant sites for readers’ reference, a detailed biographical introduction, notes on individual poems, an analysis of Ryokan’s poetic forms, and a collection of anecdotes about the beloved Zen poet.

The Poetry of Saigō

Saigyō, the Buddhist name of Fujiwara no Norikiyo (1118–1190), is one of Japan’s most famous and beloved poets. He was a recluse monk who spent much of his life wandering and seeking after the Buddhist way. Combining his love of poetry with his spiritual evolution, he produced beautiful, lyrical lines infused with a Buddhist perception of the world.

This world—

strug jewels

of dew

on the frail thread

a spider spins.

Gazing at the Moon: Buddhist Poems of Solitude, translated by Meredith McKinney, presents over one hundred of Saigyō’s tanka—traditional 31-syllable poems—newly rendered into English by renowned translator Meredith McKinney. This selection of poems conveys Saigyō’s story of Buddhist awakening, reclusion, seeking, enlightenment, and death, embodying the Japanese aesthetic ideal of mono no aware—to be moved by sorrow in witnessing the ephemeral world.

$16.95 - Paperback

Check out the interview with Meredith McKinney on the Books on Asia Podcast!

Indian Buddhist Poetry

Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha: Enlightenment Poems from the Theragatha and Therigatha, translated by Andrew Schelling and Anne Waldman

More than two thousand years ago, the earliest disciples of the Buddha put into verse their experiences on the spiritual journey—from their daily struggles to their spiritual realizations. Over time the verses were collected to form the Theragatha and Therigatha, the “Verses of Elder Monks” and “Verses of Elder Nuns” respectively. Renowned poets Andrew Schelling and Anne Waldman have translated the most poignant poems in these collections, bringing forth their visceral, immediate qualities.

$16.95 - Paperback

Tibetan Buddhist Poetry

Gendun Chopel: Tibet’s Modern Visionary, by Donald S. Lopez Jr.

The debut title in Shambhala’s Lives of the Masters series, Gendun Chopel offers an in-depth look at the life and writings of the Tibetan Buddhist visionary, by scholar Donald Lopez. While much of this book is a biographical exploration of Gendun Chopel, Lopez also provides a wealth of Gendun Chopel’s writings, believing that “one learns a great deal about an author by actually reading what they wrote” (x). More than a Buddhist visionary, Gendun Chopel is considered one of Tibet’s greatest poets of the twentieth century, and thus included among these writings is a significant selection of poetry. As a student and writer of poetry throughout his life, he mastered many poetic forms, and often composed poems spontaneously.

The relatives and servants we meet are but guests on market day.
The rise of power, wealth, and arrogance are pleasures in a dream.
Happiness alternates with sorrow, summer changes to winter.
Thinking of this, a song spontaneously came to me.

Gendun Chopel

$22.95 - Paperback

$39.95 - Paperback

The Rain of Wisdom: The Essence of the Ocean of True Meaning, translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee

Translated under the direction of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, this collection offers more than one hundred vajra dohas of the Tibetan Kagyu lineage, by more than thirty lineage holders, including Tilopa, Milarepa, and the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. Contained in these songs are teachings on karma, bodhicitta, devotion, and the Buddhist path. Trungpa Rinpoche writes in his Foreword, “these songs should be regarded as the best of the butter which has been churned from the ocean of milk of the Buddha’s teachings” (xiii).

$39.95 - Paperback

Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre

Renowned scholar Roger Jackson takes on the subject in the chapter ‘Poetry in Tibet: Glu, mGur, sNyan ngag and “Songs of Experience”.  He explores Tibetan poetry from its earliest forms to the present including Trungpa Rinpoche and Allen Ginsberg.

The rise of power, wealth, and arrogance are pleasures in a dream.
Happiness alternates with sorrow, summer changes to winter.
Thinking of this, a song spontaneously came to me.

The Treasury of Knowledge

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye’s ten volume Treasury of Knowledge includes the volume Indo-Tibetan Classical Learning & Buddhist Phenomenology (Book Six, Parts One & Two). Chapter eight catalogues the elements and components of Tibetan poetry including the types of composition (metrical, prose, and a mix of the two) as well as poetic ornaments.

$49.95 - Hardcover

Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight and Awakening, selected & translated by Thupten Jinpa & Jas Elsner

Published in English for the first time, this collection of fifty-two poems by realized masters, from classic to contemporary, represents the full range of Tibetan Buddhist lineage traditions. Organized thematically, these songs address impermanence, guru devotion, emptiness, and other key themes of Tibetan Buddhism. Also included are a detailed glossary and exploration of the Tibetan tradition of nyamgur (“experiential songs”), offering a comprehensive look at poetry’s role within Tibetan Buddhism. A foreword for the collection is provided by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The introduction forms one of the best introductions to Tibetan poetry available.  Here is a taste:

"Many of the greatest Tibetan poems demand of the reader an attentiveness to a complex line of thought and philosophical reasoning, albeit in the heightened forms of verse combined with the inspiration of imagery. For the poet, the ideal reader is one whose reading of the poem becomes itself an act of meditation, penetrating the depths of human experience with an insight tempered by sensitivity.

$22.95 - Paperback

Listen to Thubten Jinpa discuss the Songs of Spiritual Experience

Other Media on Tibetan Buddhist Poetry

Watch this episode from the Tsadra Foundation’s Translation and Transmission conference in 2017 with leading scholars of Tibetan poetry.

kavya poetry

Poems of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

trungpa cal

While Trungpa Rinpoche was a Tibetan, his poetry is unique and has therefore been included in the contemporary Buddhist poetry section.

When Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche arrived in the United States, he asked, “Where are your poets? Take me to your poets!” Not only was Trungpa Rinpoche a spiritual teacher, but he was also an avid poet and dharma artist. Below, we describe the differences between our multiple collections of his work:

$19.95 - Paperback

Timely Rain: Selected Poetry of Chogyam Trungpa

Timely Rain is a collection of new and previously published poems, edited and curated by David I. Rome. While First Thought Best Thought presents poems in roughly chronological order, this collection is organized thematically, with each thematic section in chronological order. This allows readers to more easily navigate the poems, while also witnessing the evolution of Trungpa’s expressiveness and state of mind. Editor David Rome reflects in his Afterword that “poetry is also a refuge for Trungpa, perhaps the only place where he is able to step out of all the roles and self-inventions and speak truthfully from—and to—his own heart” (193). Themes contained herein include loneliness, samsara and nirvana, love, and sacred songs.

Mudra Chogyam Trungpa

$16.95 - Paperback

Mudra: Early Poems and Songs

Mudra is a selection of spontaneous, celebratory poems of devotion written by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche between 1959 and 1971. Trungpa opens his collection with two translations of Jigme Lingpa and Patrul Rinpoche, explaining that “they are the vajra statement which frees the people of the dark ages from the three lords of materialism and their warfare.” Also included are ten traditional Zen oxherding pictures along with Trungpa’s unique commentary.

$24.95 - Paperback

First Thought Best Thought: 108 Poems

Dictated (Trungpa composed poems verbally to a scribe) around the time of his arrival in the United States, this collection of poems, with an introduction by Allen Ginsberg, encapsulates Trungpa’s creative energy. His vision of joining East and West shines through each poem, combining classical Tibetan poetic influences with a modern American poetic style. As the collection progresses chronologically, readers witness Trungpa’s increasing familiarity and comfort with American culture. The collection’s title pays homage to William Blake’s “First thought is best in Art, second in other matters,” while also invoking the notion of beginner’s mind. As Ginsberg writes in his introduction, here is an “amazing chance to see his thought process step by step, link by link, cutting through solidifications of opinions & fixations” (xv).

Buddhist Songs and Poetry from Southeast Asia

Until NIrvana Time

$21.95 - Paperback

Until Nirvana's Time: Buddhist Songs from Cambodia

By Trent Walker

Until Nirvana’s Time presents forty-five Dharma songs, whose soaring melodies have inspired Cambodian Buddhist communities for generations. Whether recited in daily prayers or all-night rituals, these poems speak to our deepest concerns—how to die, how to grieve, and how to repay the ones we love.

Introduced, translated, and contextualized by scholar and vocalist Trent Walker, this is the first collection of traditional Cambodian Buddhist literature available in English. Many of the poems have been transcribed from old cassette tapes or fragile bark-paper manuscripts that have never before been printed. A link to recordings of selected songs in English and Khmer accompanies the book.

Click here to listen to more songs from the book, performed by Trent Walker.

Contemporary Buddhist Poetry

The First Free Women: Original Poems Inspired by the Early Buddhist Nuns, by Matty Weingast

Composed around the Buddha’s lifetime, the original Therigatha (“Verses of the Elder Nuns”) contains the poems of the first Buddhist women: princesses and courtesans, tired wives of arranged marriages and the desperately in love, those born into limitless wealth and those born with nothing at all. The authors of the Therigatha were women from every kind of background, but they all shared a deep-seated desire for awakening and liberation.

In The First Free Women, Matty Weingast has reimagined this ancient collection and created an original work that takes his experience of the essence of each poem and brings forth in his own words the struggles and doubts, as well as the strength, perseverance, and profound compassion, embodied by these courageous women.

$18.95 - Paperback

Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Kent Johnson & Craig Paulenich

For readers who prefer a more modern aesthetic, Beneath a Single Moon is a delightful read. This anthology features more than 250 poems by forty-five contemporary American poets, supplemented with essays exploring spiritual poetic practice. Among those included in this collection are John Cage, Diane di Prima, Norman Fischer, Allen Ginsberg, Susan Griffin, Anne Waldman, Philip Whalen, and Gary Snyder, who also provides the book’s introduction. Offering a refreshing look at spiritual poetry, the editors explain that “the variousness of the work [stands] very much at odds with the fairly common notion of American ‘Zen’ poetry as a literary remnant of the sixties, with derivative, and generally identifiable ‘Eastern’ criteria. It [is] even more intimately at odds, perhaps, with the well-diffused perception—at least in the West—of Buddhism as collectivizing and inimical to individual spirit” (xv-xvi).

$29.95 - Paperback

After Ikkyu & Other Poems, by Jim Harrison

Those who find spiritual poetry can become too rigid or serious will find this to be a refreshing departure from the norm. These raw and often pithy poems by novelist Jim Harrison draw inspiration from his many years of Zen practice, and in perfect Zen spirit, they reveal a poet and practitioner who does not take himself too seriously. In his introduction Harrison explains, “It doesn’t really matter if these poems are thought of as slightly soiled dharma gates or just plain poems. They’ll live or die by their own specific density, flowers for the void” (ix).

After Ikkyu and Other Poems

$12.95 - Paperback

Listen to a sample from Jim Harrison's original reading of After Ikkyu. Audiobook available on Audible and Apple.

Books Related to Buddhist Poetry

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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

$27.95 - Paperback

By: Charles Manson


$29.95 - Paperback

By: Steven Heine


$24.95 - Paperback

By: Benjamin Brose


$29.95 - Paperback

By: Thupten Jinpa & Tsongkhapa


$29.95 - Paperback

By: Klaus-Dieter Mathes

Gendun Chopel

$22.95 - Paperback

By: Donald S. Lopez Jr.

Atisa Dipamkara

$24.95 - Paperback

By: Atisha & James B. Apple

S. N. Goenka

$26.95 - Paperback

By: Daniel M. Stuart

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
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The World Is Round or Spherical | An Excerpt from Gendun Chopel

from Melong

Gendun Chopel

Gendun Chopel contributed both poetry and essays to Melong (“Mirror”), the Tibetan-language newspaper published in Kalimpong by the Tibetan Christian from Khunnu, Dorje Tharchin, also known as Tharchin Babu. Its full title in Tibetan was Mirror of the News from Various Regions. In the June 28, 1938, issue, Gendun Chopel published an essay entitled “The World Is Round or Spherical” under the pseudonym Honest Dharma (Drangpo Dharma). Above the essay was a map of the world drawn by Gendun Chopel, showing latitude and longitude, with the names of the continents written in Tibetan cursive script. There are two circles, with North America and South America in one, and Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia in the other. Below is a single globe, perhaps meant to show that the earth is not two globes but one. Above the maps one reads in Tibetan “Map of the Round World.”

The World Is Round or Spherical

In the past, in the lands of the continent of Europe it was only said that this world is flat, just as it appears to the non-analytical mind; there was not a single person who said that it was round. All the ancient religions in the various lands said only that the world is flat; there was not one that said that it was round. Thus, when some intelligent people first said that it is round, the only method to keep it from spreading was to order that they be burned alive. However, in the end, unable to withstand the light of true knowledge, everyone came to believe that it is round. Today, not only has the fact that it is round been determined, but also the size of all the islands in the world just four or five yojanas long have been measured down to spans and cubits. Therefore, in the great lands there is not a single scholar who has even a doubt.

Among all of the Buddhists in Siṅghala, Burma, Ceylon [presumably Siam], Japan, and so forth, there is not one who says that it is not true that it is round. Yet we in Tibet still hold stubbornly to the position that it is not. Some say mindless foolish things, like the foreigners’ sending ships into the ocean is a deception. I have also seen some intelligent persons who understand [that it is round] but, fearing slander by others, remain unable to say so. When even the most obstinate European scholars who do not believe in anything without seeing the reason directly were not able to maintain the position that it is not round and accepted it completely, then there is no need to talk about this stubbornness of ours coming to an end.

[Saying that the world is not round] because the Buddha stated that it is flat is not accepted as authoritative in other [non-Buddhist] schools and thus does not do a pinprick of damage [to their assertion that it is round]. Even with regard to the scriptures of our own [Buddhist] school, which does accept [the Buddha’s statement] as authoritative, because the majority of the sūtras were set forth by the Buddha in accordance with the thoughts of sentient beings, even in this case, we do not know what is provisional and what is definitive. If he set forth even matters of great importance such as emptiness and the stages of the path to liberation in various types of provisional meaning in accordance with the thoughts of sentient beings, what need is there to discuss these presentations of environments and their inhabitants? During the lifetime of the Buddha, when it occasionally happened that the way that the monks ate their food did not accord with [the customs] of the time and place, causing slight concern among the laity, he would make a rule that it was unsuitable. At that time, throughout all the world, the words “[the world] is flat” were as famous as the wind. Thus, even if the Buddha had said, “It is round,” whose ear would it have entered? Even if he had said so emphatically, it would have had no purpose, even if he had demonstrated it with his miraculous powers. Nowadays, at a time when [the fact that the world is round] has become evident to billions of beings, there are still those of us who say, “This is your deception.” In the same way, I am certain that they would not have believed it, saying, “This is the magic trick of Gautama.” If all of us would believe in this world that we see with our eyes rather than that world that we see through letters, it would be good.

At that time, throughout all the world, the words “[the world] is flat” were as famous as the wind. Thus, even if the Buddha had said, “It is round,” whose ear would it have entered? Even if he had said so emphatically, it would have had no purpose, even if he had demonstrated it with his miraculous powers.

Donald S. Lopez Jr.Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies and Chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan.

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Changing Minds

The following article is from the Spring, 2001 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Contributions to the Study of Buddhism and Tibet In Honor of Jeffrey Hopkins

edited by Guy Newland 352 pages, 6x9,1-55939-160-X, #CHMIND, cloth June

This is a book offered in tribute to Jeffrey Hopkins by colleagues and former students. Jeffrey Hopkins has, in his sixty years, made profound and diverse contributions to the understanding of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism in the West. In his collaborations with the Dalai Lama, such as Kindness, Clarity, and Insight, and in books like Tibetan Arts of Love and Emptiness Yoga, Hopkins has reached out to the general reader, making the wisdom of Tibet accessible to every one. Yet there is never anything superficial about his work; his recent Emptiness in the Mind-Only School is a magisterial display of painstaking scholarly work.

Changing Minds contains essays that reflect the breadth and influence of Hopkins.

The following is an excerpt from the Editor's Introduction.

Twenty-five years ago I first met Jeffrey Hopkins as my instructor in a popular undergraduate course on Buddhist meditation at the University of Virginia. 1 liked the course and studied with him for almost thirteen yearsbecause of the way Hopkins presented Buddhist ideas. He did not posture as the authoritative curator of a mummified body of knowledge. He did not mystify the tradition and he certainly did not act as a missionary for it. On the other hand, he did not attempt to account for Buddhism in terms of any extrinsic academic ideology. Instead, Hopkins was interested in encountering Buddhist worldviews as living systems of human meaning; his classes were invitations to participate in that encoimter. They were based on his own meticulous translations of primary-source Tibetan or Sanskrit texts, sometimes produced in collaboration with Tibetan colleagues. The message that I got, from his teaching and his books, was: There are and long have been real people, whole communities and civilizations, for whom the ideas and texts we are now studying are profoundly important. We should show them the respect of taking their ideas seriously. That means finding out how far we can go in understanding how others make sense of the worldand seeing how our minds change in the process.

Hopkins presented Tibetan Buddhism as a living system of meaning in part by bringing to campus distinguished Tibetan scholars from the refugee communities of India. At that time, in the middle of the 1970s, this was something quite rare; most of my fellow undergraduates had heard the term Dalai Lama only as a Johnny Carson punch-line. Sometimes a monk would accompany Hopkins to class and speak to us in Tibetan, with Hopkins translating. Hopkins taught many undergraduate and graduate courses in this way while I was at the University of Virginia. There is no doubt that the presence of visiting Tibetan scholars on campus greatly enriched my education in the graduate Buddhist Studies program. Instead of having only Hopkins representing and mediating Tibetan Buddhism to us, we had continuing opportunities to work with scholars whose credentials to speak from within and on behalf of the tradition were unimpeachable. Some graduate students in the program likely developed, outside of class, spiritual connections with these lamas that were deeper and more important to them than their academic relationship with Hopkins.

That was not my experience; I was not drawn into the program mainly by the Tibetan scholars. After all, they could not speak English and only Hopkins and the more advanced graduate students could really question them directly. For me, the heart of the program was Hopkins. He had no superficial flash as a public speaker, but he had intellectual substance and passion. He conveyed his prodigious learning with an intensity that John Buescher conjures from the past in the opening article of this volume. Buescher gives us Hopkins at workguiding students through the complexities of Sanskrit syntax, teaching them how to pull from the tangle something that would change their minds:

It's the self of persons and of things

that we're looking for, Jeffrey said, as he pointed to Nagarj una's text in front of him. The tiling that seems to cover over them and make them a whole, single entity, assembling things out of their parts. We've got to take them apart to see it. Parsing the words of the text, then translating them, the operation became unexpectedly exacting. Sweat rolled down in tight, little streams under my shirt. We were unprepared for this drill, this scalpel. Jeffrey, however, proceeded on, laying bare our ignorance, peremptorily rejecting any uncertain or wrong answer. As he thundered his demand for the right answer, we searched for it. We desperately wished we could find it, some seat of the soul, some little treasure amid the remains of the words that now lay in pieces all about us.

Did these teaching methods leave room for students to challenge the tradition itself, to form their own critical evaluation of it? In my undergraduate courses with Hopkins, he seemed to regard it as satisfactory if a student could think through some of the complexities of Tibetan Buddhist doctrine. He certainly did not forbid etic analysis or independent critique, but he did little to encourage it. This might not seem ideal, but it did not strike me as so different from many other courses that I had taken, in Russian literature, Greek tragedy, or experimental psychology, for example. In each case, the premise was that there is a very complicated, very unfamiliar story to be told. The novice must expect to spend time on the ground of the storyteller, learning the story well and getting the details straight, before launching an idiosyncratic metanar- rative on what the story (in this case someone else's religion) is really about.

As a graduate student, my experience was that Hopkins wanted even demandedwork that was not only intimately grounded in the details of the tradition, but also had something to say, something useful or insightful. As I gained mastery of a research topic (and not before), he clearly expected more of me than a re-transmission of what learned lamas had said. For example, he told me that my seminar paper on the Abhisamayalamkara was boring because it simply reorganized information from the tradition. On another occasion, Hopkins asked me to present a paper in an interdepartmental colloquium series, assigning me a topic from the work of the Sa skya scholar sTag tshang. I decided on my own that I would instead give a psychoanalytic treatment of Tsong kha pa on the three principal aspects of the path. When he heard my talk, rather than being upset that I had presumed to offer an independent analysis, he was clearly pleased. The same was true when I submitted my dissertation; when I used various Western theories to give an independent account of the religiosity of dGe lugs scholasticism, Hopkins's criticisms were aimed only at strengthening my argument.

Hopkins's scholarship likewise evidences concern to avoid arrogant pseudo-objectivity on the one hand and naive adulation on the other. Hopkins has taken special pains to avoid the first of these extremes and has been more careful in that regard than some. By being open in his appreciation for some aspects of the traditions he studies, Hopkins has at times chosen to risk appearing to some as an academic front-man for religious dogma. In books such as Meditation on Emptiness and The Tantric Distinction, Buddhist thought-systems are not specimens to be dissected at arm's length. Instead, Hopkins recreates his encounter with another world of meaning, a very particular and intricate Asian Buddhist world which can never again be imagined as completely separate from our world. Describing his version of a methodological middle way, Hopkins writes that his aim is to evince a respect for the directions, goals, and horizons of the culture itself without swallowing an Asian tradition as if it had all the answers or...pretending to have a privileged position.

* * *

Don Lopez and Joe Wilson conceived that this book should come into being to honor Jeffrey Hopkins in his sixtieth year. At their suggestion and with the encouragement of Anne Klein, I undertook the project, soliciting contributions only from a close circle of Hopkins's friends, admirers, and former students. Then, with some assistance from Snow Lion and outside readers, I selected the articles in this volume for publication. As Paul Hackett shows in the closing article of this volume, Hopkins's research has covered a wide range of concerns, centering on dGe lugs scholarship but ranging far beyond it in several directions. A thin cross-section of that diversity is reflected in the scholarship here.


Describing his version I of a methodological middle way, Hopkins writes that his aim is to evince a respect for the directions, goals, and horizons of the culture itself without t swallowing an Asian tradition as if it had all the answers or... pretending to have a privileged position.

John Buescher opens our volume with an atmospheric and evocative real-life detective story. Caught in the act of teaching Madhyamika Buddhism, Hopkins appears as a philosophical sleuth on the trail of truth. Buescher then weaves into this portrait its unexpected resonances, years later, in a baffling international news-eventthe sudden appearance of a previously unknown dental relic of the Buddha.

The Madhyamika theme continues through the next two articles, by Guy Newland and Donald Lopez. My article is inspired in part by the efforts of Hopkins to describe the Madhyamika view for a general readership. I summarize some of the philosophical claims Tsong kha makes in Lam rim chen mo, reflecting in particular on the notion of conventional reality. Lopez's piece distills a careful synopsis of Tsong kha pa's treatment of the object of negation (dgag bya) in Madhyamika analysis. Then, based on his own new translations, he treats us to a riveting critique of this position by the brilliant twentieth-century iconoclast, dGe dun Chos phel.

Contributions by Dan Cozort and Elizabeth Napper keep the focus on Tsong kha pa and his Lam rim chen mo, but move away from Madhyamika Cozort provides a useful, clear, and detailed analysis of Tsong kha pa on the special dangers of anger, which is said to cut the roots of virtue. What, exactly, does this mean? How deep is the damage of anger? Cozort finds Tsong kha pa working with mixed success to explicate this doctrine and integrate it into his system. Like Cozort, Napper scrutinizes Lam rim chen mo in her contribution, Ethics as the Basis of a Tantric Tradition: Tsong kha pa and the Founding of the dGe lugs Order in Tibet. She lays out exactly how Tsong kha pa used his sources, subtly and skillfully reshaping grammar, nuance, and context in order to build a new and unique system of religious meaning. She concludes with some frank observations about the impact that the distinctive features of this system (such as its emphasis on monastic ethics) have had on the later tradition. Nap- per's impeccable work, synthesizing insights from many years of work with Lam rim chen mo and its sources, merits the appreciation of everyone who studies the dGe lugs order.

The next pair of articles shift our attention to the contemplative traditions of rDzogs chen and Mahamudra. Anne Klein takes us into the realm of Bon rDzogs chen poetry. Her original translations gracefully depict a natural, open awarenessunrecognized by ordinary personsin which reality is experienced as spontaneous and unbounded wholeness. She carefully explains who reads such poetry, to what end, and she compares the handling of contradiction and nonduality in Buddhist Madhyamika with that in Bon rDzogs chen. Roger Jackson then gives us an outstanding treatment of a little- known topic, the tradition of dGe lugs Mahamudra (phyag rgya chen po). As he notes, Mahamudra is more usually associated with meditative practices central to the bKa' brgyud tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Questions about the role of and basis for a dGe lugs form of Mahamudra lead Jackson to broader insights about inter-sectarian connections.

As Hopkins suggests, our understanding of early dGe lugs has been much aided by recent advances in our grasp on the teachings of Shes rab rgyal mtshan and the Jo nang other emptiness doctrine. Here we offer two articles which touch on this issue, demonstrating how the self-empty vs. other-empty controversy set the stage for otherwise disparate debates. Displaying his formidable knowledge of Tibetan Perfection of Wisdom literature, Gareth Sparham shows how debates about the authorship and authority of key commentaries evolved within the context of controversy between dGe lugs and Jo nang views. Then, Joe Wilson gives us a generous and cogent explication of how and why the concept of a basis-of-all (alay- avijnana, kun gzhi rnam par shes pa) is subject to radically different constructions in the Jo nang and dGe lugs traditions.

While cross-cultural and comparative themes are touched upon in other contributions, Jose Cabezon and Harvey Aronson bring them into focus. Cabezon analyzes the structure and content of Tibetan colophons, looking for evidence of an implicit theory of authorship and literary production. Simplistic notions of authorship are quickly problema- tized by the multiple layers of productivity through which a book is generated. Cabezon has given us a unique and nuanced study, full of allusions to and connections with the conversations of Western literary theory. Such cross-cultural comparison arises from historical contact; in the case of Tibetan Buddhism, that contact includes the unprecedented phenomenon of large numbers of Westerners taking up Buddhist practices and striving to embody Buddhist virtues. Using object-relations theory and his own experience as a clinician, Harvey Aronson warns of the pathological pitfalls that may afflict the self-sacrificing American bodhisattva, but argues for a model of healthy altruism.

Our volume concludes with Paul Hackett's comprehensive survey of the published works of Jeffrey Hopkins. We are grateful to Hackett for an ambitious essay charting the range and depth of Hopkins's oeuvre. Inasmuch as Hopkins's recently published Emptiness in the Mind-Only School has been hailed by many as his best work ever, and inasmuch as it is the first of a tliree-volume series, Hackett's work will perhaps but serve as a starting point for future bibliographic analysis.

In sum, this volume is presented as a tribute to the work of Jeffrey Hopkins as a teacher and as a scholar. Paul Hackett has written eloquently of Hopkins's impact:

Most people who have pursued knowledge and learning would be hard pressed not to remember at least one teacher sometime, somewhere, who first inspired them and instilled in them a sense of value in learning. This ability, the capacity not only to convey meaning, but also to motivate remains an art which stands apart from mere erudition. For some, it comes naturally; for others it requires effort; though in each person who manages to master it, there is always evident an idiosyncratic artistry by which their knowledge and experience is conveyed. So it is with Jeffrey Hopkins, who has repeatedly demonstrated not only his depth of knowledge, but also his skill as a teacher and writer.

As we see in this volume, he has inspired and enlivened us in many different ways. So now we say: Thank you!

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Book Reviews

The following article is from the Spring, 1989 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


by Samten Darmay

Serindia Publications, London

For centuries Tibet has served the planet as a nation dedicated to spiritual art, literature and practice. In an era when Europe was busy sending its armies around the world to pillage, rape and colonize, Tibet was engaged in studying, cataloging and eulogizing the stages of enlightenment and the varieties of mystical experience. Its GNP was not measured in materialistic terms alone, but in the number of yogis and sages that blossomed forth from within its precincts.

Thus when in 1642 the saintly Fifth Dalai Lama rose to become both spiritual and secular chieftain of the Tibetan nation, echoes of a destiny fulfilled rang throughout the mountains and valleys of Central Asia.

The Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) stands as perhaps the singularly most striking figure in Tibetan history. He was one of those rare men who seem bigger than life itself, a superman who accomplished in one short lifetime the deeds of a thousand ordinary heroes. From the literary viewpoint he was colossal, writing as much as all other Dalai Lamas put together. As a builder he left us with numerous marvels that can compare with the world's greatest architectural achievements, the Potala of Lhasa being perhaps the most well-known of these. His poetry is considered by Asian intellectuals to be among the most inspired verse ever composed in the Tibetan language; and his reputation as a philosopher, historian, artist, doctor and teacher far exceeds that of anyone else of the period. Moreover, he was not some mere artist, intellectual or mystic; his work as a statesman laid the very foundations for the emergence of Classical Tibet, the Tibet that rapidly came to serve as the cultural grandparent to all Central Asia.

Yet he did not accomplish all this without giving rise to some controversy. In the fulfillment of his dreams and ideals, much of the old and stagnant had to be swept aside in order to make way for the new; and although he was a man of great compassion, he was never one to hesitate on the borders of apathetic sentimentalism. His gentleness in no way rendered him indecisive or impotent, and in sculpting his image of a new Tibet he did not fear to strike with the political artist's chisel wherever and whenever it seemed appropriate.


The COLLECTED WORKS of the Fifth Dalai Lama is comprised of twenty-eight bundles of texts, and contains more than a thousand titles. These twenty-eight are divided into three categories Outer, Inner, and Secret with twelve bundles in the first of these categories, eight in the second and eight more in the third. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama points out in his Foreword to the volume under review, traditionally only the first two categories of works were ever printed in Tibet. Generally the texts in the Secret category were only available to high initiates, and were not allowed to be mass-produced or openly marketed; anyone wanting a text in this category would have to request special permission to have a hand-copy made.

Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama by Samten Karmay is a study of one of these eight Secret Volumes. The Tibetan text of the volume contains sixteen individual titles, the first of these being the Fifth Dalai Lama's catalog of the numerous visions that he experienced during his life.

The edition by Serindia Publications is remarkable in that it is based upon an original and priceless manuscript prepared during the lifetime of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama himself, with hundreds of exquisite color illustrations executed under the Fifth's direct supervision. The Serindia edition, as well as carrying high-quality reproductions of all the illustrations, contains a reducted photographic reprint of the entire Tibetan manuscript. Thus as well as being an excellent work on classical seventeenth century Tibetan art, it is a valuable addition to the library of any Tibetan scholar.

Samten Karmay's contribution is his brief Summary of the contents of the Tibetan texts, and an Introduction that provides the reader with a general picture of Tibetan history and the Fifth Dalai Lama's life.

Although his Summary deals with all sixteen Tibetan texts, the bulk of his commentary focuses on the first of these, Secret Visions itself. The remaining fifteen texts-ritual and liturgical works mainly of an exorcistic nature are given only a paragraph or two each.

A disappointing feature of the Summary is that Mr. Karmay satisfies himself with merely listing the various 'beings' (gurus, buddhas, bodhisattvas, tantric deities, etc.) whom the Fifth saw in his visions, and does not deal with any of the prophetic (and highly poetic) conversations that ensued, nor with the meaning or significance of the visions. By cutting the material to a mere skeleton of events, we are left with something that reads almost like a list or diary of daily appointments. However, it may be argued that for him to attempt to take the material further would have opened a whole other dimension to the work, and would have expanded the volume prohibitively.

Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama is an elegant and enticing edition. Undoubtedly it is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the complex character of the Fifth Dalai lama, and to the many facets of his personality. It could stand as a landmark work merely on the strength of its artwork, just as it could for the Tibetan texts that it contains, it is the type of publication that does not need to be read to be admired and appreciated; merely holding it and letting one's eyes flow over its pages suffices to bestow upon the beholder the sense of being in the presence of beauty, greatness, the mystical and the very sublime.

-Glenn H. Mullin



by Donald S. Lopez

Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY

In this book, Lopez presents a translation and study which brings to light the seventeenth-eighteenth-century Tibetan Buddhist scholar, Jang-gya's views on the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school of Indian Mahayana Buddhism. The work translated by Lopez is, in effect, one chapter from the larger work by Jang-gya expounding the views of the various Indian Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools. Jang-gya's interpretations are based primarily on those of the great Gelugpa founder, Tsongkhapa as found in his own compositions and as interpreted by later tradition. In preparing this work, Lopez has consulted with a number of contemporary scholars who provided oral commentary on Jang-gya's composition. Lopez's excellent introduction and commentary set Jang-gya's work within its larger Indian and Tibetan context and place Lopez' own study within the tradition of Western Buddhology. This work has been produced with care and integrity and makes an important contribution to our knowledge of Svatantrika.

Reginald Ray for Religious Studies Review



by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen

Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY

Jigten Sumgon was the founder of the Drikung Kagyu, a subschool of the Kagyu tradition, one of the four great lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, and which originated in Tibet with Marpa the translator, whose teachers included the great Indian pandit Naropa. Marpa's most illustrious disciple was Jetsun Milarepa, a legend in Tibet. He in turn taught Gampopa who had also imbibed the Kadam tradition from the Indian pandit Atisa. From Gampopa came the four elder lineages of the Kagyu and from one of these the Phagdru Kagyu, founded by Phagmo Drupacame the eight younger lineages (such as the Karma Kagyu, etc.). Of these eight one was the Drikung Kagyu and the subject of this book.

The initiator and translator of this book is the Abbot Konchog Gyaltsen, a scholar and meditator in the Drikung tradition. As well as translating the life of Jigten Sumgon, he has included the biographies of Gampopa and Phagmo drupaJigten Sumgon's main teacher. The second half of the book contains a selection of Jigten Sumgon's Vajra songs and a brief exposition of the Fivefold Profound Path of Mahamudra, the main philosophy and practice of the Kagyu tradition.

Like most Tibetan biographies, this one is replete with miracles and mysterious happenings which accompany the events surrounding the subject's life. During one discourse Jigten Sumgon actually stopped the sun from sinking so that he could finish his teachings. His visions and his ability to communicate with other realms are astonishing. His songs are terse, profound and reverberate with typical Mahamudra themes such as non-duality and non-effort, subjects very open to misinterpretation by the uninitiated. Likewise, the section on Mahamudra philosophy and practice is brief and to the point, going straight to the nature of reality and of the mind. All this is in keeping with the Kagyu emphasis on practice and intense meditation. A three-year uninterrupted meditational retreat is standard practice for a Kagyupa (a devotion which the translator has successfully performed).

The translator states that he has brought this book out for the many Westerners interested in Buddhism, 'to kindle the flame of their understanding'. Followers of the Kagyu tradition will obviously revere this book and others whose dispositions incline them towards the kind of approach Mahamudra offers will likewise be inspired. Presumably the translator chose these texts in order to give his readers a taste of the practice and practitioners of the Drikung Kagyu lineage. They are certainly fascinating enough to inspire the interested reader to search out more information on this noble tradition.Gavin Kilty, Buddhist Studies Review.


by Dr. Donden

Snow Lion Publications

Health Through Balance offers a fresh and insightful perspective on American eating habits as seen from the viewpoint of a Tibetan physician. The information on traditional food preparation and storage is immensely valuable. His food categorization is based on the Tibetan four-element system. Dr. Donden presents an expanded view of disease as precipitated primarily from our own behavior. Health Through Balance is a theoretical and inspirational book that offers a grand overview and some practical information.

Journal of Traditional Acupuncture

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Gendun Chopel

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Health through Balance

$29.95 - Paperback

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Don Lopez: Why Study Svatantrika?

The following article is from the Spring, 1987 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

In the Lankavatara Sutra the Buddha says:

My dharma is of two types: Advice and philosophy.

To children I give advice

To yogis I teach philosophy.

Tibetan lamas are fond of quoting this passage to indicate the importance of studying the various schools of Buddhist philosophy as a component of the practice of the dharma. Buddhism is very much a call to analysis, not merely of theoretical abstractions, but of the most fundamental components of existence, beginning with questions concerning the nature of the self and extending that analysis to all phenomena. Because of the importance of bringing one's understanding of these questions to the most profound level, it is rarely sufficient simply to accept the Buddhist pronouncements on faith; philosophical positions must be analyzed in detail from a variety of perspectives in order to arrive at an appreciation of both their subtlety and their implications.

One of the most valuable contributions of Tibet to Buddhist thought is the perspective brought to the study of Buddhist philosophy by the textbooks which chronicle the tenets of the Indian Buddhist schools of thought. The most extensive of these are the works of Jam-yang-shay-ba (1648-1721) and Jang-gya (1717-1786). These compendia of Buddhist doctrine look back over the development of Indian Buddhist thought and catalogue the positions of the Hinayana and Mahayana schools around three major questions: What is the nature of the world and how is it known? What is the path to freedom from suffering? What is the nature of the state of freedom? Tibetan lamas discern a progression in the subtlety, sophistication, and veracity of the answers to these questions in the four major Indian schools and their sub-schools, beginning with Vaibhasika, and then moving on to Sautrantika, Cittamatra, and finally Madhyamika. The lowest of the four schools, Vaibhasika, upholds a position far more radical than the naive realism of ordinary experience and sets forth views of impermanence and selflessness that are essential for the understanding of the Madhyamika view of emptiness. Indeed, it is impossible to comprehend the full implications of the Madhyamika critique without having an appreciation of the philosophical context of the schools in relation to which the Madhyamika was proclaimed.

We think that our new publication, A Study of Svatantrika by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., marks an important contibution to an understanding of the Madhyamika school. The Madhyamika is considered to have had two sub-schools, Svatantrika and Prasangika. The Prasangika school, which is generally deemed by Tibetan scholars to be the highest school of Buddhist philosophy, is better known than Svatantrika, in part because the major work of its founder, Candrakirti's Clear Words (Prasannapada), is available in Sanskrit while the major Svatantrika texts are preserved only in Tibetan translation. In preparing this Study of Svatantrika, Lopez has consulted the major Indian works of the Svatantrikas as well as Tibetan expositions of the school to produce the most extensive examination of this influential system available in the West. In addition, he has explained in some detail how the progression from Vaibhasika to Prasangika is understood by scholars of the Geluk school.

The study of Svatantrika is important for both historical and philosophical reasons. The Svatantrika was the first Indian school to be expounded in Tibet, by such renowned scholars as Santaraksita and Kamalasila. The Svatantrika delineation of the structures of the Hinayana and Mahayana paths traditionally formed one of the major components of the Tibetan monastic curriculum, while Madhyamika reasonings developed by Svatantrikas, such as the reasoning of the one and the many, are among the most potent methods for coming to a conceptual understanding of emptiness. Furthermore, an appreciation of the Svatantrika positions on the nature of emptiness and the practice of path, apart from its intrinsic value, is crucial for an understanding of Prasangika. Svatantrika, the second highest school of Buddhist philosophy, is the school in contradistinction to which Prasangika defined itself. Indeed, it is on the basis of statements by Candrakirti that the names Svatantrika and Prasangika were coined. Without understanding the Svatantrika position on the nature of emptiness, it is impossible to appreciate the full force of Prasangika, a school in which, according to the Dalai Lama, things hardly even exist.

[A Study in Svatantrika]

Table of Contents


1.The Middle Way

2.Svatantrika and Prasangika

3.The Root of Cyclic Existence

4.Ultimate Existence

5.The Reasoning Consciousness

6.The Two Truths

7.An Overview of the Svatantrika System


Part I: Madhyamika

1.The Life and Works of Nagarjuna

2.Madhyamika Schools in India

3.History of Madhyamika in Tibet

4.The Middle Way

5.Scriptural Interpretation

6.The Practice of the Path


Part II: Sautrantika-Svatantrika-Madhyamika

8.Refutation of Cittamatra

9.The Meaning of Ultimate Existence

10.The Refutation of Ultimate Existence

11.The Two Truths

12.Presentation of the Path Part III: Yogacara-Svatantrika-Madhyamika

13.Integration of Mind-Only

14.The Meaning of True Existence

15.The Lack of Being One or Many

16.The Two Truths

17.The Paths and Fruitions

A Study in Svatantrika is available from Snow Lion for $19.95 in paper and $35 in cloth.





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