Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing to the present day, both Buddhists and admirers of Buddhism have proclaimed the compatibility of Buddhism and science. Their assertions have ranged from modest claims about the efficacy of meditation for mental health to grander declarations that the Buddha himself anticipated the theories of relativity, quantum physics and the big bang more than two millennia ago.
In Buddhism and Science, Donald S. Lopez Jr. is less interested in evaluating the accuracy of such claims than in exploring how and why these two seemingly disparate modes of understanding the inner and outer universe have been so persistently linked. Lopez opens with an account of the rise and fall of Mount Meru, the great peak that stands at the center of the flat earth of Buddhist cosmography—and which was interpreted anew once it proved incompatible with modern geography. From there, he analyzes the way in which Buddhist concepts of spiritual nobility were enlisted to support the notorious science of race in the nineteenth century. Bringing the story to the present, Lopez explores the Dalai Lama’s interest in scientific discoveries, as well as the implications of research on meditation for neuroscience.
Lopez argues that by presenting an ancient Asian tradition as compatible with—and even anticipating—scientific discoveries, European enthusiasts and Asian elites have sidestepped the debates on the relevance of religion in the modern world that began in the nineteenth century and still flare today. As new discoveries continue to reshape our understanding of mind and matter, Buddhism and Science will be indispensable reading for those fascinated by religion, science, and their often vexed relation.
Over the past century, Buddhism has come to be seen as a world religion, exceeding Christianity in longevity and, according to many, philosophical wisdom. Buddhism has also increasingly been described as strongly ethical, devoted to nonviolence, and dedicated to bringing an end to human suffering. And because it places such a strong emphasis on rational analysis, Buddhism is considered more compatible with science than the other great religions. As such, Buddhism has been embraced in the West, both as an alternative religion and as an alternative to religion.
This volume provides a unique introduction to Buddhism by examining categories essential for a nuanced understanding of its traditions. Each of the fifteen essays here shows students how a fundamental term—from art to word—illuminates the practice of Buddhism, both in traditional Buddhist societies and in the realms of modernity. Apart from Buddha, the list of terms in this collection deliberately includes none that are intrinsic to the religion. Instead, the contributors explore terms that are important for many fields and that invite interdisciplinary reflection. Through incisive discussions of topics ranging from practice, power, and pedagogy to ritual, history, sex, and death, the authors offer new directions for the understanding of Buddhism, taking constructive and sometimes polemical positions in an effort both to demonstrate the shortcomings of assumptions about the religion and the potential power of revisionary approaches.
Following the tradition of Critical Terms for Religious Studies, this volume is not only an invaluable resource for the classroom but one that belongs on the short list of essential books for anyone seriously interested in Buddhism and Asian religions.
Curators of the Buddha is the first critical history of the study of Buddhism in the West and the first work to bring the insights of colonial and postcolonial cultural studies to bear on this field.
After an overview of the origins of Buddhist studies in the early nineteenth century, the essays focus on important "curators of the Buddha," such as Aurel Stein, D. T. Suzuki, and Carl Jung, who, as they created and maintained the discipline, played a significant role in disseminating knowledge about Buddhism in the West. The essays bring to life many of the important but unexamined social, political, and cultural conditions that have shaped the course of Buddhist studies for more than a century—and have frequently distorted the understanding of a complex set of traditions. Contributors Charles Hallisey, Gustavo Benavides, Stanley Abe, Luis Gómez, Robert Sharf, and Donald Lopez challenge some of the most enduring ideas in Buddhist studies: that Zen Buddhism is, above all, an experience; that Tibetan Buddhism is polluted, or pristine; that the Buddha image is of Greek or Roman origin; that the classical text supersedes the vernacular, as the manuscript supersedes the informant; and many others.
Dispelling the Darkness
Donald S. Lopez Jr. Harvard University Press, 2017 Library of Congress BV3420.T5L67 2017 | Dewey Decimal 261.243092
In a remote Himalayan village in 1721, the Jesuit priest Ippolito Desideri wrote a treatise in classical Tibetan intended to refute key Buddhist doctrines and dispel the darkness of idolatry from Tibet. Dispelling the Darkness provides extended excerpts from this unfinished masterpiece and a full translation of a companion work.
We have come to admire Buddhism for being profound but accessible, as much a lifestyle as a religion. The credit for creating Buddhism goes to the Buddha, a figure widely respected across the Western world for his philosophical insight, his teachings of nonviolence, and his practice of meditation. But who was this Buddha, and how did he become the Buddha we know and love today?
Leading historian of Buddhism Donald S. Lopez Jr. tells the story of how various idols carved in stone—variously named Beddou, Codam, Xaca, and Fo—became the man of flesh and blood that we know simply as the Buddha. He reveals that the positive view of the Buddha in Europe and America is rather recent, originating a little more than a hundred and fifty years ago. For centuries, the Buddha was condemned by Western writers as the most dangerous idol of the Orient. He was a demon, the murderer of his mother, a purveyor of idolatry.
Lopez provides an engaging history of depictions of the Buddha from classical accounts and medieval stories to the testimonies of European travelers, diplomats, soldiers, and missionaries. He shows that centuries of hostility toward the Buddha changed dramatically in the nineteenth century, when the teachings of the Buddha, having disappeared from India by the fourteenth century, were read by European scholars newly proficient in Asian languages. At the same time, the traditional view of the Buddha persisted in Asia, where he was revered as much for his supernatural powers as for his philosophical insights. From Stone to Flesh follows the twists and turns of these Eastern and Western notions of the Buddha, leading finally to his triumph as the founder of a world religion.
In 1941, philosopher and poet Gendun Chopel (1903–51) sent a large manuscript by ship, train, and yak across mountains and deserts to his homeland in the northeastern corner of Tibet. He would follow it five years later, returning to his native land after twelve years in India and Sri Lanka. But he did not receive the welcome he imagined: he was arrested by the government of the regent of the young Dalai Lama on trumped-up charges of treason. He emerged from prison three years later a broken man and died soon after.
Gendun Chopel was a prolific writer during his short life. Yet he considered that manuscript, which he titled Grains of Gold, to be his life’s work, one to delight his compatriots with tales of an ancient Indian and Tibetan past, while alerting them to the wonders and dangers of the strikingly modern land abutting Tibet’s southern border, the British colony of India. Now available for the first time in English, Grains of Gold is a unique compendium of South Asian and Tibetan culture that combines travelogue, drawings, history, and ethnography. Gendun Chopel describes the world he discovered in South Asia, from the ruins of the sacred sites of Buddhism to the Sanskrit classics he learned to read in the original. He is also sharply, often humorously critical of the Tibetan love of the fantastic, bursting one myth after another and finding fault with the accounts of earlier Tibetan pilgrims. Exploring a wide range of cultures and religions central to the history of the region, Gendun Chopel is eager to describe all the new knowledge he gathered in his travels to his Buddhist audience in Tibet.
At once the account of the experiences of a tragic figure in Tibetan history and the work of an extraordinary scholar, Grains of Gold is an accessible, compelling work animated by a sense of discovery of both a distant past and a strange present.
In the year 721, a young Buddhist monk named Hyecho set out from the kingdom of Silla, on the Korean peninsula, on what would become one of the most extraordinary journeys in history. Sailing first to China, Hyecho continued to what is today Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, before taking the Silk Road and heading back east, where he ended his days on the sacred mountain of Wutaishan in China.
With Hyecho’s Journey, eminent scholar of Buddhism Donald S. Lopez Jr. re-creates Hyecho’s trek. Using the surviving fragments of Hyecho’s travel memoir, along with numerous other textual and visual sources, Lopez imagines the thriving Buddhist world the monk explored. Along the way, Lopez introduces key elements of Buddhism, including its basic doctrines, monastic institutions, works of art, and the many stories that have inspired Buddhist pilgrimage. Through the eyes of one remarkable Korean monk, we discover a vibrant tradition flourishing across a vast stretch of Asia. Hyecho’s Journey is simultaneously a rediscovery of a forgotten pilgrim, an accessible primer on Buddhist history and doctrine, and a gripping, beautifully illustrated account of travel in a world long lost.
In a culture where poetry is considered the highest form of human language, Gendun Chopel is revered as Tibet’s greatest modern poet. Born in 1903 as British troops were preparing to invade his homeland, Gendun Chopel was identified at any early age as the incarnation of a famous lama and became a Buddhist monk, excelling in the debating courtyards of the great monasteries of Tibet. At the age of thirty-one, he gave up his monk’s vows and set off for India, where he would wander, often alone and impoverished, for over a decade. Returning to Tibet, he was arrested by the government of the young Dalai Lama on trumped-up charges of treason, emerging from prison three years later a broken man. He died in 1951 as troops of the People’s Liberation Army marched into Lhasa.
Throughout his life, from his childhood to his time in prison, Gendun Chopel wrote poetry that conveyed the events of his remarkable life. In the Forest of Faded Wisdom is the first comprehensive collection of his oeuvre in any language, assembling poems in both the original Tibetan and in English translation. A master of many forms of Tibetan verse, Gendun Chopel composed heartfelt hymns to the Buddha, pithy instructions for the practice of the dharma, stirring tributes to the Tibetan warrior-kings, cynical reflections on the ways of the world, and laments of a wanderer, forgotten in a foreign land. These poems exhibit the technical skill—wordplay, puns, the ability to evoke moods of pathos and irony—for which Gendun Chopel was known and reveal the poet to be a consummate craftsman, skilled in both Tibetan and Indian poetics. With a directness and force often at odds with the conventions of belles lettres, this is a poetry that is at once elegant and earthy. In the Forest of Faded Wisdom is a remarkable introduction to Tibet’s sophisticated poetic tradition and its most intriguing twentieth-century writer.
The most influential work on Buddhism to be published in the nineteenth century, Introduction à l’histoire du Buddhisme indien, by the great French scholar of Sanskrit Eugène Burnouf, set the course for the academic study of Buddhism—and Indian Buddhism in particular—for the next hundred years. First published in 1844, the masterwork was read by some of the most important thinkers of the time, including Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in Germany and Emerson and Thoreau in America.
Katia Buffetrille and Donald S. Lopez Jr.’s expert English translation, Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism, provides a clear view of how the religion was understood in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Burnouf was an impeccable scholar, and his vision, especially of the Buddha, continues to profoundly shape our modern understanding of Buddhism. In reintroducing Burnouf to a new generation of Buddhologists, Buffetrille and Lopez have revived a seminal text in the history of Orientalism.
Gendun Chopel is considered the most important Tibetan intellectual of the twentieth century. His life spanned the two defining moments in modern Tibetan history: the entry into Lhasa by British troops in 1904 and by Chinese troops in 1951. Recognized as an incarnate lama while he was a child, Gendun Chopel excelled in the traditional monastic curriculum and went on to become expert in fields as diverse as philosophy, history, linguistics, geography, and tantric Buddhism. Near the end of his life, before he was persecuted and imprisoned by the government of the young Dalai Lama, he would dictate the Adornment for Nagarjuna’s Thought, a work on Madhyamaka, or “Middle Way,” philosophy. It sparked controversy immediately upon its publication and continues to do so today. The Madman’s Middle Way presents the first English translation of this major Tibetan Buddhist work, accompanied by an essay on Gendun Chopel’s life liberally interspersed with passages from his writings. Donald S. Lopez Jr. also provides a commentary that sheds light on the doctrinal context of the Adornment and summarizes its key arguments. Ultimately, Lopez examines the long-standing debate over whether Gendun Chopel in fact is the author of the Adornment; the heated critical response to the work by Tibetan monks of the Dalai Lama’s sect; and what the Adornment tells us about Tibetan Buddhism’s encounter with modernity. The result is an insightful glimpse into a provocative and enigmatic workthatwill be of great interest to anyone seriously interested in Buddhism or Asian religions.
The PassionBook is the most famous work of erotica in the vast literature of Tibetan Buddhism, written by the legendary scholar and poet Gendun Chopel (1903-1951). Soon after arriving in India in 1934, he discovered the Kama Sutra. Realizing that this genre of the erotic was unknown in Tibet, he set out to correct the situation. His sources were two: classical Sanskrit works and his own experiences with his lovers. Completed in 1939, his “treatise on passion” circulated in manuscript form in Tibet, scandalizing and arousing its readers.
Gendun Chopel here condemns the hypocrisy of both society and church, portraying sexual pleasure as a force of nature and a human right for all. On page after page, we find the exuberance of someone discovering the joys of sex, made all the more intense because they had been forbidden to him for so long: he had taken the monastic vow of celibacy in his youth and had only recently renounced it. He describes in ecstatic and graphic detail the wonders he discovered. In these poems, written in beautiful Tibetan verse, we hear a voice with tints of irony, self-deprecating wit, and a love of women not merely as sources of male pleasure but as full partners in the play of passion.
To the Western imagination, Tibet evokes exoticism, mysticism, and wonder: a fabled land removed from the grinding onslaught of modernity, spiritually endowed with all that the West has lost. Originally published in 1998, Prisoners of Shangri-La provided the first cultural history of the strange encounter between Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Donald Lopez reveals here fanciful misconceptions of Tibetan life and religion. He examines, among much else, the politics of the term “Lamaism,” a pejorative synonym for Tibetan Buddhism; the various theosophical, psychedelic, and New Age purposes served by the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead; and the unexpected history of the most famous of all Tibetan mantras, om mani padme hum. More than pop-culture anomalies, these versions of Tibet are often embedded in scholarly sources, constituting an odd union of the popular and the academic, of fancy and fact.
Upon its original publication, Prisoners of Shangri-La sent shockwaves through the field of Tibetan studies—hailed as a timely, provocative, and courageous critique. Twenty years hence, the situation in Tibet has only grown more troubled and complex—with the unrest of 2008, the demolition of the dwellings of thousands of monks and nuns at Larung Gar in 2016, and the scores of self-immolations committed by Tibetans to protest the Dalai Lama’s exile.
In his new preface to this anniversary edition, Lopez returns to the metaphors of prison and paradise to illuminate the state of Tibetan Buddhism—both in exile and in Tibet—as monks and nuns still seek to find a way home. Prisoners of Shangri-La remains a timely and vital inquiry into Western fantasies of Tibet.
Prisoners of Shangri-La is a provocative analysis of the romance of Tibet, a romance that, even as it is invoked by Tibetan lamas living in exile, ultimately imprisons those who seek the goal of Tibetan independence from Chinese occupation.
"Lopez lifts the veil on America's romantic vision of Tibet to reveal a country and a spiritual history more complex and less ideal than popular perceptions allow. . . . Lively and engaging, Lopez's book raises important questions about how Eastern religions are often co-opted, assimilated and misunderstood by Western culture."—Publishers Weekly
"Proceeding with care and precision, Lopez reveals the extent to which scholars have behaved like intellectual colonialists. . . . Someone had to burst the bubble of pop Tibetology, and few could have done it as resoundingly as Lopez."—Booklist
"Fascinating. . . [A] provocative exploration. Lopez conveys the full dizziness of the Western encounter with Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism."—Fred Pheil, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
"A timely and courageous exploration. . . . [Lopez's] book will sharpen the terms of the debate over what the Tibetans and their observers can or should be doing about the place and the idea of Tibet. And that alone is what will give us all back our Shambhala."—Jonathan Spence, Lingua Franca Book Review
"Lopez's most important theme is that we should be wary of the idea . . . that Tibet has what the West lacks, that if we were only to look there we would find the answers to our problems. Lopez's book shows that, on the contrary, when the West has looked at Tibet, all that it has seen is a distorted reflection of itself."—Ben Jackson, Times Higher Education Supplement
We tend to think that the Buddha has always been seen as the compassionate sage admired around the world today, but until the nineteenth century, Europeans often regarded him as a nefarious figure, an idol worshipped by the pagans of the Orient. Donald S. Lopez Jr. offers here a rich sourcebook of European fantasies about the Buddha drawn from the works of dozens of authors over fifteen hundred years, including Clement of Alexandria, Marco Polo, St. Francis Xavier, Voltaire, and Sir William Jones.
Featuring writings by soldiers, adventurers, merchants, missionaries, theologians, and colonial officers, this volume contains a wide range of portraits of the Buddha. The descriptions are rarely flattering, as all manner of reports—some accurate, some inaccurate, and some garbled—came to circulate among European savants and eccentrics, many of whom were famous in their day but are long forgotten in ours. Taken together, these accounts present a fascinating picture, not only of the Buddha as he was understood and misunderstood for centuries, but also of his portrayers.