Gavin Kilty has been a full-time translator for the Institute of Tibetan Classics since 2001. Before that he lived in Dharamsala, India, for fourteen years, where he spent eight years training in the traditional Geluk monastic curriculum through the medium of class and debate at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. He also teaches Tibetan language courses in India, Nepal, and elsewhere, and is a translation reviewer for the organization 84000, Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Books, Courses & Podcasts
A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages
First Place Winner of 2017 Shantarakshita Award for Excellence in Translation from the Tsadra Foundation
Tsongkhapa’s A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages (1419) is a comprehensive presentation of the highest yoga class of Buddhist tantra, especially the key practices—the so-called five stages (pancakrama)—of the advanced phase of Guhyasamāja tantra. Beginning with a thorough examination of the Indian sources, Tsongkhapa draws particularly from the writings of Nāgārjuna, Aryadeva, Candrakīrti, and Nāropā to develop a definitive understanding of the Vajrayana completion stage. Whereas in the generation stage, meditators visualize the Buddha in the form of the deity residing in a mandala palace, in the completion stage discussed in the present volume, meditators transcend ordinary consciousness and actualize the state of a buddha themselves. Among other things, Tsongkhapa’s work covers the subtle human physiology of channels and winds along with the process of dying, the bardo, and rebirth. This definitive statement on Guhyasamaja tantra profoundly affected the course of Buddhist practice in Tibet.
Mirror of Beryl
Composed while its author was the ruler of Tibet, Mirror of Beryl is a detailed account of the origins and history of medicine in Tibet through the end of the seventeenth century. Its author, Desi Sangyé Gyatso (1653–1705), was the heart disciple and political successor of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and the author of several highly regarded works on Tibetan medicine, including his Blue Beryl, a commentary on the foundational text of Tibetan medicine, The Four Tantras. In the present historical introduction, Sangyé Gyatso traces the sources of influence on Tibetan medicine to classical India, China, Central Asia, and beyond, providing life stories, extensive references to earlier Tibetan works on medicine, and fascinating details about the Tibetan approach to healing. He also provides a commentary on the pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric Buddhist vows. Desi Sangyé Gyatso’s Mirror of Beryl remains today an essential resource for students of medical science in Tibet.
Ornament of Stainless Light
The premiere volume of Thupten Jinpa’s thirty-two-volume Library of Tibetan Classics series, inaugurated to coincide with the Dalai Lama’s conferral of the initiation rite of Kālacakra in Toronto in April 2004.
The Kālacakra, or “wheel of time,” tantra likely entered Indian Mahayana Buddhism around the tenth century. In expounding the root tantra, the Indian master Puṇḍarīka, one of the legendary Kalkī kings of the land of Shambhala, wrote his influential Stainless Light. Ornament of Stainless Light is an authoritative Tibetan exposition of this important text, composed in the fifteenth century by Khedrup Norsang Gyatso, tutor to the Second Dalai Lama.
One of the central projects of Kālacakra literature is a detailed correlation between the human body and the external universe. In working out this complex correspondence, the Kālacakra texts present an amazingly detailed theory of cosmology and astronomy, especially about the movements of the various celestial bodies. The Kālacakra tantra is also a highly complex system of Buddhist theory and practice that employs vital bodily energies, deep meditative mental states, and a penetrative focus on subtle points within the body’s key energy conduits known as channels. Ornament of Stainless Light addresses all these topics, elaborating on the external universe, the inner world of the individual, the Kālacakra initiation rites, and the tantric stages of generation and completion, all in a highly readable English translation.
The Splendor of an Autumn Moon
The Tibetan saint Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Dalai Lama’s tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, was renowned for his vast learning, meditational achievements, influential writings on practice and philosophy, and reform of tantric religious practices. A deeply humble and religious man, he expressed himself in exquisite verse.
Here, presented in both the original Tibetan and in English translation, are twenty-one devotional poems by Tsongkhapa. Each verse—dedicated to the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and lamas—illuminates some aspect of the Buddhist path. Gavin Kilty’s commentary places each prayer into context, and his careful, artful translations will appeal to anyone with a love of poetry.
Read Tsongkhapa’s biography at the Treasury of Lives.
Understanding the Case Against Shukden
Before the twentieth century, the figure of Shukden, or Dölgyal, was an obscure one in the pantheon of Tibetan Buddhism’s many oracles and protectors. But after individuals within the Geluk tradition began to promote and disseminate the practice, division arose among Buddhists of different sects. Later, incidents within the exile community, as recounted in this book, prompted the Dalai Lama to investigate the practice more deeply. The fruits of this research are presented here, as are the statements made by His Holiness about it over the past forty years. Understanding the Case against Shukden uncovers the historical context behind this contentious practice, which dates back to the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama in the seventeenth century, and clarifies why the present Dalai Lama has been so vocal in countering it.
Understanding the Case against Shukden is a clarion call for unity among the Tibetan people and a vision for a more harmonious Tibetan Buddhist community.