Klaus-Dieter Mathes earned his doctorate at Marburg University, and is a Professor of Tibetology and Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna, Austria. He previously worked as a research fellow and lecturer at the Asia Africa Institute at the University of Hamburg, Germany. His research in progress deals with the Indian origins of Tibetan Mahāmudrā traditions. He is also a regular contributor to the Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies.
Books, Courses & Podcasts
A Direct Path to the Buddha Within
Maitreya’s Ratnagotravibhāga, also known as the Uttaratantra, is the main Indian treatise on buddha nature, a concept that is heavily debated in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. In A Direct Path to the Buddha Within, Klaus-Dieter Mathes looks at a pivotal Tibetan commentary on this text by Gö Lotsāwa Zhönu Pal, best known as the author of the Blue Annals. Gö Lotsāwa, whose teachers spanned the spectrum of Tibetan schools, developed a highly nuanced understanding of buddha nature, tying it in with mainstream Mahāyāna thought while avoiding contested aspects of the so-called empty-of-other (zhentong) approach. In addition to translating key portions of Gö Lotsāwa’s commentary, Mathes provides an in-depth historical context, evaluating Gö’s position against those of other Kagyü, Nyingma, and Jonang masters and examining how Gö Lotsāwa’s view affects his understanding of the buddha qualities, the concept of emptiness, and the practice of mahāmudrā.
- Click here to return to the Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism series.
- Read Go Lotsawa’s biography at the Treasury of Lives.
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Michael Imperioli: Acting, Success, and the Buddhist Path (#105)
In this special episode of the Wisdom Podcast—recorded live as a Wisdom Dharma Chat—host Daniel Aitken speaks with Michael Imperioli, best known for his role as Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos, for which he won a 2004 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Michael is also a practicing Tibetan Buddhist and is a student of His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche.
The conversation begins with Michael recounting his initial explorations of Buddhism. He recalls how he has been a spiritual seeker since he was young and went through a series of encounters with various mystical and shamanistic traditions before connecting with Buddhism. After achieving certain levels of success with his acting career, Michael remembers feeling that something was lacking in his life and describes how Buddhist instruction and practice helped him to address this.
Michael also discusses the ways in which acting and Buddhist practice dovetail with each other, describing how some of the techniques of method acting are akin to Tibetan practices in terms of movement, vocalization, imagination, and concentration. Noting these similarities, Michael explains how acting primed him, not necessarily for Buddhist practice itself, but for developing the motivation to learn more and delve deeper into the Vajrayana tradition.
Please note: this episode was recorded over Zoom as a Wisdom Dharma Chat and is presented here in its original form, but with the Q&A portion removed. Click here to learn about past and future Dharma Chats.
Anne C. Klein: Finding Wholeness in the Dzogchen Path (#104)
In this special episode of the Wisdom Podcast—recorded live as a Wisdom Dharma Chat—host Daniel Aitken speaks with Anne C. Klein (Lama Rigzin Drolma), professor of religion at Rice University and a founding director and resident teacher of Dawn Mountain, a center for contemplative study and practice in Houston.
Anne brings us into the world of translating Tibetan and of the Nyingma tradition. She tells us how she met her teacher Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, a known scholar and hidden Dzogchen master, and how his teachings led to her translation of the book Strand of Jewels.
Anne also discusses her relationship with Adzom Rinpoche, telling us how they initially met in Tibet many years ago and about their upcoming book with Wisdom about Jigme Lingpa’s pithy Dzogchen teachings. She illuminates how Dzogchen contributes to a developing sense of wholeness, and how as a fruitional path it helps one uncover how the true nature of all things is wisdom.
Please note: this episode was recorded over Zoom as a Wisdom Dharma Chat and is presented here in its original form, but with the Q&A portion removed. Click here to learn about past and future Dharma Chats.
This episode features a song from Jetsun Khacho Wangmo. You can hear more of her music here.
Anne C. Klein is professor and former chair of the religion department at Rice University. She is also a lama in the Nyingma tradition and a founding director and resident teacher of Dawn Mountain, a center for contemplative study and practice in Houston.
Below are the photos mentioned in the episode.
Jetsun Khacho Wangmo:
The Play of Mahamudra
Coming soon! This book will be published in May 2021. Enter your name and email below to be notified when the book is available for purchase.
“This new collected edition of Khenpo Migmar Tseten’s Play of Mahamudra volumes constitutes a veritable treasure for all who are deeply engaged on the path to enlightenment. Khenpo Migmar’s translation of Mahasiddha Virupa’s Treasury of Dohas and of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s Praise to Virupa makes us intimately familiar with the essence of these root texts, and his elucidation of the Dohas offers us a deep and clear understanding of their core meaning. Anyone who truly contemplates on Mahasiddha Virupa’s words is certain to attain realization.”
—His Holiness the Sakya Trichen
In this collection, renowned Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Migmar Tseten provides essential commentary on the mystical songs of the Indian Buddhist rebel-saint Virupa. One of the most celebrated tantric masters of Buddhist India, Virupa’s songs describe his realization of mahamudra, the ultimate nature of reality. Intimate and highly engaging, The Play of Mahamudra unpacks these songs with meticulous clarity, making Virupa’s insights accessible to modern readers.
Venerable Thubten Chodron: In Praise of Great Compassion (#102)
For this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with returning guest and author Venerable Thubten Chodron about her latest book with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, In Praise of Great Compassion. This is the fifth volume in the Library of Wisdom and Compassion series, which continues the Dalai Lama’s teachings on the path to awakening.
Ven. Chodron has been working on this series for the past decade in consultation with the Dalai Lama as a set of foundational teachings that help contextualize Tibetan Buddhist teachings for those coming from a Western background. You’ll hear her describe the process of compiling and writing these texts, including the experience of sitting through multi-day interviews with the Dalai Lama, geshes, and translators. She and Daniel then dive into the content of the newest volume in the series. They discuss and compare the four immeasurables across multiple Buddhist traditions, before turning to various conceptions of what it means to become an arhat versus a buddha, as well as the role of compassion in generating bodhicitta.
Ven. Chodron is the abbess and founder of Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington. She has practiced the Buddha’s teachings for over thirty-five years, and has studied extensively with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsenzhap Serkhong Rinpoche, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and Lama Thubten Yeshe, among many other Tibetan masters.
“Gharwang Rinpoche’s work serves as a definitive manual, guiding aspiring mahāmudrā students along the complete path, beginning with a clear presentation of the preliminaries, through a detailed presentation of śamatha and vipaśyanā, and concluding with enlightening instructions on the actualization of the result.”
—from the foreword by His Holiness the Sakya Trichen
In this book, His Eminence the Twelfth Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche offers illuminating commentary on Bokar Rinpoche’s pithy teaching A Concise Commentary on the Ocean of Definitive Meaning, expanding and unlocking it for the reader, showing us the way to understand the very nature of our own minds.
“The line between saṃsāra and nirvāṇa is very thin. This is because saṃsāra is simply the projection of our minds, a projection created by confusion. Nirvāṇa is simply freedom from this confusion. You can sit on either side of the line between saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. It’s up to you. But although the line is very thin, it takes extraordinary skill and profound wisdom to traverse the path from one side to the other—to dissolve the division itself. This book and these teachings are intended to serve as support for that journey.”
—from H.E. Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche’s introduction
The Dharma of Poetry
In The Dharma of Poetry, John Brehm shows how poems can open up new ways of thinking, feeling, and being in the world. Brehm demonstrates the practice of mindfully entering a poem, with an alertness, curiosity, and open-hearted responsiveness very much like the attention we cultivate in meditation. Complete with poetry-related meditations and writing prompts, this collection of lively, elegantly written essays can be read as a standalone book or as a companion to the author’s acclaimed anthology The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy.
Sounds of Innate Freedom
Sounds of Innate Freedom: The Indian Texts of Mahāmudrā are historic volumes containing many of the first English translations of classic mahāmudrā literature. The texts and songs in these volumes constitute the large compendium called The Indian Texts of the Mahāmudrā of Definitive Meaning, compiled by the Seventh Karmapa, Chötra Gyatso (1456–1539). The collection offers a brilliant window into the richness of the vast ocean of Indian Mahāmudrā texts cherished in all Tibetan lineages, particularly in the Kagyü tradition, giving us a clear view of the sources of one of the world’s great contemplative traditions.
This first volume in publication contains the majority of songs of realization, consisting of dohās (couplets), vajragītis (vajra songs), and caryāgītis (conduct songs), all lucidly expressing the inexpressible. These songs offer readers a feast of profound and powerful pith instructions uttered by numerous male and female mahasiddhas, yogīs, and ḍākinīs, often in the context of ritual gaṇacakras and initially kept in their secret treasury. Displaying a vast range of themes, styles, and metaphors, they all point to the single true nature of the mind—mahāmudrā—in inspiring ways and from different angles, using a dazzling array of skillful means to penetrate the sole vital point of buddhahood being found nowhere but within our own mind. Reading and singing these songs of mystical wonder, bliss, and ecstatic freedom, and contemplating their meaning in meditation, will open doors to spiritual experience for us today just as it has for countless practitioners in the past.
The Esoteric Community Tantra with The Illuminating Lamp
This volume is a translation of the first twelve chapters of The Glorious Esoteric Community Great King of Tantras (Śrī Guhyasamāja Mahā-tantra-rāja), along with the commentary called The Illuminating Lamp (Pradīpoddyotana-nāma-ṭīkā), a commentary in Sanskrit on this tantra by the seventh-century Buddhist intellectual and tantric scholar-adept Chandrakīrti. Regarded by Indo-Tibetan tradition as the esoteric scripture wherein the Buddha revealed in greatest detail the actual psycho-physical process of his enlightenment, The Esoteric Community Tantra is a preeminent text of the class of scriptures known to Indian Buddhist scholar-adepts as great yoga tantra, and later to their Tibetan successors as unexcelled yoga tantra. The Illuminating Lamp presents a system of interpretive guidelines according to which the cryptic meanings of all tantras might be extracted in order to engage the ritual and yogic practices taught therein. Applying its interpretive strategies to the text of The Esoteric Community Tantra, The Illuminating Lamp articulates a synthetic, “vajra vehicle” (vajrayāna) discourse that locates tantric practices and ideals squarely within the cosmological and institutional frameworks of exoteric Mahāyāna Buddhism.
The Chakrasamvara Root Tantra
A key text for one of the most important Buddhist tantric traditions, the Chakrasamvara Root Tantra has been passed down to us from the ancient mahasiddhas and yogis of India. This foundational ritual text is one of the earliest of the yogini tantras—tantric scriptures that emphasize female deities. This melodic translation by David Gonsalez maintains the poetic structure of the original, making it ideal for practitioners and harmonious to recite. It is at once an object of devotion, a profound instruction, and a beautiful poem meant to inspire spiritual seekers.
The Dechen Ling Practice Series from Wisdom Publications is committed to furthering the vision of David Gonsalez (Venerable Losang Tsering) and the Dechen Ling Press of bringing the sacred literature of Tibet to the West by making available many never-before-translated texts.
The material in this book is strictly intended for those who have received the proper empowerments.
Grieving is Loving
A new book of poems, quotations, reflections, and stories from the author of one of the most beloved books on grief & loss.
This book is a companion to carry with you throughout your day, to touch in with and be supported by when bearing the unbearable pain of a loved one’s death—whether weeks or years since their passing.
In the style of a quote-a-day collection, this book from Wisdom’s bestselling author Joanne Cacciatore distills down the award-winning book Bearing the Unbearable into easy-to-access small chunks, and includes much brand-new material, including new prose and poems from Dr. Jo and other sources.
If you love, you will grieve—and nothing is more mysteriously central to becoming fully human.
Our culture often makes the bereaved feel alone, isolated, broken, and like they should just “get over it”—this book offers a loving antidote.
Open to any page of Grieving Is Loving and you’ll find something that will instantly help you feel not alone, while honoring the full weight of loss.
This book is comprised of quotations from Bearing the Unbearable, and other sources as well, plus an enormous amount of new material from Dr. Jo. Especially well-suited for the grieving mind that may struggle with concentration, just 30 seconds on any page will empower, hearten, and validate any bereaved person—helping give strength and courage to bear life’s most painful losses.
“Grieving Is Loving is a wise, moving, and compassionate book. Reading it brought tears to my eyes as it reminded me of the loss of loved ones 30 and 45 years ago. Not only should its message be read and internalized by those suffering the loss of a beloved, but also by those with friends who have lost or are likely to lose someone in the future—in other words, by everyone.”
—Irving Kirsch, PhD, Harvard Medical School, University of Connecticut, University of Hull, author of The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth
Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Vol. 2
Coming soon to the Reading Room on the Wisdom Experience.
This, the second volume in the Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics series, focuses on the science of mind. Readers are first introduced to Buddhist conceptions of mind and consciousness and then led through traditional presentations of mental phenomena to reveal a Buddhist vision of the inner world with fascinating implications for the contemporary disciplines of cognitive science, psychology, emotion research, and philosophy of mind. Major topics include:
- The distinction between sensory and conceptual processes and the pan-Indian notion of mental consciousness
- Mental factors—specific mental states such as attention, mindfulness, and compassion—and how they relate to one another
- The unique tantric theory of subtle levels of consciousness, their connection to the subtle energies, or “winds,” that flow through channels in the human body, and what happens to each when the body and mind dissolve at the time of death
- The seven types of mental states and how they impact the process of perception
- Styles of reasoning, which Buddhists understand as a valid avenue for acquiring sound knowledge
In the final section, the volume offers what might be called Buddhist contemplative science, a presentation of the classical Buddhist understanding of the psychology behind meditation and other forms of mental training.
To present these specific ideas and their rationale, the volume weaves together passages from the works of great Buddhist thinkers like Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Nāgārjuna, Dignāga, and Dharmakīrti. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s introduction outlines scientific and philosophical thinking in the history of the Buddhist tradition. To provide additional context for Western readers, each of the six major topics is introduced with an essay by John D. Dunne, distinguished professor of Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice at the University of Wisconsin. These essays connect the traditional material to contemporary debates and Western parallels, and provide helpful suggestions for further reading.
Illuminating the Intent
This work is perhaps the most influential explanation of Candrakirti’s seventh-century classic Entering the Middle Way (Madhyamakavatara).
Written as a supplement to Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, Candrakirti’s text integrates the central insight of Nagarjuna’s thought—the rejection of any metaphysical notion of intrinsic existence—with the well-known Mahayana framework of the ten levels of the bodhisattva, and it became the most studied presentation of Madhyamaka thought in Tibet.
Completed the year before the author’s death, Tsongkhapa’s exposition of Candrakirti’s text is recognized by the Tibetan tradition as the final standpoint of Tsongkhapa on many philosophical questions, particularly the clear distinctions it draws between the standpoints of the Madhyamaka and Cittamatra schools.
Written in exemplary Tibetan, Tsongkhapa’s work presents a wonderful marriage of rigorous Madhyamaka philosophical analysis with a detailed and subtle account of the progressively advancing mental states and spiritual maturity realized by sincere Madhyamaka practitioners.
The work remains the principal textbook for the study of Indian Madhyamaka philosophy in many Tibetan monastic colleges, and it is a principal source for many Tibetan teachers seeking to convey the intricacies of Madhyamaka philosophy to non-Tibetan audiences.
Though it is often cited and well known, this is the first full translation of this key work in a Western language.
The Diamond Cutter Sutra
In the profound teachings of the Diamond Cutter Sutra, the Buddha offers a view of the world that deconstructs our normal categories of experience to show us that what we think are real entities in the world are actually our conceptualizations. The Buddha teaches us to cut our attachment to all phenomena and to the “I,” which are empty of inherent existence, and in so doing, cut the root cause of our suffering. Yet without wise guidance we may think that because all phenomena are empty there is no need to be attached to virtue, and thus we fall into the worst trap of all—an attachment to emptiness. How do we destroy our attachment without being led astray?
With this question in mind, Dzogchen Master Khenpo Sodargye provides sparkling commentary on the Diamond Cutter Sutra so that we understand its actual meaning, thus preparing us to understand the view of the Great Perfection and Mahamudra. Before recognizing the nature of the mind, we learn we must hold on to things that are virtuous and right. Like a boat, these can help us cross a river; until we reach the other shore, it makes no sense to give them up.
The Sublime Continuum and Its Explanatory Commentary
The original Sublime Continuum Explanatory Commentary was written by Noble Asaṅga to explain the verses by the bodhisattva Maitreyanātha around the 4th CE century in North India. Here it is introduced and presented in an original translation from Sanskrit and Tibetan, with the translation of an extensive Tibetan Supercommentary by Gyaltsap Darma Rinchen (1364–1432 CE), whose work is considered to follow the view of his teacher, Tsong Khapa (1357–1419 CE).
Contemporary scholars have widely misunderstood the Buddhist Centrist teaching of emptiness, or selflessness, as either a form of nihilism or a radical skepticism. Yet Buddhist philosophers from Nāgārjuna on have shown that the negation of intrinsic reality affirms the supreme value of relative realities if accurately understood. Gyaltsap Darma Rinchen, in his Supercommentary, elucidates a highly positive theory of the “buddha-nature,” showing how the wisdom of emptiness empowers the compassionate life of the enlightened, as it is touched by its oneness with the truth body of all buddhas. With his clear study of Gyaltsap’s insight and his original English translation, Bo Jiang, Ph.D. completes his historic project of studying and presenting these works from Sanskrit and Tibetan both in Chinese and, now, English translations, in linked publications.
Originally published by the American Institute of Buddhist Studies in 2017.
The sixth chapter of Shantideva’s classic A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life is a beacon of inspiration that shows what patience—one of the essential actions of the bodhisattvas—can really mean, leading us to profound self-realization and a heightened determination for awakened action in the world.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche—a teacher whose very name means “patience”—explores Shantideva’s teachings verse by verse, unpacking its lessons for the modern reader:
- Overcoming anger
- Accepting suffering
- Respecting others and finding happiness in their happiness
In explaining this quintessential quality of a bodhisattva, Rinpoche shows us ordinary beings the profundity of the practice of patience and the relevance it has in our everyday lives.
“Shantideva was like us, but he worked on his mind until he became completely free from delusions . . . A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life has inspired countless people since it was written over thirteen hundred years ago. It tells us that we too can develop our mind to the levels of realizations that the great masters have attained—and it shows us how to do it.”—Lama Zopa Rinpoche
The Buddhist Analysis of Matter
The Buddhist Analysis of Matter is an in-depth study of the Buddhist view of the nature and composition of matter as interpreted in Theravāda Buddhism. The study is mainly based on the seven treatises of the canonical Abhidhamma as well as the subsequent commentarial exegesis. However, in order to bring the subject into a wider perspective and to present it with a measure of precision, it takes into consideration the parallel doctrines of the Vaibhāṣika and Sautrāntika schools of Buddhism. These were two of the leading non-Mahāyāna schools with which the Theravādins had much in common. Both subscribed to a realistic view of existence: while the former had a tendency to extreme realism, the latter had a predilection, but not a commitment, to subjectivism.
Acclaimed scholar Y. Karunadasa’s Buddhist Analysis of Matter provides a much-needed micro view of the topic with a detailed examination of the Theravādins’ list of rūpa-dhammas—the ultimate irreducible factors into which material existence is analyzed. It exposes the nature of the basic material elements and explains their interconnection and interdependence on the basis of conditional relations. It concludes with an attempt to understand the nature and relevance of the Buddhist analysis of matter in the context of Buddhism as a religion.