Peter Skilling is a special lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, and an honorary associate, Department of Indian SubContinental Studies, University of Sydney, Australia. Until his retirement in 2017, he was a professor of the French School of Asian Studies (EFEO) based in Bangkok. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in the humanities by Chulalongkorn University in 2020. He is an honorary member of the Siam Society, Bangkok, and in 2017 he was elected an honorary fellow of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai. He has been visiting professor at Harvard University (2000), the University of California at Berkeley (2001), Oxford University (2002), Sydney University (2009), Soka University (2009), and Savitribai Phule Pune University (2016–17). He has published widely on the Buddhist literature, history, and epigraphy of South and Southeast Asia.
“In this volume, prose and verse join beautifully to celebrate the Dharma. The selections show how rich, how diverse, and how wonderful the Kangyur is—and how little we know about it.” —from the foreword by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
“A stimulating and delightfully readable book . . . Peter Skilling is probably the most versatile scholar of Buddhology today, equally conversant with philosophy, history, ritual, doctrine, art, and iconography. He has selected from the Tibetan twenty-five sutras that were lost in India long ago, which he has translated into elegant English. His introduction and first two appendixes together form a most lucid and up-to-date discussion of Buddhist thought that should be compulsory reading in any field of Buddhology.” —Pratapaditya Pal, author of Quest for Coomaraswamy: A Life in the Arts
“Peter Skilling’s selection of Buddhist sutras comes with an informative introduction, a meticulous exploration of sources, and an attractive and reliable rendering in English. Textual discoveries and expositions of this quality are a substantial contribution to Buddhist studies.” —Romila Thapar, professor emerita of history, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
“A magnificent scholar and a magnificent human being, Peter Skilling has always been an example for us all, for his unbounded erudition combined with an unflinching modesty. This precious volume will serve as a reference and an inspiration to present and future generations.”
—Matthieu Ricard, Shechen Monastery, Nepal
QUESTIONING THE BUDDHA
A Selection of Twenty-Five Sutras
In the forty-five years the Buddha spent traversing northern India, he shared his wisdom with everyone from beggar women to kings. Hundreds of his discourses, or sutras, were preserved by his followers, first orally and later in written form. Around thirteen hundred years after the Buddha’s enlightenment, the sutras were translated into the Tibetan language, where they have been preserved ever since. To date, only a fraction of these have been made available in English. Questioning the Buddha brings the reader directly into the literary treasure of the Tibetan canon with thoroughly annotated translations of twenty-five different sutras. Often these texts, many translated here in full for the first time, begin with an encounter in which someone poses a question to the Buddha.
Peter Skilling, an authority on early Buddhist epigraphy, archaeology, and textual traditions, has been immersed in the Buddhist scriptures of diverse traditions for nearly half a century. In this volume, he draws on his deep and extensive research to render these ancient teachings in a fresh and precise language. His introduction is a fascinating history of the Buddhist sutras, including the transition from oral to written form, the rise of Mahayana literature, the transmission to Tibet, the development of canons, and a look at some of the pioneers of sutra study in the West.
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Discover a meditation master’s “kungfu of the mind.”
The view is the wisdom of being empty
Meditation is luminosity without fixation
Conduct is a continual flow free of attachment
Fruition is nakedness bare of any stain
This is the first stanza of Milarepa’s Ultimate View, Meditation, Conduct, and Fruition: pith instructions originally sang to the great yogi Rechungpa, Milarepa’s disciple. These teachings are Milarepa’s direct offering to his disciple of his own profound realization, gained after many years of dedicated practice. Karl Brunnhölzl, acclaimed translator and senior teacher at the Nalandabodhi community of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, calls this hard-earned understanding “kungfu”: “Gong means ‘skillful work,’ ‘hard training,’ or ‘endeavor,’ and fu means ‘time spent…’ The term refers to Milarepa’s diligent and skillful training in the techniques to realize the nature of his mind and benefit countless sentient beings.”
Ultimate View, Meditation, Conduct, and Fruition is a work of remarkable depth and clarity. In just five verses, Milarepa gives incisive instructions for progressing and for avoiding pitfalls in the stages of practice:
- View: the basis or ground from which the proper meditation, conduct, and fruition of mahāmudrā can arise
- Meditation: the training in or the familiarization with that view
- Conduct: the natural outflow of having familiarized with the view in meditation
- Fruition: the final outcome of having fully assimilated and realized the view, whose essence is not different from it
Milarepa dedicates one verse to each stage, and Karl dedicates one chapter to each verse, weaving in wisdom from other Milarepa songs, comments by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso and from Karl’s own insight. Readers can thus fully immerse themselves in each point of Milarepa’s extraordinary teaching.
“With my diagnosis of grade IV brain cancer, I no longer observe the truth of impermanence from a critical, analytical distance. I am crashing into it, or it into me.”
Facing a terminal cancer diagnosis, Karen Derris—professor, mother, and Buddhist practitioner—instinctually turned to books. By rereading ancient Buddhist stories with fresh questions and a new purpose in mind, she discovered evolving ways to make them immediate and real. Storied Companions interweaves Karen’s memoir of her lived experiences of trauma and terminal illness with stories from Buddhist literary traditions, sharing with the reader how she found ways to live fully even with the reality that she won’t live as long as she needs—or wants.
Using her knowledge, practice, and imagination, Karen illustrates how placing yourself within narratives can turn them from distant and static sources into companions, and from companions into guides. Reading along with her, you’ll realize how this practice of reading and these ancient narratives can help us come to terms with impermanence, develop empathy and compassion, and realize our own interconnectedness.
Honest, powerful, and insightful, Storied Companions itself becomes an invaluable companion, guiding the reader to discover new ways of facing and experiencing life, death, and impermanence.
The Lamp for Integrating the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa)
The Lamp for Integrating the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa) by Āryadeva, is a systematic and comprehensive exposition of the most advanced yogas of the Esoteric Community Tantra (Guhyasamāja-tantra) as espoused by the Noble (Nāgārjuna) tradition, an influential school of interpretation within Indian Buddhist mysticism. Equal in authority to Nāgārjuna’s famous Five Stages (Pañcakrama), Āryadeva’s work is perhaps the earliest prose example of the “stages of the mantra path” genre in Sanskrit. Its systematic path exerted immense influence on later Indian and Tibetan traditions, and it is widely cited by masters from all four major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.
This volume presents the Lamp in a thoroughly annotated English translation. It includes an introductory study discussing the history of the Guhyasamāja and its exegetical traditions, surveying the scriptural and commentarial sources of the Nāgārjuna tradition, and analyzing in detail the contents of the Lamp. The book also features a detailed, trilingual glossary.
Simultaneously presented online for scholars are a version of its Sanskrit original, critically edited from recently identified manuscripts, and a critical edition of the eleventh-century Tibetan translation by Rinchen Zangpo, including notes on readings found in “lost,” alternative translations.
Four Tibetan Lineages
The newest translation from master translator Sarah Harding.
Drawing primarily from the Pacification, Severance, Shangpa Kagyü, and Bodongpa traditions, Four Tibetan Lineages presents some of Tibet’s most transformative yet lesser-known teachings on meditative practice. Most works in this volume are drawn from a Tibetan anthology known as the Treasury of Precious Instructions compiled by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé (1813–1900). A vast preservation project, this anthology reflects Kongtrul’s attempt to rescue rare teachings from disappearing. By foregrounding the teachings of masters like Khedrup Khyungpo Naljor (d. 1135), Dampa Sangyé (d. 1117), Machik Labdrön (1031/55–1126/50), Jonang Tāranātha (1575–1634), and Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo (1820–92), this volume extends Jamgön Kongtrul’s preservation efforts into the modern world.
The Play of Mahamudra
“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.
“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
Superiority Conceit in Buddhist Traditions
Armed with his rigorous examination of the canonical records, respected scholar-monk Bhikkhu Anālayo explores—and sharply criticizes—four examples of what he terms “superiority conceit” in Buddhism:
- the androcentric tendency to prevent women from occupying leadership roles, be these as fully ordained monastics or as advanced bodhisattvas
- the Mahayana notion that those who don’t aspire to become bodhisattvas are inferior practitioners
- the Theravada belief that theirs is the most original expression of the Buddha’s teaching
- the Secular Buddhist claim to understand the teachings of the Buddha more accurately than traditionally practicing Buddhists
Ven. Anālayo challenges the scriptural basis for these conceits and points out that adhering to such notions of superiority is not, after all, conducive to practice. “It is by diminishing ego, letting go of arrogance, and abandoning conceit that one becomes a better Buddhist,” he reminds us, “no matter what tradition one may follow.”
Thoroughly researched, Superiority Conceit in Buddhist Traditions provides an accessible approach to these conceits as academic subjects. Readers will find it not only challenges their own intellectual understandings but also improves their personal practice.
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.
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 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.
Mastering Meditation gives you the experience of studying with one of the greatest meditation masters of the modern age. His Eminence Chöden Rinpoché was not only a celebrated scholar, honored by selection as a debate partner to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but he was also an accomplished yogi who spent nineteen years in solitary meditation retreat. In this thorough and thoroughly clear book, Rinpoché offers meticulous explanations and profound practical instructions on two essential practices in Tibetan Buddhism: calm abiding and mahāmudrā.
The first part of this book contains instructions for developing calm abiding, an unshakable single-pointedness of mind. The second part, Rinpoché’s direct commentary on the Fourth Paṇchen Lama’s foundational text, offers advanced instructions on using calm abiding as a platform to develop mahāmudrā. Rinpoché elucidates both sūtra-system mahāmudrā—meditation on the emptiness of the mind—as well as mantra-system mahāmudrā, a specialized meditation that uncovers subtle, hidden levels of mind to pierce into the ultimate nature of self and reality, leading finally to complete enlightenment.
Drawing from his vast learning and personal experience, Rinpoché provides readers with an open gateway to remarkable states of lucidity and peace.
The Buddha’s Single Intention
This book presents an influential and extraordinary teaching of the Kagyü tradition of Tibetan Buddhism known as the Single Intention by the master Drigung Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön (1143–1217), along with its chief commentaries, principally the Light of the Sun by Rikzin Chökyi Drakpa (1595–1659).
Early in the history of the Kagyü school, the teachings of Jikten Sumgön were condensed into 150 core formulations called vajra statements. These pithy, revelatory statements comprise the Single Intention (Dgongs gcig), which presents the thought of the Buddha and the nature of the ineffable (brjod du med pa) in concise and direct expression. The Single Intention weaves the thread of ineffable mahāmudrā through the entire fabric of Buddhism. It presents mahāmudrā as pervading disciplined conduct, meditative concentration, and discriminative knowledge; ground, path, and result; view, practice, and conduct; and the “three vows” of prātimokṣa, of the bodhisattvas, and of mantra. Jikten Sumgön teaches how the fundamental values and insights revealed by the Buddha are woven into reality and therefore accessible to all.
Jan-Ulrich Sobisch manages to convey the unity of the Buddha’s message both in its particulars and in its scope. His deep and authoritative skill makes this the definitive presentation of one of the most unique and compelling works of classical Tibetan literature.
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Presented here for the first time in English is a collection of dohās, or songs of realization, carefully and thoughtfully selected and translated from the large compendium the Indian Texts of the Mahāmudrā of Definitive Meaning, which was compiled by the Seventh Karmapa and drawn primarily from the Tengyur.
Beautiful, profound, and often outrageous, these verses were frequently composed spontaneously and thus have a moving sense of freedom, openness, and bliss. They range from summaries of the entire path of Mahāmudrā to pithy four-liners that point directly to the buddha within us. The authors include famous masters such as Saraha and Nāropā, ḍākinīs, kings, and also courtesans and cobblers—showing that realization is accessible to all of us, right here in our lives.
The definitive history of Sera Monastery, one of the great monastic universities of Tibet, from its founding to the present.
Founded in 1419, Sera Monastery was one of the three densas, the great seats of learning of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. With over 9,000 monks in residence in 1959, it was the second largest monastery in the world. Throughout its history, Sera has produced some of Tibet’s most important saints, scholars, and political leaders.
The scholars José Cabezón and Penpa Dorjee begin Sera Monastery with the history of monasticism from the time of the Buddha through its early development in Tibet and then tell the 600-year story of Sera from its founding to the present. They recount how the monastery grew and evolved during the centuries, how it has fared under Chinese rule, and how it was transplanted in the Tibetan refugee camps of South India. We are introduced to some of Sera’s most important lamas and hermits, as well as its curriculum, yearly calendar, the daily life of scholar monks, and the role Sera monks played in the political history of Tibet.
Former Sera monks themselves, Cabezón and Dorjee demonstrate their firsthand knowledge of the monastery, its traditions, and daily life on every page. Scrupulously researched over decades, Sera Monastery is the most comprehensive history of a Tibetan monastery ever written in a Western language.
Sculpting the Buddha Within
Sculpting the Buddha Within is the first major biography of Shinjo Ito, the founder of the Shinnyo-en tradition of Buddhism and one of the twentieth century’s most innovative spiritual teachers. Ito was schooled in Shingon, the millennium-old esoteric Buddhism of Japan, and used that as the basis for developing a unique lay practice grounded in the principles and concepts of the Mahayana version of the Nirvana Sutra.
Ito’s wish was to help his practitioners see their own potential for goodness so that they, too, would be inspired to work diligently to shape and give form to their inner buddha. Rather than encouraging his followers to believe in a fixed system of practice or beliefs, Ito taught how to live life in accordance with one’s buddha nature—and the gratitude, creativity, and happiness latent within it.
Beautiful Adornment of Mount Meru
The lucid literary style of Beautiful Adornment of Mount Meru has made it a classic in the study of Indian philosophical thought, both in Tibetan monasteries and contemporary academic circles.
Beautiful Adornment of Mount Meru is a work of doxography, presenting the distinctive philosophical tenets of the Indian Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools in a systematic manner that ascends through increasingly more subtle views. It is a Tibetan corollary to contemporary histories of philosophy. The “Mount Meru” of the title is the Buddha’s teachings, and Changkya’s work excels in particular in its treatment of the two Mahayana Buddhist schools, the Yogācāra (here called the Vijñaptimātra) and the Madhyamaka. Beautiful Adornment is often praised for the clarity of its prose and its economical use of citations from Indian texts. It skillfully examines core philosophical issues, supplemented with several intriguing ancillary discussions, and draws heavily on the works of Tsongkhapa and his disciples in the Geluk tradition he founded.
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Mind Seeing Mind
Winner of the 2020 Toshihide Numata Book Award in Buddhism.
A definitive study of one of the most important practice lineages in Tibetan Buddhism, with translations of its key texts.
Mahāmudrā, the “great seal,” refers to the ultimate nature of mind and reality, to a meditative practice for realizing that ultimate reality, and to the final fruition of buddhahood. It is especially prominent in the Kagyü tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, so it sometimes comes as a surprise that mahāmudrā has played an important role in the Geluk school, where it is part of a special transmission received in a vision by the tradition’s founder, Tsongkhapa. Mahāmudrā is a significant component of Geluk ritual and meditative life, widely studied and taught by contemporary masters such as the Dalai Lama.
Roger Jackson’s Mind Seeing Mind offers us both a definitive scholarly study of the history, texts, and doctrines of Geluk mahāmudrā and masterful translations of its seminal texts. It provides a skillful survey of the Indian sources of the teaching, illuminates the place of mahāmudrā among Tibetan Buddhist schools, and details the history and major textual sources of Geluk mahāmudrā. Jackson also addresses critical questions, such as the relation between Geluk and Kagyü mahāmudrā, and places mahāmudrā in the context of contemporary religious studies. The translation portion of Mind Seeing Mind includes ten texts on mahāmudrā history, ritual, and practice.
Mind Seeing Mind adds considerably to our understanding of Tibetan Buddhist spirituality and shows how mahāmudrā came to be woven throughout the fabric of the Geluk tradition.
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