Jeffrey Hopkins: The Life of a Buddhist Scholar


Jeffrey Hopkins was translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 1979 to 1989 and Professor of Tibetan Studies at University of Virginia, and has published more than forty books.

Jeffrey started meditating while at Harvard and then, inspired by Thoreau and W. Somerset Maugham, spent time in a cabin in the woods in Vermont. He describes this and other adventures as a young man where he discovered the power of the meditative experience, including a wild ocean voyage through the South Pacific. We hear how he developed various meditative practices without any formal knowledge of Buddhism and how he first encountered Buddhism directly when he met Geshe Wangyal. Jeffrey shares amusing and heartening stories about life with Geshe Wangyal and Geshe Sopa in Madison, Wisconsin, and how these two great teachers inspired him to begin delving into the intellectual exercise of Buddhist philosophy and guided him in his study and practice. He then tells of his many private conversations with the Dalai Lama about the books they created together, and how he was one of the first westerners to receive initiation from the Dalai Lama. We also hear about how Jeffrey began translating for the Dalai Lama, and how working with the Dalai Lama has influenced Jeffrey’s thinking and translation. Additionally, our host Daniel Aitken asks Jeffrey to share his thoughts on the definition of emptiness, and the challenging experience and practice of having Lyme Disease.


Extra Content

Learn more about Jeffrey’s work at the UMA Institute for Tibetan Studies.

About the Interviewee

Jeffrey Hopkins is Professor Emeritus of Tibetan Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia, where he taught Tibetan Studies and Tibetan language for more than thirty years. He received a BA magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1963, trained for five years at the Lamaist Buddhist Monastery of America (now the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center) in New Jersey, and received a PhD in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1973. From 1979 to 1989 he served as His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s chief interpreter into English on lecture tours in the U.S., Canada, Southeast Asia, Great Britain, and Switzerland. He has published more than twenty-five books, including Meditation on Emptiness, a seminal work of English language scholarship on Tibetan Madhyamaka thought, as well as translations of works by Tsongkhapa, Dolpopa, and His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. At the University of Virginia he founded programs in Buddhist Studies and Tibetan Studies and served as Director of the Center for South Asian Studies for twelve years.

Click here to learn more about Professor Hopkins’s Wisdom books.

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