Changing Minds

Contributions to the Study of Buddhism and Tibet in Honor of Jeffrey Hopkins

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Guy Newland
  • Boulder, CO: 
    , September
     336 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.



Changing Minds: Contributions to the Study of Buddhism and Tibet in Honor of Jeffrey Hopkins (originally published in 2001) honors one of the most influential scholars of Tibetan Buddhism, Jeffrey Hopkins. The volume gathers essays in Hopkins’s honor by former students and colleagues, illustrating the stunning range of his contributions. Hopkins founded the Tibetan Buddhist Studies program at the University of Virginia, a program that became one of the premier sites for scholarship of Tibetan Buddhism, producing many of the top scholars in the field. Hopkins is well-known for his meticulous translations, focusing principally on Tibetan philosophical texts, and has also produced works on Tibetan Tantra and ritual, history, culture, psychology, and even sexuality in the context of Tibetan philosophy and religion. 

Much of Hopkins’s work is aimed at specialists of Tibetan Buddhism, focusing especially on the scholastic Gelug school, founded by Tsongkhapa, and its Indian antecedents. His contributions to the field of Tibetology, though massive, are not without their critics. Hopkins has been criticized for favoring an emic perspective that is insufficiently critical in its assessments of Tibetan religious thought, as well as for creating an idiosyncratic lexicon to translate highly technical Tibetan Buddhist philosophical concepts. Thematically, the essays in the volume can be roughly divided into two camps: those hewing to a methodological conservatism, focusing mainly on doctrinal issues within Tibetan Buddhist (mainly Gelug) philosophy, and those venturing farther afield, engaging in broader comparative work that incorporates literary theory, psychology, and historical questions. 

In the introduction, Guy Newland defends Hopkins against criticisms of using an overly insider-friendly approach, writing that his view is that there are “real people … for whom the ideas and texts we are now studying are profoundly important,” fully deserving “the respect of taking their ideas seriously” (7). Hopkins thus seeks to balance “arrogant pseudo-objectivity on the one hand and naïve adulation on the other” (9). Acknowledging the elite orientation of strictly textual study, as well as the challenges of translating highly technical Tibetan terms into English, Newland highlights the value and “high ideals” of Hopkins’s approach. While many critiques of Hopkins’s methods are certainly valid, it is difficult to deny the extraordinary standard that his work has set. 

The essays in the more traditional camp exemplify the impeccable detail and precision the “Hopkins School” is known for, but they do not always make for compelling reading. Newland’s “Ask a Farmer: Ultimate Analysis and Conventional Existence in Tsong kha pa’s Lam Rim Chen Mo” is a clear, but unrevealing, summary of arguments in Tibetan Madhyamaka studies, focusing on Tsongkhapa’s distinction between the “two truths”—conventional and ultimate truth—according to Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka, the highest philosophical system according to the Gelug school. Donald Lopez’s essay, “Painting the Target,” takes on another familiar theme, the correct identification of the “object of negation” in order to realize the emptiness of the self. The essay spices things up by contrasting orthodox Gelug views with the scathing critiques of 20th-century iconoclast Gedun Chöpel, who describes Gelug scholars as “pedants obsessed with sectarian supremacy and doctrinal consistency” (75). Daniel Cozort’s “Cutting the Roots of Virtue” and Elizabeth Napper’s “Ethics as the Basis of a Tantric Tradition” both examine aspects of ethics central to Gelug doctrine. Cozort compares views of Tsongkhapa and the Indian paṇdit Asaṅga on the question of whether anger is able to definitively destroy a bodhisattva’s roots of virtue, thus preventing them from attaining enlightenment, or if it only temporarily prevents spiritual development. Napper focuses on Tsongkhapa’s utilization of the teachings of 10th-century Bengali scholar Atiśa as a justification for the view that Tibetan Buddhism urgently needed ethical reforms. Gareth Sparham’s “Demons on the Mother” examines two Tibetan commentaries on the Prajñā-pāramitā (“Perfection of Wisdom”), comparing the interpretations of Tsongkhapa, Dolpopa, Nyawon, and Butön on these texts. Joe B. Wilson’s “Gung thang and Sa bzang Ma ti Paṇ chen on the Meaning of ‘Foundational Consciousness’” explores different views on the ālayavijñāna, the “foundational consciousness,” according to the systems of the Gelugpas and their philosophical adversaries, the Jonangpas.

To my mind, the more intriguing essays are those that are not as concerned with intra-sectarian doctrinal debates, but which explore broader methodological approaches. John Buescher’s “The Buddha’s Conventional and Ultimate Tooth” is clever and deftly written, like a Buddhist detective story, drawing parallels between Hopkins’s investigations into the nature of the self in Buddhist texts with the story of an ostensibly false tooth-relic of the Buddha that nonetheless took on a power of its own as a politically charged religious object. Anne Klein’s essay looks at the Bon (non-Buddhist) Dzogchen tradition, exploring differences between the kusali (hermit) and paṇḍita (scholar) traditions, and showing that although Bonpos do not study the classical Indian Buddhist treatises on logic (pramāṇa), they do have their own pramāṇa system. Roger Jackson takes on the topic of the hazy origins of the “dGe ldan—bKa’ brgyud Tradition of Mahāmudrā,” a meditative tradition that came to occupy a central role in Gelug religious identity, although questions of whether it derives directly from Tsongkhapa remain controversial. 

José Cabezón’s “Authorship and Literary Production in Classical Buddhist Tibet” marks the most overt attempt to bridge the gap between larger issues in the humanities and those in Tibetan studies. Using colophons of Tibetan texts as a basis, Cabezón attempts to derive an “implicit theory of authorship in Tibet” (233), contrasting Tibetan notions with those of European theorists such as Bakhtin, Barthes, and Foucault. While such critiques question Western assumptions of a single, individual author, such ideas have already been challenged by centuries-old Tibetan practices of textual commentary and collective authorship. Cabezón stresses the need for a “process of defamiliarization across cultures” (251) that recognizes the differences between Tibetan and Western notions of authorship. Harvey Aronson’s essay, “Altruism and Diversity,” ventures furthest from traditional topics in this volume, examining the relationship of psychoanalytic theory to Buddhist views on altruism, specifically considering how Westerners attempting to practice Buddhist teachings on altruism can do so in a way that is psychologically beneficial. The final piece, Paul Hackett’s “Drawing the Steel Bow,” is less an essay than a genealogy cum bibliography of Hopkins’s scholarly output. It is a fitting conclusion, clearly demonstrating Hopkins’s staggering output and influence on the field of Tibetan studies.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Patrick Lambelet is a doctoral student in Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Date of Review: 
October 30, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Guy Newland is Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Central Michigan University, where he has taught since 1988. He has authored, edited, and translated several books on Tibetan Buddhism, including the three-volume translation of The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment.



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