Powers, C. John

Generations of Buddhist Scholars


C. John Powers




Career Overview. As I write this retrospective on my life and career in August 2017, I expect that my future as a scholar will have new and perhaps very different trajectories over the next decade. I’m waiting for the results of a grant proposal for an environmental history project that will focus on Tibetan rivers. If the application is funded, I’ll be working with a team of researchers in natural sciences, social sciences, and history to develop a new paradigm for cooperative research across the science-humanities divide. Another project in the works will be concerned with artificial intelligence: the plan is to bring together a team of scientists and specialists in Buddhist epistemology to discuss new possibilities for AI.


These projects are reflective of how my career has unfolded. My first publications were mainly technical and intended for a small audience of specialists. The focus of my work began to shift in 1992 following a meeting with Sidney Piburn, the director of Snow Lion Publications, at an American Academy of Religion conference. He asked if I’d be willing to write an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. My initial response was that the project was too broad for any one academic, and my expertise was too limited. He pointed out that there was a need for such a book and that there was a substantial and growing body of work on a wide range of topics within the field. I eventually agreed and spent the next few years reading widely and conducting fieldwork in some of the areas in which Tibetan Buddhism flourishes. The result was Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1995), which was updated in 2007. A condensed version designed for survey courses on Buddhism and for readers who wanted a shorter overview (A Concise Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism) was published in 2008.


These projects changed my academic goals. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism was my first publication that was widely read. I’ve been told by a number of younger academics that it was the first book they read on Tibetan Buddhism and that it influenced their decision to enter the field. I receive emails from readers all over the world (it’s been translated into several languages), and its impact has exceeded anything I could have imagined when I began the project. I subsequently decided that my focus would be on publications that have the potential to appeal to a broad readership, which would include introductory texts, dictionaries and articles in encyclopedias, and monographs aimed at educated audiences, including both specialists and nonspecialists.


Early Life. I was born on October 1, 1957 in Winchester Hospital in Massachusetts, USA, the first child of Chester John Powers II and Joan Marie Powers (née Whitty). My parents later had four more children, one boy and three girls. We lived for four years in Medford, MA and then moved to Harwich, a town on Cape Cod, where I spent my early years. My parents were Roman Catholics, and they enrolled me in Holy Trinity School, which was run by the ironically named Sisters of Mercy. Several of them were sadistic, bitter old women, and the pleasure they took in brutalizing their charges profoundly affected my perception of the Church. Following a fistfight in the church parking lot between two men who were racing to get out as quickly as possible after mass (which expanded to include other Catholics who became enraged that their exits were blocked), I lost any remaining interest in organized Christianity.


My mother once told me that I showed interest in Buddhism at an early age (and added an opinion that I was probably a reincarnated Buddhist; which was odd because she was a Catholic). When I was four, I went to the attic and rummaged through articles my father had brought from China (he was in the last Marine division in China at the end of the Korean War). From among all the exotica in boxes, I selected a porcelain Buddha and placed it on my bureau. It remained there throughout my teens but was lost sometime after I graduated from college. In junior high, I began reading omnivorously, and the first book on Buddhism I encountered was D.T. Suzuki’s Introduction to Zen Buddhism. This sparked my interest, and in addition to works on western philosophy I read widely on Buddhism and other Asian traditions during my teens.


Unlike many people I know who were raised in Christian families and later moved away from that faith, I never experienced a strong antipathy toward it and remained open (to Christianity and other religions, despite skepticism regarding any religious claims). After reading theological works and considering various arguments for the existence of God, I concluded that none were compelling. And even if one could establish that there is or was some being that initiated creation, this can’t serve to verify the claims of any particular religion or determine which deity (e.g., Brahmā) should be credited. The more I read about religious belief, the clearer it became that for the overwhelming majority of believers adherence to their respective religions is mainly an accident of birth. A powerful individual experience (in any religious tradition) might provide a personal justification for faith, but this isn’t intersubjectively verifiable, and so it’s at most anecdotally relevant for others. I’ve attended services in a range of religious traditions, and I’m happy to participate by intoning liturgies, but I view this as trying out a practice to experience its effects and not a statement of conviction.


In grade four I was enrolled in Harwich Grammar School. In preparation, my father took me to a barber and told him to give me a buzz cut. My parents further prepared me for bullying by insisting that I dress up in the uniform I’d worn at Holy Trinity School, thus completing the nerd child look. On the morning bus, an older boy who would later be expelled for trying to kill a teacher and then serve jail time for planting a bomb in the physical plant room decided that I was an ideal target. I’m an admirer of Gandhi’s philosophy, but in my experience it’s ineffective against school bullies. As Nelson Mandela once remarked, Gandhianism only works with an opponent who’s capable of feeling shame, and this is seldom true of bullies. My philosophy from an early age was much like Jack Reacher’s in the Lee Child novels: use of overwhelming force and total defeat of one’s adversary. As soon as the other boy began the standard intimidation protocol of describing the physical abuse and humiliations I was about to encounter, I moved in and landed several hard punches to his head, knocking out two of his teeth and producing an impressive amount of blood. Two more punches dropped him to the floor of the bus, and some kicks to his midsection ensured that he’d have no fight left. The next day in “study period,” his older brother—who four years later would begin a prison sentence for manslaughter—announced that he would exact revenge for the humiliation inflicted on his family (most of whom at some point served time in prison), but I was able to fend him off with a series of jabs until a teacher broke up the fight. Following these two incidents, despite my parents’ fondness for bad haircuts and nerdy clothing for me and often wearing a patch over one of the lenses of my glasses to correct a congenital defect in my right eye (which is legally blind), no other bullies tried to attack me during grammar school. To clarify my philosophy on physical violence: I never started a fight, and I’ve walked away from many confrontations when possible, but when one’s trapped on a bus by a budding psychopath intent on inflicting injury and humiliation, decisive retaliation is the only viable option.


During high school my parents became concerned that my absence of faith would result in an eternity in hell, and they appealed to my sense of open-mindedness, urging me to participate in a Christian retreat aimed at teenagers. I agreed, but didn’t expect to feel much in the way of inspiration. The others were all committed Christians, and many reported powerful experiences. As a cognitive outsider, I observed the process; I noticed that the message was simple, focused on Jesus, with no mention of God the Father or the Holy Spirit. Certain themes were repeated over and over, and we were only allowed to sleep a few hours per day and fed a low-protein diet. This combination of conditions, I decided, was a key factor in sparking the experiences the others were reporting. I was open (though skeptical) to being zapped in a similar way, but nothing happened. This has also been the case in hundreds of other organized religious activities in which I’ve participated.


From grade four through high school I studied in the Harwich public school system and graduated from Harwich High School in 1995. I was far more interested in sports than academic pursuits, and hockey was my main focus. I played on most of my high school’s sports teams, including hockey, cross country, track, tennis, golf, and baseball. I also competed in judo and karate tournaments and defeated the national judo champion when I was 17 (more through guile and luck than skill). Summers were spent playing hockey in Canada, and when I was 15 I was recruited by a Major Junior team but decided to decline because this is regarded as a professional league by the NCAA, and I would have been prevented from playing college hockey.


That summer I played in a league in Canada for major junior players. Seven had been recruited by NHL teams and were preparing for training camps. There were two retired NHL players and several current AHL players; it was high-level hockey, very rough and very competitive. During one game, one of my linemates took a hard elbow to the mouth. As we sat on the bench afterward, he casually pulled out a tooth that had become dislodged and put it in his pocket while continuing to watch the game. He was already missing several others, and it occurred to me that I’d never be that blasé about this sort of ad hoc dental work. After the game, I looked around the locker room at my potential future teammates, and all had gaps in their mouths. That experience led me to think more seriously about an alternative career, one that wouldn’t involve people hitting me. And this has been a positive aspect of my life as an academic: physical attacks are rare, although we do have a system (referred to as “graduate school”) that functions much like the rites of passage of primitive tribes; but we scar our young psychologically rather than physically. The culmination is the “oral exam” (our version of walking on hot coals), designed to leave permanent cognitive scars.


No one in my extended family had ever attended college, and so I had no context for thinking about higher education. I was at or near the top of my class during high school, and my parents and teachers assumed that I would go to college, but I was indifferent until my senior year, during which I worked in a precast plant making large concrete products for a construction company. It was hard, hot, dirty work, and I realized that without a college education this was the sort of job I was likely to find. I began working at age 10 and from age 13 ran a landscaping business and a furniture business (buying, refinishing, and selling furniture mainly bought at auctions). Physical labor had many benefits, and being outdoors appealed to me, but doing this sort of work at age 50 and beyond didn’t. And so I decided to enroll at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.


Undergraduate Years. I began at Holy Cross in 1975. My family was unable to provide financial assistance, and so I worked two or three jobs during school terms and full time during summers. At that time, it was possible to earn enough to pay for a private college tuition ($4000 p.a.) with a bit of help from loans and work study. I double-majored in Philosophy and Religious Studies and graduated cum laude in 1979.


On my way to Holy Cross for the first time, I had an experience that led me to consider the possibility of past lives. My father was driving on a road I’d never seen before, the old highway that skirts Boston on the way to central Massachusetts. Suddenly I felt that I was someone else and knew in advance the names of buildings that were up ahead; but only the old ones. With the new buildings, I saw in my mind other ones with different names. I had no concept of passage of time, but the experience probably lasted about twenty minutes. It faded as suddenly as it arose, and it never reoccurred on subsequent trips along that road. After reflecting on it, it seemed that the most plausible explanation for how I could know the names of buildings on a road I’d never seen before was that I’d been there before, and probably often, in a past life. But the experience was a one-off and there was no larger context in which to place it, and so it didn’t lead to any sort of conversion or renewed interest in religious practice.


During my time at Holy Cross, I often spent weekends backpacking in the wilderness, something I began doing at age 12, generally by myself. I hiked most of the New England portions of the Appalachian Trail and all of the Long Trail, which goes through western Massachusetts and Vermont to the Canadian border. I hiked one section in northern Vermont during January 1977 and almost died. I’d checked weather forecasts, and no storms were predicted. By this time I was an experienced outdoorsman and was well prepared, but two major storms hit the area, dumping several feet of snow. Temperatures plunged, and my butane cook stove froze, so I had to build fires to survive. I’d hiked over several high passes and had several more ahead before the next road. An assessment of my situation led to the conclusion that I was going to die. My clothes became soaked and there was no way to dry them. My sleeping bag was also wet, and my feet felt like ice. I decided that despite what seemed an inevitable demise in the heart of the Vermont wilderness I’d walk until I couldn’t go any further and not simply give up. After two days of trudging through knee-deep snow and relying on a compass because the trail had become invisible, I was near the end of physical endurance when I saw a yellow line ahead in the midst of a sea of white. It turned out to be a marking in a freshly plowed road, and I was able to get a ride to a nearby town (and a hospital) from a plow driver. I had severe chilblains and for several months experienced intense pain in my legs as I recovered. Since that time, after living with the certainty of death for most of a week alone in the wilderness, I’ve never experienced any fear in situations in which death might be immanent.


During my undergraduate years, I had no inclination toward an academic career, nor any sense of what this might entail. I never seriously considered future employment of any kind and immersed myself in the liberal arts curriculum. I took courses on a wide variety of subjects and was more concerned with broadening my intellectual horizons than putting together a resume. My favorite courses were mainly in philosophy and religion, and I received the Redigan Medal for excellence in the study of theology in 1979 and the Strain Gold Medal for best philosophy essay in 1978 and 1979.


McMaster University. After graduation I bought a suit and moved to Boston. I wrote a resume that was an argument for why businesses should hire philosophy graduates. It stated that philosophy provides the sort of training that can be adapted to many jobs, that philosophers learn to think laterally, to construct arguments and persuade others, and that the discipline promotes mental agility that is well suited to dealing with people in a variety of situations. Within three weeks I’d had seven interviews and received three good entry level job offers. I worked in marketing for a personnel company near Boston for almost two years and took night courses toward an MBA.


I also developed a love of punk rock and reggae and frequented clubs in Boston, particularly Spit and Underground, which hosted some of the top bands from around the world. I have a Ph.D. and have spent most of my working life in higher education, but I’m solidly working class in background and inclinations. For entertainment, I prefer hockey or football games to things like opera or symphonies, and still mainly listen to punk, reggae, and African popular music.


Working nine to five made me aware of how much I missed studying and abstract thought, and so in 1981 I applied for M.A. programs at University of Hawai’i and McMaster University. Both offered scholarships, but after deciding that the Hawai’i program was insufficiently rigorous in language training I decided on McMaster and enrolled in the Department of South Asian Studies. At this point I had no intention of pursuing an academic career, but the McMaster program immersed graduate students in pedagogy as paid teaching assistants. To my surprise, I found that it was tremendously intellectually stimulating, and my students seemed to respond well. For the first time, I began to consider making a living as an academic, but the job market was very limited, and so I decided to make the best of the MA and then go back to work outside of academia.


While at McMaster, I had the good fortune to study with Dr. Krishna Sivaraman, who became my first mentor. In my second year, he taught a graduate course on Indian philosophy that focused on Annaṃbhaṭṭa’s Tarkasaṃgraha. He encouraged the students to write publishable papers, which would be presented at the Canadian Learned Societies Conference in Vancouver in 1983. This resulted in my first publication, “Reflections on the Notion of Vyāpti in Annaṃbhaṭṭa’s Tarkasaṃgraha and Dīpikā,South Asian Horizons, 1984. It also began a process of cognitive reorientation toward a career as a professional academic. While at McMaster, I studied Sanskrit with Prof. Phyllis Granoff, took several Indian philosophy courses with Dr. John Arapura, and had two stimulating courses on Buddhist literature with Dr. Graeme MacQueen.


McMaster also provided opportunities for travel. At that time, the Canadian system paid teaching assistants a decent living wage, and even foreign students had free access to health care. We also belonged to a union that provided dental insurance. During my first summer, I took a trip across Canada, mainly by bike supported by a car, and stopped along the way for a two week canoe trip into the heart of the Quetico wilderness. With another graduate student, I went north from Hamilton, Ontario, around Lake Huron and along the northern shore of Lake Superior, and then through the Canadian midwest to Vancouver. My pay checks had been sent to post offices in Winnipeg and Calgary, but then the postal service went on strike, so I ran out of money and had to work on a boat in Washington State to earn enough to return to Ontario.


I spent the next summer riding a bicycle around northern Europe, and covered about 4,000 km. I began in London (a friend in Canada arranged for me stay in a drug dealer friend’s squat in Brixton). After a few days of listening to reggae music in Brixton, I got on my bike and rode south, down to Cornwall and then up through the west of Britain. I spent several weeks riding around Ireland, beginning in Dublin and going as far north as Donegal, and then rode toward the east coast and took a ferry to Scotland, where I rode through the midlands and up to the northern tip, and then down the east coast, following which I traveled through Yorkshire for a week. One day while having breakfast outside the Yorkminster Cathedral, I read in the morning paper that the Tour de France was underway and moving through Normandy, so I got on my bike and headed toward Southampton to catch a ferry to France so I could watch a stage or two. By the time I got to France, the Tour had moved to the mountains, so I had to content myself with touring Normandy and Brittany. After three months of riding, I returned to Hamilton and my graduate studies. During the third summer, I did some climbing in the Canadian Rockies. McMaster had a good program, but it also allowed easygoing summers free from academic work.


In 1984 I had an experience that changed my life, one that was totally unexpected. My main focus up to this point was Sanskrit Buddhism, particularly the Yogācāra school, and I had no interest whatsoever in Tibetan Buddhism. There was very little quality work in tibetology in the 1980s, and most of my impressions of Tibet were negative. I’d read books by European Orientalists who characterized Tibetan Buddhism as the worst degeneration of the Buddha’s Dharma, and while these works reeked of cultural chauvinism, nothing I’d heard or read had sparked any interest in Tibet or its intellectual traditions.


During a camping trip to Manitoulin Island in Ontario with two friends, the one with the car announced that the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa would be holding a public ceremony at a Buddhist church in Toronto in two days. My interest was exactly zero: I was far more interested in exploring the Ontario wilderness, but he had the car, and so we all went to Toronto. I expected to be thoroughly bored and considered spending a few minutes for the curiosity of seeing the Dalai Lama (I’d never heard of the Karmapa), and then probably exploring the surrounding area in the city until it was over.


What happened next was not, as far as I can tell, prompted by expectations or projection. As I entered the church, the ceremony had already begun, and a group of Tibetan monks were chanting. The two prominent lamas exuded a presence I’d never experienced before, and it was physically palpable. The audience was transfixed as shaven-headed men in robes chanted in a foreign language few of us could understand, and the fifty or so children sat in rapt attention. No one fidgeted, no one looked around, and no one moved. The atmosphere was absolutely riveting, and as I sat through the rest of the ceremony I decided that I wanted to expand my studies to include Tibetan Buddhism so that I could better understand what sort of training these lamas had undergone. Study of Tibetan language would also help with work on Yogācāra because many of the most important texts only exist in Tibetan or Chinese. So I asked my fellow graduate student James Mullens about the best programs for the study of Tibetan Buddhism, and particularly universities that had lamas in residence. Without hesitation, he said that I should apply to University of Virginia.


University of Virginia. UVA was a beneficiary of the National Resource Fellowship program, a Cold War initiative that funded the study of modern languages (based on the principle that one never knows which country the US might invade next, so it’s important to have people who are fluent in a range of languages). I received a scholarship for Tibetan, and it funded my Ph.D. studies, along with a DuPont Fellowship (1984), and later an American Institute of Indian Studies fellowship (1988) and a UVA Dissertation Fellowship (1989). Prof. Jeffrey Hopkins, my principal advisor, became my paradigm for how an academic should mentor students. He was concerned with every aspect of the program of every student and worked to provide resources for them. UVA also had several outstanding professors in other areas of Buddhism, and I benefitted enormously from courses on Chinese and Japanese Buddhism by Paul Groner and Karen Lang, as well as a methodology course by Benjamin (Ben) Ray that influenced the trajectory of my future studies by demonstrating the value of theory. Another important course was a year-long seminar on the Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun 乘起信論) and its commentaries co-taught by Paul Groner and visiting professor Yoshihide Yoshizu. David Gardiner, who would go on to a distinguished career as a specialist in Japanese Buddhism, was the only other student in the course, which met at Prof. Groner’s house.


UVA subsidized a lama-in-residence program that brought some of the leading traditional scholars to Charlottesville, along with a who’s who of western academics, including Michael Aris, Christian Lindtner, Janice Willis, and Melvyn Goldstein. Tibetan scholars included some of the most eminent figures from the four main orders: Khensur Yeshe Tupten, Lati Rinpoche, Geshe Yeshes Thabkhas, Geshe Palden Dragpa, Khenpo Konchog Gyeltsen, and Khetsun Sangpo, among others. I had the good fortune to have as classmates and friends people who would later go on to successful academic careers, including Georges Dreyfus, Alan Cole, and William (Bill) Magee, Charles (Chuck) Jones, and Paul Hackett. Senior students on their way to postgraduate careers were teaching in the program, including Elizabeth (Betsy) Napper, my first year Tibetan instructor, and Joe Wilson, who taught second year. Others who would later make their mark on the field and who either taught or helped younger students like me included Guy Newland, Dan Cozort, and Jules Levinson.


It was an exciting time to be at UVA. There were seminars almost every week, and the level of academic productivity was unlike anything I’ve seen since. Prominent international scholars came for short or long stays, and some of the leading figures of Tibetan Buddhism gave seminars and made themselves available for one-on-one reading. Khensur Yeshe Tupten and Betsy Napper led a full year course on Tsongkhapa’s Essence of Good Explanations (Legs bshad snying po) and its commentaries, and I spent another year reading the Discourse Explaining the Thought (Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra; Tibetan texts and Sanskrit fragments) with Christian Lindtner. I later worked on Asaṅga’s commentary on the text, along with parts of Wonch’uk’s, with Geshe Yeshes Thabkhas. During my graduate work, I had a total of seven years of Tibetan language instruction, seven years of Sanskrit, three years of classical Chinese, a year of Pāli with Karen Lang, and two years of Japanese. During one summer, Khetsun Sangpo, a Dzogchen master, stayed at Jeffrey Hopkins’ house near the Blue Ridge Mountains, and graduate students were able to receive intensive instructions on Mipam’s Three Cycles of Fundamental Mind (gNyug sems skor gsum). Much of his commentary was drawn from his own meditative experiences, and it was fascinating to see how the text came alive through his contextualization.


UVA also provided a rich intellectual environment in other areas. I audited Richard Rorty’s “Nietzsche to Derrida” course and had a one-on-one reading course on the philosophical roots of western hermeneutics with E.D. Hirsch, which resulted in an article, “On Being Wrong: Kripke’s Causal Theory of Reference.” International Philosophical Quarterly, #32.4, December, 1992, which presents a Dharmakīrtian critique of Kripke’s causal theory of reference.


The UVA program was designed to train professional academics. It was intense; during most of my time there I worked 10-14 hours per day with few interruptions, and in addition to the required parts of the program I engaged in debate practice with Geshe Tupden Gyatso and worked on colloquial Tibetan with Geshe Jampel Tando, among others. On my third day on campus, I had my first meeting with Prof. Hopkins. He asked me if I knew what I wanted to do in my dissertation; I replied that I planned to translate and study the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra. He told me to bring the text to his office the next day, and we began a three-year series of meetings during which we worked through several Tibetan versions (mainly the Stog Palace edition) and Sanskrit fragments, along with portions of commentaries and related works. By the time I traveled to India in 1988 for dissertation research funded by the American Institute of Indian Studies, I had a draft translation of the text and extensive notes.


In 1981, a few months after beginning studies at UVA and in the middle of an intense first semester, I met Cindy Swiatlowski, who would later become my wife, the love of my life, and my best friend. Our relationship began with hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and later we moved into a farmhouse outside Charlottesville with some friends. Near the end of my first semester, my father died suddenly and unexpectedly, and she was a source of emotional support. In 1988, after I completed course work at UVA, we decided to travel together to India, a decision that cemented our relationship.


While in India, I studied with Geshe Yeshes Thabkhas at the Central Institute of Tibetan Studies (now the Central University of Tibetan Studies) in Sarnath. We completed a translation of Asaṅga’s commentary on the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra and portions of the commentary attributed to Byang chub rdzu ’phrul. Cindy and I also hiked the Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal and spent time in Kathmandu, mainly visiting Buddhist sites and attending lectures by Kagyu and Nyingma lamas. After that we spent two months in Ladakh, which included treks into remote areas and visits to most of the major monasteries in the Leh Valley.


Following this we spent several months in Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan exile community. This was before the Dalai Lama attained rock star status, and several people told me that one could arrange an audience by fronting up to a kiosk in front of his residence (the Podrang) and setting a date. His appointment secretary said that next Wednesday was open, and so we booked our audience. When we met His Holiness, I introduced myself in Tibetan, and he asked where I’d learned to speak the language. When I told him that I was a student of Jeffrey Hopkins at UVA, he asked about the topic of my dissertation. I responded: the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra (which is an important aspect of the Gelukpa scholastic system, particularly Tsongkhapa’s interpretation). He asked my view on a philosophical point of Buddhist hermeneutics; I responded. He clapped his hands together and drew out another response, and for the next hour we went back and forth in a debate (in Tibetan) on Buddhist philosophy.


Debate training (tshod pa) was a core aspect of the UVA program, and students became reasonably proficient (in my case, about the level of a 12-year-old monk). We also learned the Gelukpa scholastic system (mtshan nyid) that begins with condensed maxims encapsulating Buddhist doctrines, initially mainly drawn from Indian Pramāṇa (Tshad ma) texts. I’d never particularly liked this aspect of the program, which struck me as tedious and intellectually rigid, but it was helpful in providing a schema for at least one Buddhist system that could be compared with others. Study of mtshan nyid also dramatically affects how Gelukpa geshes respond to foreign students: if you don’t know anything about the system, they’ll insist on providing uplifting discourses on moral behavior, but once you rattle off a few definitions they figure you’re serious and you can do serious work with them. And now that I was sitting across from the Dalai Lama and we both were smiling and laughing as he trounced me in debate, I reflected that it had been worth the time and effort (for which I have my friend and former housemate Georges Dreyfus, the first westerner to receive the geshe degree, to thank, along with Geshe Palden Drakpa and Khensur Yeshe Thupten).


After a brief return to Sarnath, we received notification from the Indian government that we had been granted a visa for Sikkim, and after a week in Darjeeling we were among the first foreigners to be allowed to travel there in almost a decade. While wandering around Rumtek Monastery, I happened upon Tai Situ Rinpoche (I had no idea who he was). He was a friendly and erudite man, and he invited me to join him for tea in the late Karmapa’s aviary. After learning that he was one of the main lineage holders of Karma Kagyu, I asked him how the search for the reincarnation was going. He replied that the 17th Karmapa been identified and that everyone in the lineage had accepted him. He added that there would be no problems with the announcement.


Cindy and I traveled extensively in India and Nepal, and we experienced the sorts of frustrations that only India can provide: the chaos of travel, the immense difficulty of accomplishing even the simplest official tasks, illnesses like recurring giardiasis, the miseries of buses and trains. Throughout the year, we maintained a sense of humor and became better friends, and so after returning to the US we decided to get married. During a brief return to Cape Cod, we arranged a civil ceremony, attended by my mother and siblings.


My year in India and Nepal was crucial for gaining a better understanding of Tibetan Buddhism as lived and practiced. The UVA program had made possible first-hand interactions with some of the leading figures of all four orders of Tibetan Buddhism, and the AIIS fellowship enabled me to interact closely with ordinary Buddhists and eminent lamas, to participate in ceremonies, receive teachings, read texts, and to eat and live with people from various walks of life, including refugees in north-central India and people in the Indian Himalayas who were the inheritors of traditions that could be traced back for millennia.


Academic Employment in the US. After a year in India, I returned to Virginia and with the help of a UVA Dissertation Fellowship I completed my thesis, “The Ultimate (don dam pa, paramārtha) in the Sūtra Explaining the Thought (Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra): Study, Translation, and Notes.” Then I had to find a job, a task that was complicated by some intractable obstacles. I had a solid publication and teaching record for a recent graduate: my thesis was far too long for a single publication, and so I divided it into four portions and expanded each into a book. Several articles also came from it, along with two other books on commentaries on the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra (see bibliography below). Thanks to Guy Newland, I had the opportunity to teach a total of five courses during my graduate years (at Virginia Commonwealth University and Mary Washington College).


During a summer between one year jobs, I had an experience that led to further ruminations on Buddhist (and Hindu, Jain, etc.) claims about reincarnation and the possibility of consciousness persisting outside a physical locus. As an undergraduate and after graduation, I trained in powerlifting. At one point my maximum bench pressing weight was 400 lb. I had continued to lift weights, but not as seriously because of time constraints imposed by a fulltime job. With a summer to devote to research and exercise, I began doing long swims (two miles three times per week), running (5 miles per day), and weight training. After two months my max was 340 lb. on the bench press. One day I was lifting by myself, so I had 320 on the bar; something changed in my body, and it was clearly not good. I felt faint, and my pulse became erratic and weaker. I drove home, hoping that it would pass, but the symptoms persisted. On the way to a local hospital in an ambulance, the driver told me that my condition is common with people who lift too much weight and that he’d transported three other men that year with the same problems. I’d never heard anything like this before, and the information probably would have led to modifications in my training.


While in the hospital, I experienced my consciousness leaving my body. At first I floated to the ceiling and observed the room. Then I went to a nearby golf course and watched people playing. I was aware that this could be hallucination caused by the trauma I’d experienced. I’d been told by a doctor that I’d had a cerebral hemorrhage that centered in the visual cortex, and as a result I could only see vague shapes with my eyes. But when I was out of my body perceptions were clear. I continued to think that these were unlikely to be anything more than an odd manifestation of my medical condition, but at one point I decided that I should visit an editor in California with whom I’d worked while finalizing a translation of the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra, which later was published as Wisdom of Buddha: The Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra (not my choice of title; Berkeley: Wisdom Publications, 1995).


I visualized myself traveling to her home outside San Francisco and telling her that I was in the hospital but was ok. I hadn’t spoken with her for five months following the completion of our work, and because the book was in production there was no reason why either of us would expect communication from the other. A half hour later, she called Cindy and asked about my health. She said she’d been meditating and that a glowing body had appeared in front of her, identified itself as John Powers, and told her he was in the hospital but that she shouldn’t be concerned. I’m highly skeptical about claims of mystical experiences and agnostic regarding the possibility of consciousness existing apart from a physical body, but I have no rational explanation for what occurred.


The doctors at the local hospital were unable to find the source of the hemorrhage or do anything about my condition, so I was transferred to Mass General Hospital in Boston, where I was fortunate enough to be treated by a surgeon who specialized in the sort of trauma I’d experienced. After examination, he told me that 95% of patients who have a cerebral hemorrhage require surgery to repair the damage; the survival rate is about 50-50. In 5% of cases the body repairs itself, and he added that his research had found that these people are no more likely to have a recurrence than the general population average (but he added that I should seriously reconsider reducing the weight I was lifting). I was, fortunately, among the 5%, and so a week later I was discharged and my vision returned to normal.


Academic Employment in Australia. Following graduation from the UVA Ph.D. program in 1991 until 1995, I had a succession of one year jobs in the US, at Gustavus Adolphus College, Wittenberg University, and Grinnell College, and in 1995 received an offer to take up a position as a Senior Lecturer at Australian National University. Cindy and I moved to Canberra and bought a house, and we settled into life in Australia. Shortly after we settled into a house, as I was sitting on the front porch resting after mowing the lawn, I saw a man walking by with a duffle bag and a hockey stick. Which is an unusual sight in Australia. I asked him what he was doing, and he informed me that there was a rink about a kilometer away. He was a Canadian and played for an oldtimers team named the Canberra Senators. I had brought my equipment to Australia just in case, and so the next day I went to the rink with my skates, made some inquiries, and was invited to join the team. I played with them for almost 20 years, in weekly games and tournaments around the country. I was much slower, and it was vastly different playing non-checking and non-slapshot hockey, but it was great fun and there were many wonderful moments of male bonding.


At ANU I made steady professional progress. In 2000 I was promoted to Reader (Level D), and in 2008 to Professor (Level E). In 2008 I received the College of Asia and the Pacific’s Excellence in Supervision Award (initiated by my graduate students), and in 2010 I received a national award for undergraduate teaching from the Australian Learning and Teaching Centre (initiated by undergraduates). In 2013 I was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, a select body of around 300 academics, which is generally initiated by an anonymous nomination by someone who is already a Fellow.


In 2011 I had a major life transition. My mother was diagnosed with ALS and given a maximum prognosis of six months to live. She held on for almost double that time, and my dean allowed me to return to the US to care for her (along with Cindy). My mother required 24-hour attention, and we became proficient in invalid care. It brought us closer together, and other family members, including my then sister-in-law Michelle and my sister Terry, pitched in. My nieces Kelly and Kestrel visited several days per week, and we often went swimming in the mornings before my shift. It was an unanticipated practical application of Buddhist principles, and I was surprised by how helpful meditation was in dealing with the more unpleasant aspects of invalid care. I remained academically active and completed most of my work on Historical Dictionary of Tibet (with David Templeman; Metuchen: Scarecrow, 2012).


Some Benefits of Academic Life. I love my work. There are very few fields in which one can travel as part of one’s job, and I like the fact that trekking in the Himalayas and studying with Tibetan lamas enhance my standing as a scholar. Another aspect of my professional agenda is to immerse myself in the cultures and religious practices of as many parts of the Buddhist world as possible. At this point in my life, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia remain on my bucket list, but I’ve been to most other places where Buddhism is or was practiced traditionally. In 1997 I received a grant from the Korea Foundation that funded seven months in Korea. Soon after arriving, Frank Tedesco, who’d lived in the country for almost twenty years, introduced me to a friend who was working on a book on little-known hiking trails in remote areas. He had a car but no money, and I had money but no car. So we decided to travel all over the country and hike as many trails as possible. He shared my interest in Buddhism, and we visited most of the major centers, along with hundreds of smaller monasteries and shrines. I was able to meet and discuss Buddhism with eminent masters, as well as long-term meditators living in huts in the mountains.


At Unhaesa Monastery I met and spent a day with the abbot, Ven. Bapta Sunim. I visited the monastery on a national holiday when Koreans return to their traditional villages, so the complex was mostly deserted; a perfect opportunity for photography. I saw two young monks in a hut sitting in meditation, and I moved behind a rock wall (so as not to disturb them) and shot two photos. Then one got up and walked toward me. I thought, “Damn! I’m bothering them and he’s coming to shoo me away.” But he said: “Abbot say you come have tea.”


So for the next hour I sat in the abbot’s private teaching hut and talked about Buddhism. After learning that I’m a scholar in the field, he offered to show me around the complex, along with his assistant; and he provided bits of Zen advice, like: “When you photograph, see with your mind, not your eyes.” We walked up to some meditation huts in the hills above the main monastery, and I spent the rest of the day drinking tea and chatting with monks who were in solitary retreat. One of them, an artist who combines painting with meditation, drew a black and white portrait that conflated me with Bodhidharma (because I’m foreign and have a beard, he said).


Korea’s an interesting place to visit as a tourist. It receives far fewer foreigners than neighboring countries, and as a result Koreans often don’t quite know how to respond when they meet one. On one trip into a remote provincial park to do some hiking, we came to a kiosk with a sign indicating that the charge to enter was 300 won per person and 300 per car. As we sat with the engine idling, a heated conversation took place between the two attendants: “person” obviously referred to Koreans, and as foreigners we didn’t qualify. But we were driving a Hyundai, so we got in for free and paid 300 won for the car.


I’ve been successful in securing competitive research funding ($3.5 million to date), much of which has supported team projects, as well as travel. During the first meeting for one such project, held in Canberra, the invited team members told me that they were happy to have a free trip to Australia, but they really didn’t want to return for every annual meeting of the project. I realized that meetings of international teams can be held anywhere, and over the next two decades, this team and others that followed met in Leh, Ladakh; Cape Town, South Africa; Göttingen, Germany; Kerala (we rented a houseboat and drifted down canals while working on Buddhist texts); Nara, Japan; Liberia, Costa Rica; and Denali National Park in Alaska, among other venues. The prospect of subsidized travel to such locales has helped in convincing top scholars to join research teams. Research funding has also enabled me to spend more than two years altogether in India and to conduct fieldwork in Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh, China, Singapore, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, and Japan.


During my first visit to South Asia, I was reluctant to travel in Tibet because of Chinese government oppression there. My initial decision was that I shouldn’t support this, but several Tibetans associated with the Central Tibetan Administration, as well as the Dalai Lama, urged me to go and to report what I saw. So in 2001 I made my first trip to Tibet, and as required by PRC law I joined a tour group. My visa was almost cancelled after I gave an interview on SBS Television focusing on the political situation in Tibet and human rights abuses. While writing Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, I made a decision: I’ll tell the truth as I see it, and if that means being denied entry to Tibet, so be it. I’ve followed this principle since that time and have published a number of books and articles that received official condemnation by PRC officials. The Chinese ambassador walked out of a public lecture on human rights I gave at University of San Francisco; he subsequently lodged a formal protest with the university. Despite this, I’ve never been denied a visa. One reason, I suspect, is that all of my publications and lectures identify me as “John Powers,” but my legal name is “Chester John Powers.” When Chinese embassy personnel see an application from “Chester Powers,” they don’t identify him with the nasty John Powers who writes and says things that hurt the feelings of the Chinese people (for a discussion of this persistent trope, see The Buddha Party). Another factor is that I’m probably not important enough to merit their attention.


The first visit to Tibet was eye-opening. The airport in Lhasa had several hundred uniformed military personnel. On the way to the city, my bus passed seven military convoys. Many people experience problems at altitude, but I never have. Within an hour of landing, I hiked up some hills to monasteries and then took a taxi to the Barkhor, the most popular pilgrimage site in Tibet. I counted more than sixty uniformed personnel, and there were dozens of others who appeared to be undercover (though not very convincingly; Chinese “undercover” folks are generally easy to spot). There was a military base nearby, and soldiers armed with rifles were posted all over the area.


I was closely watched during the two-week trip, but managed to visit a number of major sites, including the Potala, the Jokhang, Sera Je Monastery, Samye, Shalu, Gyantse, and Shigatse. I spoke surreptitiously with monks, nuns, and laypeople, many of whom told me stories of oppression and torture and urged me to alert the rest of the world to what was happening in Tibet. Three years later I spent three weeks in eastern Tibet with Cindy and my colleague and friend John Makeham. This was some of the hardest traveling I’ve ever done. We had a four-wheel drive vehicle, but the roads were mud tracks, and most of the time we were unable to exceed 15 km/hr. Many of the places we originally hoped to see had to be eliminated from the itinerary, but we were able to spend time in Derge, Nyarong, and Dzogchen Monastery, among other places, and I spent several days talking with scholars in study centers (bshad grwa). We also spent two days in Yushu, which had been devastated by an earthquake. The whole city was a huge construction site, and the air was filled with concrete dust. Our “hotel” was made from styrofoam blocks held together with metal strips. There was no municipal electricity, but for several hours per day a generator supplied power (and the hotel was constructed in such a way that the fumes poured into the rooms, so we had to vacate when the generator was operating). The bathroom was so leaky that we became soaked while using the toilet. I’m not complaining; most of the residents of Yushu were living in tents, so our accommodation was luxurious by comparison.


Three years later, John Makeham, Cindy, and I traveled in western Tibet. This was harder going than Kham and Amdo. We started in Kashgar and drove in a rented jeep over the mountains at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. We spent several days in and around Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, and then went to Guge, the ancient capital of western Tibet, and Tsaparong. Guge was once a major cultural center, but today it’s mostly in ruins. The landscape reminded me of the Badlands in the US: deeply eroded white cliffs, barren terrain, dry rocky soil. This was the most remote and wild area I’ve seen in the Plateau, and there were herds of wild asses (rkyang) and antelopes. We saw vast numbers of other grazing animals and birds of various species, as well as many monasteries and historical sites. And Chinese military: every hour or so of travel, even in the most remote areas, there was a police checkpoint, but only Tibetans were required to stop at most of them. Tibetans are issued identity cards that list their places of residence. Without official permission, they’re forbidden to travel to other areas. And they can only buy gas with a special permit; this is designed to make it more difficult to self-immolate. In the cities, police patrols are omnipresent, and many carry fire extinguishers. There are also fire extinguishers in boxes in many public places throughout Tibet.


One of the most memorable experiences was an overnight stay in a “hotel” in the far west of the region. During the night, we heard a constant rustling of rats in the walls and ceilings. At one point Cindy woke up and asked me if it was raining outside; it wasn’t. Drops of liquid had fallen on her forehead from the ceiling, but it wasn’t rain. And there were no rooms without rats, so we had to stay. The staff took an unusual approach to cleaning the rugs, which were clearly ancient: they used wet mops, which served to work the dirt and grime deeper into what remained of the piling, so when they dried there was a combination of crunching and squishing sounds when one walked on them. Not a place for faint of heart travelers; nor for people who suffer from altitude sickness: most of the time we were above 15,000 feet, and at times as high as 18,000.


Work at Australian National University. At ANU I taught a wide range of courses, including a survey of Buddhism, Buddhist philosophy, contemporary India, methodology for humanities and social sciences, mysticism, Zen, history and theory, and Sanskrit. I worked at ANU from 1995-2016 and would have remained there until retirement in all probability if not for the intervention of unforeseen circumstances. In 2015 my school faced a budget shortfall, which in Australia is generally handled by setting (often arbitrary) performance criteria and offering severance packages to those who fall below them. In this case, university management came up with a novel strategy: getting rid of senior academics (including all the male professors), people with international reputations, fellows of learned academies, holders of large research grants, and authors of books in leading presses and journals. One of the administrators was asked how the school could maintain its reputation and supervisory obligations and provide core courses with less than half of its faculty (a total cut from 95 to 34). The response: there would be no dropoff in quality of teaching, supervision, or research because sacked academics would be loyal to the institution that was pushing them out the door and would remain in Canberra, continue to supervise graduate students and teach undergraduate courses for free, and they would keep their grants at ANU, which would continue to claim their publications.


I’m not aware of anyone who agreed to this proposal, and so most of the top academics (including several Academy Fellows and five recipients of the Levenson Prize for Sinology) left for other positions and received severance packages, as mandated by the Enterprise Agreement. I was offered an appointment as a Research Professor in the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University, which presented a wonderful career opportunity. As I write this, I have been in this position for nine months, and it has been one of the most productive times of my professional career. Within two months, The Buddha Party: How the Chinese Communist Party Works to Control Tibetan Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) was released. This was my second monograph on propaganda relating to Tibet in the PRC, focusing on how the Chinese government is trying to transform Tibetan Buddhism according to the vague notion of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” In early 2017, Dignāga’s Investigation of the Percept: A Philosophical Legacy in India and Tibet (with Douglas Duckworth, David Eckel, Jay Garfield, Sonam Thakchoe, and Yeshes Thabkhas) was published by Oxford University Press. This is the first work of its kind, as far as I’m aware: it brings together a team of academics from the Western academy and one of the most accomplished traditional Tibetan scholars of our time to trace the intellectual history of a particular work from 6th century India through its commentaries in India, Tibet, and China. When the work of the entire team (including five sinologists) is published, the Chinese tradition of commentary will also be explored in depth, allowing scholars to see how thinking about the text evolved over time and the differing emphases of exegetes over the course of millennia.


The format of this study has been followed in a current project that focuses on Daktsang Lotsawa’s (sTag tshang Lo tsā ba Shes rab rin chen, b. 1405) Precious Garland of Tenets (Grub pa’i mtha’i rnam par bzhag pa rin po che’i phreng ba), in which he famously accuses Tsongkhapa of “eighteen great contradictions” in the latter’s presentation of the two truths. The team comprises Geshe Yeshes Thabkhas, Khenpo Tashi Tsering, Jay Garfield, Douglas Duckworth, Sonam Thakchoe, Thomas Doctor, and José Cabezón. As with the Dignāga project, funding was provided by the Australian Research Council, and additional support came from the Singapore Ministry of Education. The outputs of our research will include translations and studies of the main texts from the debate by Gelukpas and Sakyapas, as well as a book by members of the team that will chart the history of controversies sparked by Daktsang and analyses of the key philosophical issues at stake.


What’s Next? As these ruminations illustrate, many of the events in my personal and professional life that have most profoundly shaped its course have been unplanned. My first career ambition was to be a professional hockey player, then I tried working in marketing, and only arrived at a determination to be an academic as a result of largely random occurrences. Once I decided on this course of action, however, I strove to put together a body of work in research, teaching, and service to the institutions that employed me that would enhance my chances of being hired and promoted. Despite even this minimal planning, some of the things that have impacted most profoundly on my career have been unexpected, and many could not have been anticipated in advance. Samsara’s a strange place, and no matter how well one tries to prepare or plan ahead, events have a way of overtaking the best laid strategies. The best one can hope is to improve the odds, and when unanticipated factors intervene, it’s important to be able to adapt.


As I write this at age 59, I intend to continue academic employment until at least 70. I’ve been successful in securing academic grants; I enjoy teaching undergraduates and advising graduate students; and my research gets me up in the morning. The variety of my intellectual interests helps to maintain enthusiasm, and moving from one intellectual field to another forces me to update my skill set every few years. I continue to publish work on Yogācāra and Pramāṇa, but I also have published one book and seven articles on Buddhism and gender, along with studies of ethics, human rights, the Free Tibet movement, and Tibet in popular culture, among other topics. The challenge of learning about new fields of study and producing publishable work in areas on which I haven’t previously worked has been a key factor in my continuing enthusiasm for research, one that I expect will sustain it for at least the next decade. When I turn 70, if my health remains good and if I still have the same perspective on research, teaching, or advising, I may continue either full time or part time, but for the present my work continues to be a rich source of personal satisfaction.



Ph.D., History of Religions, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, 1991 Primary Concentration: Buddhist Studies; Secondary Concentration: Hinduism; Tertiary Concentration: Islam.

Dissertation Title: “The Ultimate (don dam pa, paramārtha) in the Sūtra Explaining the Thought (Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra): Study, Translation, and Notes.”

M.A., Indian Philosophy, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, 1984; Primary Concentration: Buddhist Philosophy; Secondary Concentration: Western Religious Thought.

Thesis Title: “The Concept of the Middle Way (madhyama-pratipad) in the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra Schools.”

B.A., Philosophy, B.A., Religious Studies, Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA, 1979; graduated Cum Laude.


      I. Books and Journals:

The Buddha Party: How the Chinese Communist Party Works to Control Tibetan Buddhism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Dignāga’s Investigation of the Percept and Its Philosophical Legacy (with Douglas Duckworth, David Eckel, Jay Garfield, Sonam Thakchoe, and Yeshes Thabkhas). New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Scriptures of the World’s Religions (with James Fieser): Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2017 (6th ed.; 1st ed. 1998).

The Buddhist World (editor). London: Routledge, 2015.

Historical Dictionary of Tibet (with David Templeman). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 2012.

Scriptures of the West (with James Fieser). Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2011 (5th ed.; 1st ed. 1998).

Scriptures of the East (with James Fieser). Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2011 (5th ed.; 1st ed. 1998).

Defeating Māra Forever: Essays on Buddhist Ethics (co-editor). Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2009.

A Bull of A Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

A Concise Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2008; Italian edition: Il Buddhismo Tibetano. Roma: Ubaldini Editore, 2008.

Sophia (invited guest editor for special issue on Buddhist philosophy): Vol. 47.1, 2008.

Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2007 (2nd ed.; 1st ed. 1995). German Edition: Religion und Kultur Tibets (Munchen: Scherz Verlag, 1998. Polish edition: Wprowadzenie do buddyzmu tybetaskiego, Rok wydania: 2003. Czech edition: Úvod do tibetského buddhismu, Pavel Dobrovský, 2009.

History As Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles Versus the People’s Republic of China. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

A Concise Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Oxford: Oneworld/Penguin, 2000.

Commentary on Just the Maitreya Chapter of the Sūtra Explaining the Thought: Study and Translation. Jaipur: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1998.

Wisdom of Buddha: The Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra. Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1995.

Hermeneutics and Tradition in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993 (Indian Thought and Culture Series, #5).

Two Commentaries on the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra. Lewiston and Queenston: The Edwin Mellen Press (Studies in Asian Thought and Civilization #13), 1992.

The Yogācāra School of Buddhism: A Bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press (American Bibliographical Studies Series), 1991.

      II. Book Chapters and Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals:

“Indian Buddhist Hermeneutics.” Routledge Handbook of Indian Philosophy. Purushottama Bilimoria, ed. London: Routledge (in press).

 “The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena” (Śrīsenāvadāna). With Ruth Gamble, Tenzin Ringapontsang, and Harmony DenRonden. 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha: http://84000.co.

“The Account of the Noble Deeds of Puṇyabala” (Puṇyabalāvadāna). With Ruth Gamble, Tenzin Ringapontsang, and Harmony DenRonden. 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha: http://84000.co.

 “The Buddhist Doctrine of Rebirth: Ethical Implications.” Steven Emmanuel (ed.). Engaging Buddhist Philosophy: A Cross-Cultural Approach to the Perennial Questions. New York: Wiley Blackwell, 2017: 221–237.

 “Buddhas, Siddhas, and Indian Masculine Ideals.” Tantric Traditions in Transmission and Translation. David Gray and Ryan Overbey (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2016: 12-36.

 “Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra.” Brill Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Jonathan Silk (ed.). Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2015: 240-248.

 “Introduction.” The Buddhist World. John Powers (ed.). London: Routledge, 2015: 1-7.

“Buddhas and Buddhisms.” The Buddhist World. John Powers (ed.). London: Routledge, 2015: 11-59.

 “Tsongkhapa.” The Buddhist World. John Powers (ed.). London: Routledge, 2015: 579-590.

“Tenzin Gyatso.” The Buddhist World. John Powers (ed.). London: Routledge, 2015: 629-640.

“Thich Nhat Hanh.” The Buddhist World. John Powers (ed.). London: Routledge, 2015: 606-616.

 “Yogācāra in India.” Transforming Consciousness: The Intellectual Reception of Yogācāra Thought in Modern China. John Makeham (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2014: 41-63.

 “Buddhism and the Body.” Oxford Bibliography Online. Richard Payne (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

 “Buddhist Mysticism.” Comparative Mysticism. Steven T. Katz (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

 “Gender and Virtue in Indian Buddhism.” Crosscurrents, 2011.

 “Yogācāra: History and Doctrines.” Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy. Jay Garfield (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

 “Classical Indian Buddhist Philosophy.” Oxford Bibliography Online. Robert Repino (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

“Dharma.” Oxford Bibliography Online. Robert Repino (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

“Dharmacakra.” Oxford Bibliography Online. Robert Repino (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

“Bodhicitta.” Oxford Bibliography Online. Robert Repino (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

 “You’re Only as Good As You Look: Indian Buddhist Associations of Virtue and Physical Appearance.” Charles Prebish and John Powers (ed.). Defeating Māra Forever: Essays on Buddhist Ethics. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2009.

“Buddhism.” One World: Many Paths to Peace. Alex Bruce (ed.). Canberra: ANU EPress, 2009.

“Why Practicing Virtue is Better than Working Out: Bodies and Ethics in Indian Buddhism.” Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal #22, 2009.

 “A Place of Their Own.” Capturing the Year 2008: Writings from the ANU College of the Asia Pacific. Barbara Nelson and Robin Jeffrey (ed.). Canberra: Australian National University, 2008, pp. 166-169.

 “Celibacy in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism.” Celibacy and Religious Traditions. Carl Olson (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

 “Withdrawal of Care from Terminally Ill Patients: A Tibetan Buddhist Perspective.” Medical Journal of Australia, 183(10), 2005, pp. 616-621.

 “Stealth Polemics: Tsong Khapa on the Differences between Sūtra and Tantra.” Damien Keown (ed.). From Ancient India to Modern America. London: Routledge/Curzon, 2005.

 “Communication of Ideas in India.” Dictionary of the History of Ideas. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004.

“Sacred Texts.” Dictionary of the History of Ideas. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004.

“Humanity in East Asian Thought.” Dictionary of the History of Ideas. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004.

“Consciousness in Indian Thought.” Dictionary of the History of Ideas. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004.

 “The Free Tibet Movement: A Selective Narrative History.” Christopher Queen (ed.). Engaged Buddhism in the West. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.

“Tsong kha pa on the Difference between Sūtra and Tantra: Who Are His Intended Opponents?” Fifteenth Century Studies, vol. 26, 1999.

“Shangri-la Comes to Hollywood (Or How Steven Segal Became a Holy Man).” Asia-Pacific Magazine, September, 1998.

“Buddhism: Indian Origins and Early Dissemination in Asia.” ASEAN Forum, May, 1998.

“Human Rights and Cultural Values: The Dalai Lama Versus the Peoples’ Republic of China.” Charles Prebish (ed.). Buddhism and Human Rights. Richmond: Curzon Press, 1998.

“China, Tibet, and Australia: The Dalai Lama’s Visit and Its Implications.” Pacific Research, vol. 9, no. 4, November, 1997.

 “Opiate of the Atheists?: The Panchen Lama Controversy.” Asia-Pacific Magazine, vol. 1, April, 1996.

 “Mothering: Moral Cultivation in Buddhist and Feminist Ethics” (with Deane Curtin). Philosophy East and West, #44.1, 1993.

“Empiricism and Pragmatism in the Thought of Dharmakīrti and William James.” American Journal of Philosophy and Theology, 1994.

“On Being Wrong: Kripke’s Causal Theory of Reference.” International Philosophical Quarterly, #32.4, December, 1992.

“Meaning and Reference and the Problem of Error.” The Review of Metaphysics, March, 1993.

“Paradigm Lost and Paradigm Regained: Buddhist Motifs in the Biography of Milarepa.” Gesar, Summer, 1992.

“The Term “Saṃdhinirmocana” in the Title of the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra.Studies in Central and East Asian Religions, vol. 4, Spring, 1992.

“Conflict and Resolution in the Biography of Milarepa.” The Tibet Journal, #17.1, Spring, 1992.

“The Tibetan Translations of the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra and Bka’ ’gyur Research.” Central Asiatic Journal, Spring, 1992.

“Accidental Immortality: How Wonch’uk Became the Author of the Great Chinese Commentary.Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 15.1, 1992.

“The Concept of the Ultimate (paramārtha) in the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra.Indian Journal of Buddhist Studies, vol. 3.1, 1991.

“Reflections on the Notion of Vyāpti in Annaṃbhaṭṭa’s Tarkasaṃgraha and Dīpikā.South Asian Horizons, 1984.

      III. Encyclopedia Articles:

Contributing Editor, Routledge/Curzon Encyclopedia of Buddhism. London: Routledge, 2007. Area: Tibetan Buddhism. Topics: Bon; Buddhism in Tibet Today; Buddhism in Tibet; Dalai Lamas; Death and Dying; Nyingma; Sakya; Kagyu; Geluk; Gorampa; gZhan stong (Other Emptiness) and Rang stong (Self Emptiness); The Karmapas; Marpa; Mi pham; The Panchen Lamas; Pilgrimage; The Ris med Movement; Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism; Tibetan Buddhism in Exile; Tsong Khapa; Women and Tibetan Buddhism. (28,000 words)

Routledge/Curzon Encyclopedia of Buddhism. London: Routledge, 2007. Area: Vajrayāna Buddhism. Topics: History of Vajrayāna; Community in Vajrayāna; Practice in Vajrayāna; The Hevajra-tantra; The Guhyasamāja-tantra and the Guhyagarbha-tantra; The Kālacakra-tantra; The Mahāvairocanābhisaṃbodhi-sūtra and the Tattvasaṃgraha; The Vajrayāna Pantheon; Mantras, Mūdrās, Maṇḍalas. (30,000 words)

Pergamon Press Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, second edition: “Buddhism, Tibetan.” (London: Elsevier, 2007).

 Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. New York: Continuum, 2003. Topics: “Religion and Nature in Tibet and Central Asia”; “Dalai Lama.”

Encyclopedia of Buddhism. New York: Macmillan Reference, 2003. Topics: Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra; Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra; Buddhist Hermeneutics.

Encyclopedia of Religious Freedom. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio Reference-book House, 2003: “Tibet.”

Encyclopedia of Asia. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Reference Works/Scribners, 2003: “Tibetan Buddhism.

21st Century Encyclopedia of World Religions. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio Reference-book House, 2002: Topics: Gelukpa; Sakyapa; Tibetan Buddhism.

Encyclopedia of Monasticism, ed. William Johnston: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.
Topics: Tibet: History; Tibet: Sites; Abbots: Buddhist; Patrons: India.

IV. Articles in Newspapers, Magazines, Internet:

“Burning for Freedom: Self-Immolation in Tibet.” South Asia Masala. Posted May 22, 2012.

“A Place of Their Own.” The Age, lead opinion piece, March 18, 2008.

“Meeting of the Minds: The Dalai Lama and Science.” Ordinary Mind, Winter 2002.

“Himalayan Lessons in Mortality.” ANU Reporter, vol. 32.1, 2001, p. 2.

“Punk Monks: Skinhead Gangs Rumble in Seoul.” Swift Magazine, vol. 1, July, 1999.

“Reflecting Beijing’s View.” Asia-Pacific Magazine, vol. 3, June 1996.

“The Dalai Lama Down Under: Politics and Religion Intertwined.” Amida Magazine, September 1996.

 “Human Rights and Cultural Values: The Political Philosophies of the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Dalai Lama.” Amida Magazine, April 1996.

“A Tale of Two Tibetan Tülkus.” The Canberra Times, December 20, 1995.


2016-Present: Research Professor, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Waurn Ponds Campus, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

2008-2016: Professor of Asian Studies, School of Culture, History, and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia.

2000-2008: Reader, Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University.

1995-2000: Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Asian Studies, Austra­lian National University.

Fall 1995: Kiriyama Chair of Pacific Rim Studies, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.

Fall 1994-Summer 1995: Assistant Professor, Dept. of Religious Studies, Wright State University, Dayton, OH.

Fall 1992-Spring 1994: Assistant Professor, Religion Department, Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA.

Fall 1991-Summer 1992: Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept. of Religion, Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH.

Fall 1990-Summer 1991: Visiting Instructor, Dept. of Religion, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN.

1989-1990: Lecturer, Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, Department of Classics, Philosophy, and Religion.

Summer 1989: Research Assistant, University of Virginia.

Fall 1987: Adjunct Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, Department of Philosophy and Religion.