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Colleagues and Friends Pay Tribute after the Passing of Buddhist Scholar Jeffrey Hopkins (1940–2024)

Photos from Christof Spitz Facebook

Colleagues, friends, and institutions devoted to Buddhist studies and Tibetan culture around the world have offered tributes in recent days to the late scholar Jeffrey Hopkins, who died on 1 July after complications from cancer, aged 83. Hopkins was professor emeritus of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia, where he mentored many of the leading minds of Buddhist academia over three decades.

Writing for H-Buddhism, H-Net’s network for the study of Buddhism, Paul Hackett, editor for the American Institute of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, wrote:

Born Paul Jeffrey Hopkins in Barrington, Rhode Island in 1940, Hopkins attended Pomfret Preparatory School, following which he matriculated at Harvard University.  It was there that he met his fellow student Robert Thurman, who in turn, encouraged him to pursue their mutual studies with Geshe Wangyal in Freewood Acres, New Jersey.

After four years of study with Geshe Wangyal and his community of scholars and practitioners, Hopkins matriculated at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to pursue an advanced degree in Buddhist Studies under Richard Robinson.  Working closely with the former abbot of the Gomang College of Drepung Monastic University, Kensur Ngawang Lekden, as well as other learned scholars from the Tibetan tradition, Hopkins completed his PhD in 1973, “Meditation on Emptiness,” an extensive response to T.R.V. Murti’s contention that meditation in Prāsaṅgika-Mādhyamika lacked an object, a work that was eventually published by Wisdom Publications in 1983.


Hopkins wrote of early-life experiences in which he remembered a past life as a monk in Tibet and speaking with an internal language other than English. After meeting and studying with a Tibetan monk, Hopkins realized that his internal childhood language was Tibetan. As a scholar, he authored, edited, or translated more than 50 books, providing unparalleled insight into Tibetan Buddhist practice and philosophy.

Maitripa College posted this reflection from visiting faculty member Roger Jackson, professor emeritus of Asian Studies and Religion at Carleton College:

With the passing of Jeffrey Hopkins on July 1, 2024, those of us who study or practice Tibetan Buddhism have lost one of our great guiding lights. In the course of his half-century career, he published countless volumes on Tibetan Buddhist thought and practice, especially as seen through the lens of the Geluk tradition – most notably, perhaps, Meditation on Emptiness (Wisdom) and Maps of the Profound (Snow Lion). He befriended H.H. the Dalai Lama, sometimes interpreting for his oral teachings (as during the Kālacakra empowerment near Madison in 1981) and often helping bring His Holiness’s writings to a western audience through collaborative translations. And, he developed the still-vital Buddhist Studies program at the University of Virginia, where he trained several generations of scholars who have gone on to exert great influence in the field, including (to name just a few) Donald Lopez, Anne Klein, Elizabeth Napper, Guy Newland, Georges Dreyfus, Bill Magee, and Paul Hackett.


Anne Klein, professor and former chair of religious studies at Rice University, was a student of Hopkins. She wrote:

During his amazingly productive tenure at U.Va. 1974-2005 in addition to teaching his famously information-rich classes, he read individually and weekly with each one of his eighteen completed grad students for a year or two each, a scholarly generosity I have never seen matched in all my years in academia.


Joan Duncan Oliver, contributing editor for Tricycle, wrote for the magazine:

One thing he remained mum about was spiritual attainment. “There’s a tradition about not being open about your own attainments and your own deeper experiences, and I don’t even tell my friends,” he told an interviewer for Mandala. “One of the marvelous advantages I accrued from traveling with the Dalai Lama,” he wrote in a piece for Tricycle (Summer 1999), was repeatedly hearing His Holiness’s message that everyone wants happiness and doesn’t want suffering. “I understood that on a personal, practical level, I had to bring this orientation into moment-by-moment behavior. This requires paying attention to others’ feelings rather than to their color and shape.” Still, “for compassion to develop toward a wide range of persons, mere knowledge of how beings suffer is not sufficient,” he wrote for Tricycle‘s Summer 2002 issue. “There has to be a sense of closeness with regard to every being.” 

(Tricycle: The Buddhist Review)

Robert A. F. Thurman, professor emeritus at Columbia University and an early friend of Hopkins, wrote:

Professor Jeffrey Hopkins made a huge contribution over his long career, serving HH Dalai Lama for years as his main translator into English, editing many books for His Holiness and translating and writing many himself, and assiduously mentoring many excellent students who nowadays keep the lamp lit and teach all over the world. In particular, his deep and extensive insight into liberating emptiness and responsible selflessness helped many scholars of Buddhism access the extraordinarily profound and sophisticated Indo-Tibetan refinements of the critical wisdom philosophy and sciences that are among humanity’s most precious treasures. We will miss him as a friend and colleague, but will continue to benefit from his extensive legacy of wisdom and compassion.

(Lion’s Roar)

See more

Christof Spitz (Facebook)
PASSING> Jeffrey Hopkins (1940-2024) (H-Buddhism)
Jeffrey Hopkins: The Life of a Buddhist Scholar (Wisdom)
Renowned Buddhist Scholar Jeffrey Hopkins, Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, Has Died (Tricycle: The Buddhist Review)
Hopkins, Jeffrey: Rambling Through my Life and Career (H-Buddhism)
AnneCarolyn Klein RigzinDrolma (Facebook)
Jeffrey Hopkins, American Tibetologist and Tibetan translator, has died (Lion’s Roar)

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