Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West

University of Chicago Press
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To the Western imagination, Tibet evokes exoticism, mysticism, and wonder: a fabled land removed from the grinding onslaught of modernity, spiritually endowed with all that the West has lost. Originally published in 1998, Prisoners of Shangri-La provided the first cultural history of the strange encounter between Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Donald Lopez reveals here fanciful misconceptions of Tibetan life and religion. He examines, among much else, the politics of the term “Lamaism,” a pejorative synonym for Tibetan Buddhism; the various theosophical, psychedelic, and New Age purposes served by the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead; and the unexpected history of the most famous of all Tibetan mantras, om mani padme hum. More than pop-culture anomalies, these versions of Tibet are often embedded in scholarly sources, constituting an odd union of the popular and the academic, of fancy and fact.

Upon its original publication, Prisoners of Shangri-La sent shockwaves through the field of Tibetan studies—hailed as a timely, provocative, and courageous critique. Twenty years hence, the situation in Tibet has only grown more troubled and complex—with the unrest of 2008, the demolition of the dwellings of thousands of monks and nuns at Larung Gar in 2016, and the scores of self-immolations committed by Tibetans to protest the Dalai Lama’s exile.

In his new preface to this anniversary edition, Lopez returns to the metaphors of prison and paradise to illuminate the state of Tibetan Buddhism—both in exile and in Tibet—as monks and nuns still seek to find a way home. Prisoners of Shangri-La remains a timely and vital inquiry into Western fantasies of Tibet.
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About the author

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is author, most recently, of Hyecho’s Journey: The World of Buddhism, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Feb 27, 2018
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9780226485515
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Asia / India & South Asia
Religion / Buddhism / History
Religion / Buddhism / Tibetan
Religion / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing to the present day, both Buddhists and admirers of Buddhism have proclaimed the compatibility of Buddhism and science. Their assertions have ranged from modest claims about the efficacy of meditation for mental health to grander declarations that the Buddha himself anticipated the theories of relativity, quantum physics and the big bang more than two millennia ago.
In Buddhism and Science, Donald S. Lopez Jr. is less interested in evaluating the accuracy of such claims than in exploring how and why these two seemingly disparate modes of understanding the inner and outer universe have been so persistently linked. Lopez opens with an account of the rise and fall of Mount Meru, the great peak that stands at the center of the flat earth of Buddhist cosmography—and which was interpreted anew once it proved incompatible with modern geography. From there, he analyzes the way in which Buddhist concepts of spiritual nobility were enlisted to support the notorious science of race in the nineteenth century. Bringing the story to the present, Lopez explores the Dalai Lama’s interest in scientific discoveries, as well as the implications of research on meditation for neuroscience. Lopez argues that by presenting an ancient Asian tradition as compatible with—and even anticipating—scientific discoveries, European enthusiasts and Asian elites have sidestepped the debates on the relevance of religion in the modern world that began in the nineteenth century and still flare today. As new discoveries continue to reshape our understanding of mind and matter, Buddhism and Science will be indispensable reading for those fascinated by religion, science, and their often vexed relation.
An updated edition of a beloved classic, the original book on happiness, with new material from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler. Don't miss the Dalai Lama's newest, The Book of Joy, named one of Oprah's Favorite Things. 

Nearly every time you see him, he's laughing, or at least smiling. And he makes everyone else around him feel like smiling. He's the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, a Nobel Prize winner, and a hugely sought-after speaker and statesman. Why is he so popular? Even after spending only a few minutes in his presence you can't help feeling happier.

If you ask him if he's happy, even though he's suffered the loss of his country, the Dalai Lama will give you an unconditional yes. What's more, he'll tell you that happiness is the purpose of life, and that the very motion of our life is toward happiness. How to get there has always been the question. He's tried to answer it before, but he's never had the help of a psychiatrist to get the message across in a context we can easily understand. The Art of Happiness is the book that started the genre of happiness books, and it remains the cornerstone of the field of positive psychology.

Through conversations, stories, and meditations, the Dalai Lama shows us how to defeat day-to-day anxiety, insecurity, anger, and discouragement. Together with Dr. Howard Cutler, he explores many facets of everyday life, including relationships, loss, and the pursuit of wealth, to illustrate how to ride through life's obstacles on a deep and abiding source of inner peace. Based on 2,500 years of Buddhist meditations mixed with a healthy dose of common sense, The Art of Happiness is a book that crosses the boundaries of traditions to help readers with difficulties common to all human beings. After being in print for ten years, this book has touched countless lives and uplifted spirits around the world.


From the Hardcover edition.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead is the most famous Buddhist text in the West, having sold more than a million copies since it was first published in English in 1927. Carl Jung wrote a commentary on it, Timothy Leary redesigned it as a guidebook for an acid trip, and the Beatles quoted Leary's version in their song "Tomorrow Never Knows." More recently, the book has been adopted by the hospice movement, enshrined by Penguin Classics, and made into an audiobook read by Richard Gere. Yet, as acclaimed writer and scholar of Buddhism Donald Lopez writes, "The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not really Tibetan, it is not really a book, and it is not really about death." In this compelling introduction and short history, Lopez tells the strange story of how a relatively obscure and malleable collection of Buddhist texts of uncertain origin came to be so revered--and so misunderstood--in the West.

The central character in this story is Walter Evans-Wentz (1878-1965), an eccentric scholar and spiritual seeker from Trenton, New Jersey, who, despite not knowing the Tibetan language and never visiting the country, crafted and named The Tibetan Book of the Dead. In fact, Lopez argues, Evans-Wentz's book is much more American than Tibetan, owing a greater debt to Theosophy and Madame Blavatsky than to the lamas of the Land of Snows. Indeed, Lopez suggests that the book's perennial appeal stems not only from its origins in magical and mysterious Tibet, but also from the way Evans-Wentz translated the text into the language of a very American spirituality.

We have come to admire Buddhism for being profound but accessible, as much a lifestyle as a religion. The credit for creating Buddhism goes to the Buddha, a figure widely respected across the Western world for his philosophical insight, his teachings of nonviolence, and his practice of meditation. But who was this Buddha, and how did he become the Buddha we know and love today? Leading historian of Buddhism Donald S. Lopez Jr. tells the story of how various idols carved in stone—variously named Beddou, Codam, Xaca, and Fo—became the man of flesh and blood that we know simply as the Buddha. He reveals that the positive view of the Buddha in Europe and America is rather recent, originating a little more than a hundred and fifty years ago. For centuries, the Buddha was condemned by Western writers as the most dangerous idol of the Orient. He was a demon, the murderer of his mother, a purveyor of idolatry. Lopez provides an engaging history of depictions of the Buddha from classical accounts and medieval stories to the testimonies of European travelers, diplomats, soldiers, and missionaries. He shows that centuries of hostility toward the Buddha changed dramatically in the nineteenth century, when the teachings of the Buddha, having disappeared from India by the fourteenth century, were read by European scholars newly proficient in Asian languages. At the same time, the traditional view of the Buddha persisted in Asia, where he was revered as much for his supernatural powers as for his philosophical insights. From Stone to Flesh follows the twists and turns of these Eastern and Western notions of the Buddha, leading finally to his triumph as the founder of a world religion.
Gendun Chopel is considered the most important Tibetan intellectual of the twentieth century. His life spanned the two defining moments in modern Tibetan history: the entry into Lhasa by British troops in 1904 and by Chinese troops in 1951. Recognized as an incarnate lama while he was a child, Gendun Chopel excelled in the traditional monastic curriculum and went on to become expert in fields as diverse as philosophy, history, linguistics, geography, and tantric Buddhism. Near the end of his life, before he was persecuted and imprisoned by the government of the young Dalai Lama, he would dictate the Adornment for Nagarjuna’s Thought, a work on Madhyamaka, or “Middle Way,” philosophy. It sparked controversy immediately upon its publication and continues to do so today.
The Madman’s Middle Way presents the first English translation of this major Tibetan Buddhist work, accompanied by an essay on Gendun Chopel’s life liberally interspersed with passages from his writings. Donald S. Lopez Jr. also provides a commentary that sheds light on the doctrinal context of the Adornment and summarizes its key arguments. Ultimately, Lopez examines the long-standing debate over whether Gendun Chopel in fact is the author of the Adornment; the heated critical response to the work by Tibetan monks of the Dalai Lama’s sect; and what the Adornment tells us about Tibetan Buddhism’s encounter with modernity. The result is an insightful glimpse into a provocative and enigmatic workthatwill be of great interest to anyone seriously interested in Buddhism or Asian religions.
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