The Buddha from Dolpo

A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen

By Cyrus Stearns

Subjects: Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Buddhist Studies
Paperback : 9780791441923, 332 pages, May 1999
Hardcover : 9780791441916, 332 pages, May 1999

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
Part One—The Life and Teachings of the Omniscient Dolpopa
Chapter One—The Life of the Buddha from Dolpo
1. Childhood and Early Education
2. Studies at the Great Monastery of Sakya
3. The Move to Jonang
4. Raising Mt. Meru and Revealing the Zhentong View
5. The Initial Reception of the Zhentong Teachings
6. The New Jonang Translation of the Kalacakra Tantra and the Vimalaprabha
7. Years of Retreat and Teaching
8. Invitation to China by the Yüan Emperor Toghon Temür
9. Changes in the Jonang Leadership and the Beginning of the Journey to Lhasa
10. Teachings in Central Tibet and the Return to Tsang
11. The Aborted Meeting with Budön Rinchen Drup
12. The Last Months at Jonang

Chapter Two—A Historical Survey of the Zhentong Tradition in Tibet
1. The Zhentong Tradition in Tibet before Dolpopa
2. Dolpopa and the Zhentong View
3. The Zhentong Tradition after Dolpopa

Chapter Three—The Doctrine of the Buddha from Dolpo
1. Emptiness of Self-Nature and Emptiness of Other
2. A Redefinition of Cittamatra and Madhyamaka
3. Two Approaches to Enlightenment

Part Two—Texts in Translation
Introduction to the Translation of A General Commentary on the Doctrine
The Supplication Entitled A General Commentary on the Doctrine
Introduction to the Translation of The Fourth Council
The Great Calculation of the Doctrine Which Has the Significance of a Fourth Council


Examines the life and thought of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361), one of the most important thinkers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and one whose ideas have excited controversy from his day to the present.


The Buddha from Dolpo examines the life and thought of the Tibetan Buddhist master, Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361). Known as "The Buddha from Dolpo," he was one of the most important and original thinkers in Tibetan history, and perhaps the greatest expert on the tantric teachings of the Kalacakra or "Wheel of Time. " Based largely upon esoteric Buddhist knowledge believed to be preserved in the legendary land of Shambhala, Dolpopa's theories continue to excite controversy in Tibetan Buddhism after almost 700 years.

Dolpopa emphasized two contrasting definitions of the Buddhist teachings of emptiness: "emptiness of self-nature," which applies only to the level of relative truth, and "emptiness of other," which applies only to the level of absolute truth. Dolpopa identified ultimate reality as the Buddha-nature inherent in all living beings. This view of an "emptiness of other," known in Tibetan as Zhentong, is Dolpopa's main spiritual legacy.

This book contains the first translations into any language of major works by Dolpopa. A General Commentary on the Doctrine is one of the earliest texts in which he systematically presented his view of the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment. The Fourth Council, written at the end of his life, may be viewed as a final summation of his ideas.

Cyrus Stearns's book describes both Dolpopa's life and his ideas. Earlier Tibetan precedents for the Zhentong view are also discussed, as well as Dolpopa's own unique use of language and the major influences on the development of his controversial theories. The fate of his tradition, which was censured by the Tibetan government in the seventeenth century, is examined, and several of the most important adherents to the Zhentong theory are also discussed.

Cyrus Stearns is a longtime student of Tibetan language and religion, and has served as a translator for Tibetan teachers of all traditions. For many years he has studied with and translated for Chogye Trichen Rinpoche and the late Dezhung Tulku Rinpoche. Cyrus has a Ph. D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle, and is the author of several articles on Buddhism.


"A pioneering work on the life and ideas of one of the most important and controversial, yet little understood, figures in Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history. "—Roger Jackson, Carleton College