English Translation Fellows

"One day in 1974 I was sitting with my teacher Dezhung Rinpoché in the living room of his home in Seattle. I had been enthralled by Rinpoché’s eloquent, profound, and hilarious stories about the renowned Tibetan master Tangtong Gyalpo for the last year or so. He often told these tales in private conversation, or while explaining Tangtong’s practice for meditation on Avalokiteśvara, or when bestowing the great adept’s ritual blessing for longevity. Tangtong’s biography had been one of Rinpoché’s favorite books in Tibet, although he had not seen the work since fleeing his homeland in 1959. I had recently come across the biography among the uncatalogued microfilm collection of Tibetan works at the University of Washington. When I mentioned this to Rinpoché, he began to quote from memory a long series of verses from the text. Then he wrote for a moment in a small notepad, tore off the sheet, and handed it to me, saying, ‘Look for this!’

On the mountain of the illusory body

of four elements

is the monastery of uncontrived mind.

It’s the sublime place where

bliss and lucidity arise.

Be single-minded in that place of practice!

Tangtong Gyalpo is said to have lived 125 years as a result of his perfection of meditative techniques for achieving longevity. These methods have been passed down as the most efficacious and popular such practices in Tibetan Buddhism. His other systems of meditation, in particular those of Avalokiteśvara and Vajravarahi, are still practiced after more than five hundred years. He is known as a mental emanation of Guru Padmasambhava and is believed to have recovered numerous caches of hidden treasure teachings (gter ma) concealed by the Indian master. His nonsectarian activities and teachings have earned him a special position in all the Buddhist traditions of Tibet." —Cyrus Stearns, from the Preface and Introduction to King of the Empty Plain: The Tibetan Iron-Bridge Builder Tangtong Gyalpo

Cyrus Stearns

Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies, University of Washington, Seattle. Interpreter for Dezhung Rinpoche and Chogye Trichen Rinpoche for many years as well as for lamas of all traditions; living in translation/retreat hermitage since 1998. Tsadra Foundation Fellow since 2003.

Cyrus Stearns was first inspired to learn Tibetan because of his teacher, the renowned Dezhung Rinpoche: “I just simply wanted to know what he had to say …” Actually translating oral and written teachings came a bit later, by force of circumstance, and Cyrus maintains that all along his motivation has been to learn. Here again Dezhung Rinpoche provided a vivid example, due to his “unbelievably encyclopedic knowledge” of all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

In keeping with his thirst for deeper understanding, Cyrus translates works to which he feels a personal connection, and is especially enthusiastic about Tibetan autobiographical material, noting that therein “you find inspiration and very often the most profound teachings.” It’s “the closest we can get to the great masters and it’s the best avenue to touch their minds in a sense …”

Cyrus believes that his “first responsibility is not to the audience, but to the author.” With that as a foundation, he then rigorously endeavors to develop the translation “to where the modern reader will get as much as they can of what the author intended.”

For one “forced” to become a translator, things have worked out rather serendipitously. Cyrus points out that, as a hermit-translator, he is doing exactly what he would want to do even “if I was a multimillionaire.”

Previously Published Books

•  The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen

•  Luminous Lives: The Story of the Early Masters of the Lam ’Bras Tradition in Tibet

•  Hermit of Go Cliffs: Timeless Instructions from a Tibetan Mystic, Godrakpa

•  Taking the Result as the Path: Core Teachings of the Sakya Lamdré Tradition

Completed Projects as a Tsadra Foundation Fellow

•  King of the Empty Plain: The Tibetan Iron-Bridge Builder Tangtong Gyalpo, Lochen Gyurmé Dechen

•  Treasury of Esoteric Instructions: A Commentary on Virupa’s “Vajra Lines,” Lama Dampa Sönam Gyaltsen

•  The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, rev. ed.

•  Treasury of Esoteric Instructions, Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen, Virupa

•  Song of the Road, The Poetic Travel Journal of Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, Tsarchen Losel Gyatso


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