Jeffrey Hopkins, American Tibetologist and Tibetan translator, has died

Hopkins was the author and translator of numerous books about Tibetan Buddhism and previously served as the Dalai Lama’s interpreter.

Rod Meade Sperry
2 July 2024
Jeffrey Hopkins. Image via the UMA Institute for Tibetan Studies on YouTube.

Earlier today Drepung Gomang Monastery posted news about the passing of American Tibetologist and Tibetan translator, Jeffrey Hopkins:

Prof. Jeffrey Hopkins passed away yesterday at 10pm Canadian time. […] Monlam Prayer ceremony has been organised tomorrow morning at the monastery to be attended by all the monks.

Hopkins was a translator of the Monastery’s works. Hopkins was also Emeritus professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia, and the author and translator of numerous books about Tibetan Buddhism, including, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, How to Practice, The Heart of Meditation, Meditation on Emptiness, and others. Hopkins served as the Dalai Lama’s interpreter from 1979-1989. Hopkins was also instrumental in the Free Tibet movement that began in 1995. 

Hopkins’ fellow translator Fabrizio Pallotti noted his peer’s passing by calling him “the pioneer of the entire translation system of the great Dharma classics in the West.” Lion’s Roar has also received comment from some of Hopkins’ friends and colleagues.

Daniel Aitken, publisher for dharma book source Wisdom Publications:

Here at Wisdom Publications, we are deeply saddened to hear of the news of the passing of Prof. Jeffery Hopkins, a pioneer in bringing Tibetan Buddhist teachings, and in particular those of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to the English-speaking world. Throughout the course of his remarkable career, Prof. Hopkins translated over fifty books, and it was an especially great honor for Wisdom to publish his groundbreaking book Meditation on Emptiness back in 1983. In addition to his extensive body of written work, he was also a mentor to a generation of Tibetan Buddhist scholars. His legacy thus lives on not only through his many books but also through countless students worldwide. We join the Buddhist community of scholars and practitioners who are reflecting on Prof. Hopkins’ life and work with both deep regret for this great loss and immense gratitude for his invaluable contributions.

Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, Harvard Divinity School:

I received the message of Jeffrey Hopkins’ passing with much sadness. Prof Hopkins was a true pioneer in the study of Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism, and has had immense influence on the field, an influence that will persist for generations. RIP Jeffrey, and alas the impermanence of Samsara! 

Padma Shri Robert A. F. Thurman, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University:

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.

Read a Buddhadharma Forum discussion about karma featuring Hopkins, Jan Chozen Bays, and Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, here

Rod Meade Sperry. Photo by Megumi Yoshida, 2024

Rod Meade Sperry

Rod Meade Sperry is the editor of Buddhadharma, Lion’s Roar’s online source for committed Buddhists, and the book A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his partner and their tiny pup, Sid.