Dr H.V. Guenther 1917-2006

One of the first translators of the Vajrayana and Dzogchen teachings into English, Dr. Herbert Guenther, passed away recently on March 11th. He was well known for his pioneering translations of Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation and Longchenpa’s ngal gso skor sgum, which was published as a trilogy under the title Kindly Bent to Ease Us.

He was born in Bremen, Germany, in 1917. He studied in Munich and Vienna, and then taught at Vienna University from 1943 to 1950. He then lived and taught in India, at Lucknow University from 1950 to 1958, and the Sanskrit University in Varanasi from 1958 to 1963. He then went to the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, where his students included Leslie Kawamura, Kennard Lipman, Steven Goodman and James Valby.

According to Steven Goodman, Guenther used to say that a good translator must do two things: 1) translate Tibetan terms based on the genre and approach in which they are being used, and 2) continually refine one’s translation choices.

Guenther had many admirers and although many of his translation choices never caught on, his work did have a clear and undeniable influence on many translators.

Translations of H.V. Guenther

  • Philosophy and Psychology in the Abhidharma (1957)
  • sGam-po-pa, Jewel Ornament of Liberation (1959)
  • Life and Teaching of Naropa (Oxford 1963)
  • Royal Song of Saraha: A Study in the History of Buddhist Thought (University of Washington, 1969)
  • Mind in Buddhist Psychology: A Translation of Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan’s “The Neclace of Clear Understanding” , co-translated by Leslie S. Kawamura, (Dharma 1975)
  • Klong-chen rab-‘byams-pa, Kindly Bent to Ease Us (Ngal-gso skor-gsum) in three volumes,

1. Mind (Dharma Press, 1975)

2. Meditation (Dharma Press, 1976)

3. Wonderment (Dharma Press, 1976)

  • Tibetan Buddhism without Mystification: The Buddhist Way from Original Tibetan Sources, Brill 1966. Reprinted as Treasures on the Tibetan Middle Way, (Shambhala, 1976)
  • Klong-chen rab-‘byams pa Looking Deeper: A Swan’s Questions and Answers (Ngang pa’i dris lan sprin gyi snyng po) (Timeless Books, 1983)
  • Visionary Journey: The Story of Wildwood Delights: The Story of The Mount Potala Delights, (Shambhala, 1989)
  • Ecstatic Spontaneity: Saraha’s Three Cycles of Doha (Asian Humanities Press, 1993)
  • Wholeness Lost and Wholeness Regained: Forgotten Tales of Individuation from Ancient Tibet, (SUNY, 1994)
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  1. dr.rudolph bauer

     /  April 23, 2006

    He was so great…his use of continental phenomenology in his understanding of the Dzogchen teachings was so unique and so wonderfull….To enter his translations was to enter the full experiential dimension of the dzogchen teachings.

  2. mipham_chogyal

     /  August 24, 2006

    In Memorium:
    It was the first class of my Freshman year at university. The professor asked me to write in one sentance what I wished to gain from the cultural anthropology class entitled, “Shamanism: Traditional Methods of Healing.” I wrote, “To enter into the matrix of all mysteries through the door of universal archetypes.” Shortly thereafter my mother celebrated my birthday by offering books as gifts. We went to the Bhodi Tree Bookstore in Los Angeles, CA. After the aforementioned class had introduced me to Mongolian and Tibetan cultures and my having immediately fallen in love with them I went to the Tibetan Buddhism section. The newly published title, “The MATRIX OF MYSTERY” literally jumped into my immediate field of vision as if it were a filing awaiting a magnet. I was awe-struck. It was a sacred tome. And every time I tried to read it I fell asleep after but half a page! I persevered in devotion, study and practice.
    It was not until I was living with Kalu Rinpoche in Darjeeling as a young monk doing my first Preliminary Practice retreat that I was able to enter into that treasury. And WOW!, was my wish first written in that class granted! The deepest of gratitude Iʻve always held for my true and beloved Gewai Shenyan uniquely and most thoughtfully transmitting the Great Longchenpaʻs innermost heart essence. As such, he will remain indestructibly blended with the innermost radiance of my youthful vase body.

  3. b9hummingbirdhovering

     /  May 30, 2009

    All glories to the blessed mindstream that emerged as HVG


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