Leonard van der Kuijp: Discovering Tibet with a Leading Scholar

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast we meet Leonard van der Kuijp, professor of Tibetan and Himalayan studies at Harvard University. A preeminent scholar in the field of Tibetan philosophy and translation, Leonard shares with us how he began his studies and what it was like being a student of the pioneer philosopher and translator Herbert Guenther. He also dives into fascinating stories that explore the intellectual and cultural history of Tibet, recounting tales of the Indian scholar Śākyaśrībhadra’s journey to Tibet in the thirteenth century. Leonard’s amusing and vivid stories tell us more about the spread of Buddhism in Tibet and shed a humanizing light on this important and defining time in Tibet’s past.

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Leonard van der Kuijp is professor of Tibetan and Himalayan studies and chairs the Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic studies at Harvard University. Best known for his studies of Buddhist epistemology, he is the author of numerous works on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Recent publications include An Early Tibetan Survey of Buddhist Literature (Vol. 64, Harvard Oriental Series, 2008), coauthored with Kurtis R. Schaeffer, and In Search of Dharma: Indian and Ceylonese Travelers in Fifteenth Century Tibet (Wisdom, 2009). Van der Kuijp’s research focuses primarily on the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist thought, Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history, Tibetan Buddhism, and premodern Sino-Tibetan and Tibeto-Mongol political and religious relations. Van der Kuijp received his master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, and his doctorate at the University of Hamburg in Germany. He joined the faculty at Harvard in 1995. He is the former chair of the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies (now the Department of South Asian Studies). In 1993 van der Kuijp received the MacArthur Fellowship for “pioneering contributions to the study of Tibetan epistemology, biography and poetry.” Van der Kuijp worked with the Nepal Research Center of the Humboldt University of Berlin and the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1999, he founded the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), together with E. Gene Smith.