Jeffrey Hopkins, PhD.
When I was asked by the Northwest Dharma Association to write an article on Professor Jeffrey Hopkins’ June visit to the Dharma Friendship Foundation (DFF), my first thought was, “Yes — anything to support the work of this literary giant and qualified Dharma teacher in his own right.”
Having written forty–something books translated into 22 languages (along with dozens of articles), served as chief translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama for 10 years, and mentored many second–generation Western Buddhist scholars, Dr. Hopkins’ effect on the minds of readers around the world — and particularly the evolution of the Dharma in the West — has been monumental.
My second thought was, “How can I, a being deeply enmeshed in samsara and having only explored a handful of his books, possibly do justice to such a weighty assignment?”
I recall his almost ritual-like disclosure and advice at the outset of his teachings over the years at DFF. As the audience prepares to make prostrations to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, he always interjects with a dose of self-deprecation: “Please don’t bow down to me. If you are bowing to His Holiness and the Buddha, that’s good, but not to me. I have no realization.”
Thus defaulting to the example of the teacher, and stating what should be obvious anyway, I am not qualified for this assignment. But I’ll do my best. H.H. the Dalai Lama frequently writes and speaks on the importance of practice. He reminds us that the Dharma is of questionable benefit if it is left in the realm of mere academic knowledge. The whole point of practice is to transform our minds, not to merely accumulate knowledge. Dr. Hopkins and the many notable scholars who have worked under his tutelage are not dry academicians.
One profoundly moving example I recall of Dr. Hopkins’ deep faith in the Dharma is his telling of an experience when he was lying in a hospital bed, on the verge of entering the bardo (intermediate state between death and reincarnation) after a severe case of food poisoning. From deep inside a coma, he suddenly heard his name spoken very clearly. At that moment, he realized he was in a dangerous predicament. He recalled his last meeting with Kyabje Ling Rinpoche years earlier. The senior tutor to H.H. the Dalai Lama had presciently advised him, “If you are ever in trouble, recite this mantra.”
Dr. Hopkins recited the mantra the Rinpoche had given him. A bit later, he vomited and began to make a strong recovery, much to the relief of sincere students of Buddhism around the world, and particularly the students at DFF, where Dr. Hopkins has taught on an annual or semiannual basis for many years. The ability to merge an amazing scholarly knowledge of the Tibetan Buddhist canon with heartfelt spiritual practice is a gift that only a few individuals in the entire world are able to share with us. (And Jeffrey, if you are listening, please come turn the wheel of the Dharma again in Seattle soon, so that numberless beings may turn their mind towards the Dharma and away from the prison of samsara.)
For more information about Jeffrey Hopkins, see his biography at the Snow Lion Publications website or a list of his books at Amazon.com. You can also download audio recordings in .MP3 format of his teachings at DFF from the Dharma Friendship Foundation Website.
Contributor: Jordan Van Voast.
Photo: Courtesy of Snow Lion Publications.