James Gentry

Assistant Professor
james.gentry@ryi.org

Profile

James Gentry was born in the United States and first became interested in Buddhism during a trip to India, Nepal, and Tibet in 1994. Since then he has studied Buddhist theory and practice as an undergraduate and graduate student in academic institutions in North America, and in monastic institutions in Nepal, India, and China. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the 84000 project to translate into English the canonical sūtras, tantras, and commentaries preserved in the Tibetan language.

Career

2014-current Assistant Professor Rangjung Yeshe Institute
2018-current Editor-in-Chief 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
2016-2017 Visiting Lecturer University of Virginia
2015-2018 Associate Editor 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
2014  PhD Harvard University, Committee on the Study of Religion
2004 MA University of Virginia, Religious Studies
2000 BA (with highest distinction) George Mason University, Asian Studies

Research Interests

James’s research ranges across the topics of tantric Buddhist theory and practice; translation, revelation, and canonicity in Tibet; Buddhist material culture; the Tibetan Treasure tradition; 16th and 17th Tibetan intellectual history; Tibetan prophecy and other themes in Buddhist and Tibetan history and culture.

His focus is on how textual culture, material culture, and contemplative and ritual practices intersect in the formation and transformation of tantric Buddhist traditions in Tibet. He has approached this issue from two perspectives: studies of Tibetan scriptural translations and revelations, along with their collection into canons beginning in the 8th and 9th centuries; and the reception and adaptation of these sources among subsequent generations of Himalayan Buddhists, specifically, masters active during the 16th and 17th centuries.

James’s first book, Power Objects in Tibetan Buddhism: The Life, Writings, and Legacy of Sokdokpa Lodrö Gyeltsen (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2017), traces the theme of powerful tantric materials and sensory objects throughout the narrative, philosophical, and liturgical writings of this controversial 16th to 17th century Tibetan ritual expert, doctrinal scholar, and physician. It demonstrates how material and sensory objects believed to have powers to transform persons and environments have served as points of convergence for erudite doctrinal discourses, socio-political dynamics, and popular religious practices in Himalayan Buddhist societies.

Current research projects include:

  • A study of the translation and reception in Tibet from the 9th century to the present of the Pañcarakṣā—a set of five Sanskrit dhāraṇī texts that became important scriptural sources for the ongoing Treasure revelation and efficacy of popular practices centering on material objects such as amulets, cairns, crests, relics, and other such items
  • A study of the most comprehensive literary treatment of Himalayan religious material culture written in the Tibetan language: a 20th century compilation entitled A Treatise on the Paraphernalia and Musical Instruments of the Old School of Secret Mantra;
  • An exploration of the critical reception among Tibetans of the narrative sources of master Padmasambhava’s life through a translation and study of Sokdokpa’s biography of Padmasambhava entitled Dispelling Mental Darkness
  • A study of the role of Tibetan aristocracy in the Tibetan Treasure tradition through a study and translation of the biography of the 16th century Treasure Revealer Shigpo Lingpa.

Publications

  • Power Objects in Tibetan Buddhism: The Life, Writings, and Legacy of Sokdokpa Lodrö Gyeltsen. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2017.
  • “Representations of Efficacy: The Ritual Expulsion of Mongol Armies in the Consolidation and Expansion of the Tsang (Gtsang) Dynasty.” In Tibetan Ritual, edited by José Cabezón, pp. 131–163. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • “Tibetan Buddhist Power Objects.” Entry in Oxford Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming, January 2019).
  • “Liberation through Sensory Experience and Performance in Tibetan Buddhist Practice.” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines. Special Issue, Tibetan Religion and the Senses (forthcoming, March 2019).
  • “Practicing Medicine at the Intersection of Science, Religion, and Magic: A Case Study of Empirical Observation and Traditional Learning in 16th and 17th century Tibet.” Religions. Special issue, Buddhist Medicine in India, Tibet, and Mongolia (forthcoming, March 2019). 
  • The Sūtra Entitled ‘Destroyer of the Great Trichiliocosm (Skt. Mahāsāhasrapramardanī-nāma-sūtra, Tib. sTong chen mo rab tu ’joms pa zhes bya ba’i mdo, Tōh. 558, Degé Kangyur, vol. 90 [rgyud ’bum, pha], ff. 63r1-87v1), http://read.84000.co/translation/UT22084-090-002.html.
  • The Glorious King of Tantras that Resolves all Secrets (Skt. Śrī-guhyasarvacchinda-tantrarāja, Tib. dPal gsang ba thams cad gcod pa’i rgyud kyi rgyal po, Tōh. 384, Degé Kangyur, vol. 79 [rgyud ’bum, ga] ff. 187v-195r), http://read.84000.co/translation/UT22084-079-011.html. 

Conference Presentations

  • “Skepticism and apologia about Master Padma’s role in Tibet among 16th and 17th century Tibetans.” Paper presented at Perspectives on Padmasambhava International Seminar, Rubin Museum of Art, NYC, October 14, 2018.
  • “Thinking Through Tibetan Buddhist Power Objects: The Relevance of Object-oriented Theories for the Study of Tibetan Buddhist Material Culture.” Paper presented at the United Kingdom Association of Buddhist Studies Annual Conference: Buddhism and Material Culture, Bristol, England, June 22nd, 2018.
  • “Historiographical Skepticism in Seventeenth-Century Tibet: Sog bzlog pa Blo gros rgyal mtshan’s Text-Critical Biography of Master Padmasambhava.” Paper presented at the 18th Congress of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, Toronto, Canada, August 25th, 2017.
  • “Querying the Sensual in Tibetan Religion.” Paper presented at the 14th Congress of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, Bergen, Norway, June 19, 2016.
  • “Cognition and Objective Power in the Efficacy of Amulets that ‘Liberate Through Wearing.’” Paper presented at the 17th Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Vienna, Austria, August 19, 2014.
  • “Materiality, Personhood, and Multi-mediation in the Production of Pills that ‘Liberate Upon Eating.’” Paper presented at the Harvard Buddhist Studies Forum, April 8, 2012.
  • “Representations of Efficacy: The Ritual Expulsion of Mongol Armies in the Consolidation and Expansion of the Tsang (Gtsang) Dynasty.” Paper presented at Conference “Tibetan Ritual,” University of California, Santa Barbara, May 2007.