Gendun Chopel is considered the most important Tibetan intellectual of the twentieth century. His life spanned the two defining moments in modern Tibetan history: the entries into Lhasa by British troops in 1904 and by Chinese troops in 1951. Chopel excelled in the traditional monastic curriculum in his youth and went on to become an expert in fields as diverse as philosophy, history, linguistics, geography, and tantric Buddhism. Near the end of his life, before he was persecuted and imprisoned by the government of the young Dalai Lama, he would dictate the "Adornment" for Nagarjuna's Thought, recognized today as a controversial work of Madhyamaka or "Middle Way" philosophy. "The Madman's Middle Way" presents the first English translation of this major Tibetan work, accompanied by an essay on Chopel's life that is liberally interspersed with passages from his writings. Donald S. Lopez Jr. also provides commentary that sheds light on the doctrinal context of the "Adornment" and summarizes its key arguments.
Ultimately, Lopez examines the long-standing debate over whether Chopel in fact wrote the "Adornment"; the heated critical response to the work by Tibetan monks of the Dalai Lama's sect; and what the "Adornment" tells us about Tibetan Buddhism's encounter with modernity. The result is an insightful glimpse into a provocative and enigmatic work that will be of value to anyone seriously interested in Buddhism or Asian religions.
Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Carl W. Belser Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. His books include Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism and Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. He is also the editor of Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism.