King of the Empty Plain is familiar to every Tibetan yet nearly unknown in the rest of the world. Tangtong Gyalpo's incredible lifespan, profound teachings, unprecedented engineering feats, eccentric deeds, and creation of Tibetan opera have earned this fascinating figure a unique status in Tibetan culture. Believed to be the great Indian master Padmasambhava appearing again in the world to benefit living beings, he discovered techniques for achieving longevity that are still held in highest esteem and are frequently taught six hundred years later. His construction of fifty-eight iron suspension bridges, sixty wooden bridges, 118 ferries, 111 stupa monuments, and countless temples and monasteries in Tibet and Bhutan remains an awe-inspiring accomplishment.
This book is a detailed study of the life and legacy of this great master. An extensive introduction discusses Tangtong Gyalpo's Dharma traditions, the question of his amazing longevity, his "crazy" activities manifested to enhance his own realization and to benefit others, and his astonishing engineering and architectural achievements. The book includes a complete translation of the most famous Tibetan biography of Tangtong Gyalpo, as well as the Tibetan text and English translation of a unique early manuscript describing his miraculous death. The text is further enriched with ten color plates and seventy-seven black-and-white illustrations.
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None of Tibet's great spiritual teachers have made a deeper impact on the religious, artistic, and technological history of the country than the great adept Tangtong Gyalpo, "King of the Empty Plain" (1361?-1485). Tangtong Gyalpo's achievements in three widely different spheres--his contributions to Tibet's meditative traditions, his development of long-life techniques still practiced in Tibet, and his legacy of iron suspension bridges and other architectural monuments built throughout the country--have given rise to hundreds of stories about his life and his death. The core of the book is a complete translation of the most famous biography of Tangtong Gyalpo, a fast-paced and enthusiastically narrated account which follows Tangtong Gyalpo as he travels throughout the length and breadth of Tibet and beyond, helping the poor, giving and receiving teachings, and performing countless miracles.
"Tangtong Gyalpo was a unique figure in the deeply spiritual culture of Tibet. Not only was he an important spiritual master, a source of important meditation instruction lineages, he was also a master engineer who built over a hundred iron bridges across some of the deepest gorges in the world as well as a dramatist credited with the development of the classical Tibetan opera performance. In King of the Empty Plain: The Tibetan Iron-Bridge Builder Tangtong Gyalpo Cyrus Stearns, one of the most respected translators of classical Tibetan texts, beautifully brings to life the story of one of Tibet's most inspiring and loved personalities. This book is a must for anyone who is interested in Tibetan culture and history as well as those who wish to see how the altruistic ideals of the bodhisattva path can be concretely applied in socio-economic and humanitarian action."--Thupten Jinpa, translator to H.H. the Dalai Lama, author of Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy, editor of Path to Bliss, Practicing Wisdom, and Essence of the Heart Sutra
"This represents the culmination of many years of patient scholarship and contemplation of the problems of meaningful translation into English...the author has selected a figure of enormous importance for the cultural context Tibetan Buddhism. This is a book that will last."--Gene Smith, Executive Director, Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center
"Tangtong Gyalpo, the King of the Empty Plain, the famous and beloved wild engineer-saint of Tibet and Bhutan, is surely one of the most fascinating and brilliant characters ever to appear in Buddhist legend and literature. Even now he has a presence in nearly every household in Tibet, and in the west his short visionary practice of the lord of compassion is done far and wide. Cyrus Stearns has been intimately involved with the life and teachings of this great adept for over thirty years, ever since I have known him. This book embodies the fruition of that devotion, of masterful scholarship, and of an integrated understanding of the material. How fortunate that we all now have access to this great story in a worthy translation and illuminating commentary."--Sarah Harding
"This most welcome publication provides a fascinating and erudite study of the life of the great Tibetan Buddhist adept and civic engineer Tangtong Gyalpo. The author has lucidly translated Tangtong's well-known biography, which recounts the master's exceptional life as an inspired Buddhist teacher, remarkable iron-chain suspension bridge-builder, and prototype for the later nonsectarian visionaries of Tibetan religion. The biography is filled as well with an abundance of material for discerning the social history of the intersection of Buddhism, lay patronage, and daily life during Tangtong's period, all mixed in with a heady dose of hagiographical flourish. The work stands as an excellent specimen of biographical writing in this classical period of Tibetan literature. The very learned introduction provides documentation of Tangtong Gyalpo's bridge-building projects, as well as his extremely long life, and his wide travels in South and East Asia. A wonderful introduction to Tibetan religion and society for students and scholars alike!"--Janet Gyatso, Harvard University
"King of the Empty Plain is a fascinating account of the life of Tangtong Gyalpo, one of the most innovative and eclectic Tibetan masters of all times. By translating and elucidating his biography in a very readable style and in great detail, Cyrus Stearns leads us through his wide-ranging achievements, from building iron-chain bridges and architectural masterpieces, to mystical accomplishment in his personal life. He unravels some of the historical mysteries that have surrounded this master for centuries, such as how he may have lived until he was 124, but keeps his discussion deeply informed by the Tibetan tradition. An excellent work of cultural translation!"--Hildegard Diemberger, Tibetan Programme Director, University of Cambridge
A Tsadra Foundation Series book.
Cyrus Stearns is a scholar of Tibetan religion, literature, and history. He has studied with and translated for many Tibetan teachers, and has a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Washington. He lives near Seattle, Washington.About the Author:
Cyrus Stearns has been a student of Tibetan Buddhism for over thirty-five years. His main Tibetan teachers were Dezhung Rinpoche Chogye Trichen Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He received a PhD in Buddhist Studies from the University of Washington and is the author of several books including Taking the Result As the Path and King of the Empty Plain. He is currently a and independent scholar and translator and lives in the woods on Whidbey Island north of Seattle Washington.
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