Chapter 1: Reflection 11 – A Guide in the Desert

The first English language translation of Atisa’s Lamp for the Path and indeed the Indian scholar’s complete works, was undertaken and completed by a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, who was also present during several of TM’s encounters with Tibetan Buddhist masters in 1968. The Jesuit worked on his translation of Atisa’s writings under the direction of his Tibetan Buddhist teacher to whom he pays homage in his book’s “dedication.” “To my lama and kalyanamitra, Tulku Kunga Labrang, the Dezhung Rinpoche: for his patient guidance and tutelage.” 1 While terms such as the Tibetan word “lama” or the Sanskrit, “kalyanamitra,” may feel strange or alien to some, definitions such as the following may help to make them more accessible:

Being ignorant about what actually causes our own states of happiness, we need to rely on a spiritual friend [… kalyāṇamitra] who educates us in the initial stages of the path … Without a spiritual friend, we are like blind people lost in the desert. A blind person needs a guide to reach his destination, and likewise we need a spiritual friend to show us the path to happiness, liberation … 2

The Jesuit priest, “originally trained in classical [Greco-Roman] philology … later became interested in Indian philosophy, Buddhism, and Tibetan.” 3 He pursued these latter interests at first in India in 1968, and then, the following year, continued them in Seattle, where he began his relationship with Dezhung Rinpoche (1906–1987) who was then on staff at the University of Washington. 4

The Jesuit scholar provides a sense of the intimate connection that existed between the two men in remembering Rinpoche’s genuine humanity:

When my father died … I discussed this with Rinpoche. I felt this man had utmost sensitivity to what I was feeling. When I would come in feeling a little down, I had the feeling that he could almost read my mind or heart … Usually with a Tibetan monk you feel they are so disciplined that they don’t have the same emotional responses. But I always felt with Dezhung Rinpoche, ‘He empathizes with me.’ He had a great sense of humor as well. I would always come away feeling strengthened and reassured. 5

Father Sherburne developed a deep respect and reverence for Dezhung Rinpoche, as is conveyed in a response that he gave to a newspaper reporter who asked why he sat cross-legged on the floor when studying with Rinpoche:

‘I’m more comfortable that way,’ Father Sherburne, 44, explained. ‘It’s the way I study myself. Besides, I really do respect the man’s knowledge and wisdom. He’s a marvelous teacher – there’s no doubt about that. He’s very patient and utterly simple in his explanations, yet precise. He’s brilliant and profound and a very holy man.’ 6

At the beginning of Chapter One of her text, in a rich and multi-layered sentence, Julian references the very center point of her experience, from which flowed “many fair shewinges and techings of endlesse wisdom and love.” 7 This simple reference may raise a more complicated question for the contemporary reader. It is a question to be answered without harsh self-judgement, only kind awareness: What posture of openness am I willing to assume, what space of receptivity am I willing to create within my mind and heart when engaging Julian’s teachings – or, for that matter, those of TM, or those of the Tibetan Lamas?


  1. Atisa, The Complete Works of Atisa, Sri Dipamkara Jnana, Jo-Bo-Rje. The Lamp for the Path and Commentary, together with the newly translated Twenty-five Key Texts (Tibetan and English Texts). Translated and annotated by Richard Sherburne, S.J. Foreword by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 2000. The word, “kalyāṇamitra,” means “good friend” or “spiritual friend.” See Rangjung Yeshe Wiki – Dharma Dictionary:’i_bshes_gnyen
  2. The quotation is from the oral teachings of the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist scholar and practitioner, Khenchen Kunzang Pelden (c.1862-1943), from his commentary on Santideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva, entitled Drops of Nectar. Drops of Nectar. Volume One. Version: July 2004. Compiled and translated by Andreas Kretschmar. Edited by Judith S. Amtzis and John Deweese. The quotation is from Text Section 105. Retrieved from: Khenchen Kunzang Pelden was born to “a poor nomadic family” in the Kham region of Tibet, and “[t]radition tells he underwent great hardship in pursuit of his studies, reportedly facing severe weather conditions and often studying by moonlight due to lack of funds for lamp oil.” “Kunzang Pelden.” The Treasury of Lives: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia, and the Himalaya. Retrieved from:
  3. David Paul Jackson, A Saint in Seattle: The Life of the Tibetan Mystic Dezhung Rinpoche (1st ed.). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2003, page 324. A PDF copy of this text is available via www.academia.edu
  4. Dezhung Rinpoche’s biographer, David Jackson, offers an introductory context for Fr. Sherburne’s relationship with the Tibetan scholar: “Another graduate student from the University whom Dezhung Rinpoche helped during this period was Richard Sherburne (b. March 29, 1926), a Jesuit priest originally trained in classical philology who later became interested in Indian philosophy, Buddhism, and Tibetan. After teaching classical languages and· doing four years of administrative work at Marquette University as dean of students, Sherburne wanted to earn a doctorate. He proposed to his superiors that he study Buddhist classical languages and showed them that there had been a long-standing Jesuit interest in Tibet. Telling his superiors, ‘This should only take a few years,’ he left for India in summer 1968 and began studying Sanskrit and Tibetan while also teaching at St. Joseph’s College, Darjeeling. (He had already had a lot of contact with Darjeeling Jesuits at Marquette.) After some difficulties staying in India, he returned to the U.S. and started his studies at the University of Washington in late 1969.” (David Paul Jackson, A Saint in Seattle: The Life of the Tibetan Mystic Dezhung Rinpoche (1st ed.). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2003, page 324.) See also Sonya Bice, Richard Sherburne, S.J.: “Buddhist Scholar and Law School Chaplain.” Marquette Lawyer. Spring 2005, pages 14-15. Retrieved from:
  5. David Paul Jackson, A Saint in Seattle: The Life of the Tibetan Mystic Dezhung Rinpoche (1st ed.). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2003, page 325. David Jackson also records another episode that reveals more of the character of both the Tibetan monk and the Jesuit priest: “Sherburne had strong ecumenical leanings and could sense a similar orientation in Rinpoche. For instance, when Rimshi Surkhang [a prominent member of the local Tibetan community] died at age fifty-seven in mid-August 1970, at the Surkhang home in the Ballard/Greenwood district of Seattle, Dezhung Rinpoche was quickly called there to perform the last rites. Just an hour or so after Surkhang’s passing, Sherburne also came by the Surkhang residence, as was his usual habit. (During the early years in Seattle, Sherburne also served as the Sunday priest at St. Anne’s Mission on the Tulalip Indian Reservation forty miles north of Seattle, and every week on his way back south he would visit Rimshi Surkhang, who was dying of cancer. When Sherburne arrived this time, Rinpoche was already there, reciting the ritual text for the deceased. A Tibetan woman who was also present thought it would be best if Sherburne—still in his clerical collar—left. But Dezhung Rinpoche put his hand on Sherburne’s arm and insisted that he stay, continuing to read the text for the dead man. ‘I always felt that Dezhung Rinpoche was beyond organized religion or dogmatic religion, that he was a truly spiritual man,’ Sherburne said later. ‘[To him] it didn’t matter what people called themselves or what religion they professed.” (David Paul Jackson, A Saint in Seattle: The Life of the Tibetan Mystic Dezhung Rinpoche, pages 325-326.)
  6. David Paul Jackson, A Saint in Seattle: The Life of the Tibetan Mystic Dezhung Rinpoche, page 325. Image One below is a photo of Father Sherburne and Dezhung Rinpoche, from David Jackson’s biography, page 326.
  7. Julian of Norwich, The Writings of Julian of Norwich, Eds, Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press, Chapter 1, Lines 5-6, page 123. For a fuller context, the first two sentences of Julian’s A Revelation are offered here: “This is a revelation of love that Jhesu Crist, our endles blisse, made in sixteen shewinges. Of which the first is of his precious crowning of thornes. And therin was comprehended and specified the blessed trinity, with the incarnation and the oning between God and mans soule, with many fair shewinges and techinges of endlesse wisdom and love, in which all the shewinges that foloweth be groundide and oned” (Ibid. lines 1-7.)
Image One

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