In Memoriam: Jeffrey Hopkins (1940–2024)

Dear colleagues,

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that Jeffrey Hopkins passed away in Vancouver (BC) overnight following complications with cancer.

Born Paul Jeffrey Hopkins in Barrington, Rhode Island in 1940, Hopkins attended Pomfret Preparatory School, following which he matriculated at Harvard University. It was there that he met his fellow student Robert Thurman, who in turn, encouraged him to pursue their mutual studies with Geshe Wangyal in Freewood Acres, New Jersey.

After four years of study with Geshe Wangyal and his community of scholars and practitioners, Hopkins matriculated at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to pursue an advanced degree in Buddhist Studies under Richard Robinson. Working closely with the former abbot of the Gomang College of Drepung Monastic University, Kensur Ngawang Lekden, as well as other learned scholars from the Tibetan tradition, Hopkins completed his PhD in 1973, “Meditation on Emptiness,” an extensive response to T.R.V. Murti’s contention that meditation in Prāsaṅgika-Mādhyamika lacked an object, a work that was eventually published by Wisdom Publications in 1983.

Hopkins’s first academic appointment was in the Religious Studies department at the University of Virginia, where he proceeded to build what would become the premier program of studies in Tibetan Buddhism in the Western hemisphere, serving as advisor to eighteen completed Ph.D. and thirty-one masters students, and where he remained throughout the rest of his academic career until his retirement in 2005.

In his personal reflections and autobiographical writings, Hopkins stated that he remembered elements of his previous life as a monk in Tibet, including the manner of his death. In addition, as a child, he maintained that he had a private language in which he thought, and from which he needed to translate into English when speaking with others. Having abandoned his internal language around the age of ten for the ease of communicating in English, it was not until he began his studies with Geshe Wangyal in the 1960s that he realized that the private internal language of his childhood was Tibetan.

Feeling a close personal connection to Tibet, throughout his career, Hopkins performed many additional roles in the larger sphere of Tibetan Buddhism, such as serving as the Dalai Lama’s official interpreter from 1976 to 1996, testifying before the U.S. congress as an expert witness on the Tibetan political situation, as well as organizing conferences and the visitations of leading Tibetan scholars to the University of Virginia for his students to study with.

He was 83 years old.

Paul Hackett