Herbert V. Guenther
Guenther is famous for being difficult to read.
But he has been a pioneer in addressing contemporary philosophical issues from a deep and learned Buddhist perspective.
The difficulty is not so much any sloppiness in his writing, but more because both Buddhist and European philosophy have built up rich vocabularies and conceptual systems over the
centuries, so any attempt to relate them will tend to get complicated.
Guenther was born in Bremen, Germany, in 1917. He studied in Munich and Vienna, and then taught at Vienna University from 1943 to 1950.
He then lived and taught in India, at Lucknow University from 1950 to 1958, and the Sanskrit University in Varanasi from 1958 to 1963.
He then went to the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
This biographical information is from the festschrift volume Buddhist Thought and Asian Civilization, Leslie S. Kawamura and Keith Scott (eds.) (Dharma Press 1977).
This book also has a bibliography of Guenther's works up to that point.
Independent works based on Buddhist philosophy
Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and Practise
Creative Vision: The Symbolic Recreation of the World According to the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition of Tantric Visualization Otherwise Known as The Developing Phase
Dawn of Tantra
coauthored by Chogyam Trungpa
From Reductionism to Creativity: rDzogs-chen and the New Sciences of Mind,
Matrix of Mystery: Scientific and Humanistic Aspects of rDzogs-chen Thought
Meditation Differently: Phenomenological-psychological Aspects of Tibetan Buddhist (Mahamudra and sNying-thig) Practices from Original Tibetan Sources
Philosophy and Psychology in the Abhidharma
The Tantric View of Life
Teachings of Padmasambhava,
- from pp. 115-116:
Where does this "insanity" come from?
Padmasambhava's answer could not be more radical.
"Insanity" is already present in the "temple," the divine (lha) "closure" (khang) that we are as the anthropic universe's experiencers.
Padmasambhava's insight is in line with the most daring Gnostic thinkers for whom evil "originates in the very bosom of the divinity, in the universe, in the Pleroma, the world of plenitude and perfection," and with the God-image of the mystic Jakob Boehme, expressed in a mandala with the two halves of the circle standing "back to back," illustrating an immanent tension within the God-image itself.
Although for reasons of clarity we have spoken of two levels in the whole's pre-articulated dimension, we must be careful not to conceive of them as existing in separation.
But, then, to speak of them as a duality-without-separation is no less than another instance of our being caught in the self-defeating attempt to verbalize and implicitly falsify what was operative "long before we were able to verbalize."
Thus, bearing in mind that thought struggles incessantly against the treachery of language and that what we observe and describe is the observer himself, we may nontheless proceed to investigate the successive phases in our becoming human beings.
Throughout these phases, the experience (das Erlebnis) of ourselves as an intensity (imaged and felt as a "god", lha) setting up its own spatiality (imaged and felt as a "house" khang) is present in various intensities of illumination that occur within ourselves as a "temple."
A corollary of this Erlebnis is its light character manifesting itself in various "frequencies" or colors.
This is to say, since we are beings of light we display this light in a multiplicity of nuances.
Tibetan Buddhism in Western Perspective
Yuganaddha: The Tantric View of Life
(3rd edition, Chowkhamba, 1976) (1st edition 1952)
from pp. 80-81:
We must never forget that imagination does not merely employ childish symbols of love, fear, and awe as emotional equivalents for adult experience, but that it recaptures an intenseness and directness of emotional experiences, rarely met with in adult experience.
If, in any respect whatsoever, these "childish" experiences are more important than comparable adult ones, imagination or fantasy thinking in making "infantile" emotions available for use in adult living, performs a tremendously valuable public service.
On the psychic plane, childhood need not necessarily be the immaturity of man, it may be much more the preparatory stage of the adult mind, just as the tadpole is the preparatory stage of the frog rather than an immature frog.
from pp. 181-182:
Now, when we remember that the Skandhas and Dhatus have been arranged according to decreasing density and that "materiality" (rupa) is placed foremost as having the maximum of density, we should assume that its colour must be the darkest one.
Our intellect is inclined to compare the colour of the Skandhas and Dhatus, the Dhyanibuddhas and Saktis, to the refraction of light through a glass prism.
Applying this physical law we should expect that the clear and bright light of the Void (sunyata), according as it is refracted and deflected through the prism of our mind, must be totally absorbed by our body and that of our fellow creatures as having the maximum of density, so that its colour ought to be blue or indigo or violet.
But we are told that it is white.
This clearly shows that the colours of the deities are not derived from the observation of physcial laws but stem from experiences and insight.
The fact is that we only believe ourselves to be fully aware of the so-called outside world and that we fancy this belief to be knowledge.
Materiality which we attribute to the outside world and the belief in it is not just another expression of man's unconscious mind, but it involves his unconscious mind.
The roots of its emotional dynamism are there.
Instead of admitting to ourselves that, because of this emotional dynamism, there are also irrational and contradictory elements in it, we invent ideologies and theories which rationalize our beliefs into neat and orderly systems that are capable of explaining anything, because they omit everything which their premises cannot explain.
Such ideologies usually end by becoming systematic delusions, if they do not start already from delusions.
For the basic fallacy of all our theories is the feeling that the abstractions we have construed should be "sound," that is, founded on truth.
The Buddhists knew better.
They were not ashamed of admitting that the convictions which the ordinary man calls knowledge are founded on emotion.
Therefore, the light of our reason, our intellectual knowledge, which makes us turn our eyes toward the without and to which the outside world seems to be clear and bright, is not the bright light of an utter openness, which is all-comprehensive and not concerned with conceptual scaffolds, but the dim light of infatuation, the delusive light of the illusions we create in our minds about the nature of things which, since they have been illuminated by this light, we have not understood at all.
For this reason, what we call materiality and as it is seen by our mortal eyes is bound up with delusion (moha).
(generally with extensive commentary)
Ecstatic Spontaneity: Saraha's Three Cycles of Doha
(Asian Humanities Press, 1993)
Jewel Ornament of Liberation
Kindly Bent to Ease Us
in three volumes,
(Dharma Press, 1975)
(Dharma Press, 1976)
(Dharma Press, 1976)
Life and Teaching of Naropa
Klong-chen rab-'byams pa
Looking Deeper: A Swan's Questions and Answers
(Ngang pa'i dris lan sprin gyi snyng po)
(Timeless Books, 1983)
Mind in Buddhist Psychology: A Translation of Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan's "The Neclace of Clear Understanding"
cotranslated by Leslie S. Kawamura, (Dharma 1975)
Royal Song of Saraha: A Study in the History of Buddhist Thought
(University of Washington, 1969)
Tibetan Buddhism without Mystification: The Buddhist Way from Original Tibetan Sources,
Treasures on the Tibetan Middle Way,
Visionary Journey: The Story of Wildwood Delights: The Story of The Mount Potala Delights,
Wholeness Lost and Wholeness Regained: Forgotten Tales of Individuation from Ancient Tibet,
"Bodhisattva - The Ethical Phase in Evolution"
in Charles S. Prebish (ed.),
Buddhist Ethics: A Cross-Cultural Approach
"Buddhist rDzogs-chen Thought and Western 'Daseinsanalyse'"
in Nathan Katz (ed.),
Buddhist and Western Psychology
(Prajna Press, 1983)
"'Meditation' Trends in Early Tibet"
Lewis Lancaster and Whalen Lai (eds.),
Early Ch'an in China and Tibet
(University of California, 1983)
"Buddhism in Tibet"
Joseph M. Kitigawa and Mark D. Cummings (eds.)
Buddhism and Asian History
"Basic Features of Buddhist Psychology"
in John Pickering (ed.),
The Authority of Experience:
Essays on Buddhism and Psychology
Crystal Mirror I
(Dharma Press, 1971)
"Fact and Fiction in the Experience of Being"
Crystal Mirror II
(Dharma Press, 1972)
"Early Forms of Tibetan Buddhism"
Crystal Mirror III
(Dharma Press, 1974)
"Tantra and Contemporary Man"
"Tantra - Meaningful Existence"
vol. 1, 1970, Shambala
"On 'Spiritual Discipline'"
vol. 3, 1972, Shambala
"The Male-Female Polarity in Oriental and Western Thought"
vol. 4, 1973, Shambhala
"The Teacher and the Student"
vol. 5, 1974, Shambhala
"Towards Spiritual Order"
vol. 6, 1977, Shambhala
"Some Aspects of rDzogs-chen Thought"
in Steven D. Goodman and Ronald M. Davidson (eds)
Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation
"The Natural Freedom of Mind"
Crystal Mirror IV
(Dharma Press, 1975)
"Now That I Come to Die"
Crystal Mirror V
(Dharma Press, 1977)
The Radiance of Being:
Complexity, Chaos and the Evolution of Consciousness
Eva M. Dargyay,
The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet
Detlef Ingo Lauf,
Tibetan Sacred Art: The Heritage of Tantra
Calm and Clear
(Dharma Press, 1973)
From pp. 12-13:
Tarthang Tulku belongs to the 'Old Tradition', and when we met I had been looking for a representative of this tradition, who would be willing to share his knowledge with those eager to learn more rather than to be content with the few crumbs available.
Ad so, when Tarthang Tulku on my recommendation became a fellow at the Sanskrit University, a time of a most prosperous co-operation began, for Tarthang Tulku was eager to have his tradition known and kept alive, while I was interested in what the 'living spirit' of Buddhism might have to say to modern man.
I did not believe that anything had been said when, as is still customary among many academic circles, it is for instance stated that the Tibetan word stong-pa-nyid is the translation of the Sanskrit word sunyata and when the person to whom this profound statement is addressed is not told what those persons who used either word wanted to convey to their listeners.
So Tarthang Tulku and I sat together, checking each interpretation of ideas against their textual background in the light of the use of these terms within a given context.
For, let it be said quite plainly, we do not understand words and, even less so, ideas by their etymology or their origin, but by the way in which the speaker uses them.
from pp. 15-16:
Most of our experiences are filtered through a system of categories, constructs, fictions, and rubrics, always ego-centered on the assumption that the world can be seen only from the vantage point of the interests or demands of the perceiver.
Such demanding perception actually distorts whatever is so perceived; it is always an attempt to force things to be what they never can be and the self-defeating struggle against a natural response to things by just letting them be.
Letting things be is another way of getting things into proper perspective.
As contrasted with the prevous preoccupation with the fictions of one's own making and imposing them on what there is, it seems as if mind has become 'empty'.
It is unfortunate that our language has to use this misleading term for an original term that has nothing in it of this negativism.
What has happened is not that mind is lost in a bleak desert or
in desolate wastelands in which there is literally nothing, but that it has been entriched beyond measure and that this richness defies any comparison with the paltry contents of ordinary perception.
In the same way as the body is not denied or despised by contrasting it with an allegedly superior mind, so also mind is not suppressed for the sake of a hysterically advertised 'spirituality'.
What we call 'body' and 'mind' are mere abstractions from an identity experience that cannot be reduced to the one or the other abstraction, nor can it be hypostatized into some sort of thing without falsifying its very being.
Thus Buddhist meditation differs from other forms by helping man to be, rather than to subordinate him to something or other or to wipe him out by demanding the impossible.
By restoring man's being it is therapeutical in the best sense of the word.
Gesture of Balance:
A Guide to Awareness, Self-Healing, and Meditation
(Dharma Press, 1977)
(Dharma Press, 1978)