“As we walk our path, we leave footprints behind: tangible accomplishments, both in Asia and in the West.” - Tarthang Tulku
Origins of Dharma Publishing
For more than a millennium, Tibet has been the world’s most significant custodian of the vast textual heritage of Vajrayana Buddhism. Preserved and transmitted through unbroken chains of masters and disciples, some of the most sublime and transformative Dharma teachings ever to appear exist today thanks to the tireless efforts of Tibet’s teaching lineages. Through the turmoil of cultural change and the rise and fall of political fortunes, this precious inheritance was kept safe until the middle of the twentieth century.
During the Communist annexation of Tibet in 1959, in the ensuing chaos a handful of Tibetan lamas escaped to India, among the first wave of refugees. Some of these masters brought their personal libraries with them into exile. These private libraries sometimes contained the only surviving copy of a crucial sacred text. They constituted the slenderest imaginable thread linking the lamas to their textual heritage.
Since there were so few copies left of almost any given Tibetan text, and because the situation of the refugees in India made it extremely difficult to reprint and preserve books, the very survival of Tibet’s literary tradition became an open question.
In the 1960s, a few lamas in exile began efforts to restore the vast collections of sacred texts which were lost during the destruction of Tibet’s monasteries. Among them was Tarthang Tulku, a young Nyingma lama with full formal training who in 1958, a year before the Chinese invaded Tibet, had followed his teacher to Bhutan. By the mid-1960s, Tarthang Tulku had a position on the faculty of Sanskrit University in Varanasi. This appointment came with a modest stipend; he used it to fund a hand-press and movable type. When he and his supporters found an unused garage, they repaired the thatched roof and Dharma Mudranalaya was born.
Its first publications were a handful of books printed for and donated to the Tibetan refugee community, new editions of select precious texts carried out of Tibet by great masters like Dudjom Rinpoche. It was slow, painstaking work that all had to be done by hand, yielding relatively few copies for the effort involved.
When Tarthang Tulku came to America in the late 1960s, there was little reliable material for Westerners interested in Tibetan Buddhism. He quickly moved to re-establish Dharma Mudranalaya, operating in the US as Dharma Publishing.
At first generating only a handful of brochures and class materials using a hand-press, Dharma Publishing soon received the donation of a gigantic Harris printing press that was built in 1936. It was an incredible challenge, but his students gradually taught themselves to operate this massive and antiquated machine.
In 1972, Dharma Publishing produced its first book for the public: The Sacred Art of Tibet, a catalogue of some of the first Tibetan art exhibits to take place in the Western U.S. By 1975, Dharma Publishing and Dharma Press were incorporated under the name Dharma Mudranalaya, and printing and publishing began in earnest.
Transmission to the West
In quick succession, more than half-a-dozen titles were released; 1977, 1978 and 1979 were watershed years for Dharma Publishing. These books would go on to be some of the most highly recognized and beloved works composed by Tarthang Tulku, including Gesture of Balance, Kum Nye Relaxation, Skillful Means, and Time, Space, and Knowledge.
By 1980, Tarthang Tulku and his students were hard at work on the printing of the entire Tibetan Buddhist Canon, an ambitious project that would come to be known as the Nyingma Edition. Within a few years, a new text preservation project was underway that would dwarf even the Tibetan Buddhist Canon: the Great Treasures of Ancient Teachings, a vast collection of sacred texts from the Nyingma tradition.
At the same time, the fledgling press responsible for producing these books was stretching out to take on commercial jobs in order to support the Dharma activities of Head Lama of TNMC. These efforts would crystallize, first as Skillful Means Press, and later as Dharma Enterprises, which during the years of its operation became a successful company capable of handling a wide range of commercial jobs at a professional standard.
World Peace Ceremony
In 1989, Tarthang Tulku founded the Monlam World Peace Ceremony, an annual ceremony in Bodh Gaya, India, that would eventually attract thousands of participants. To support the Tibetan Sangha in exile, he set about printing and freely distributing crucially important texts, ultimately placing almost five million books directly into the hands of lamas, monks, nuns and laypeople, and stocking the libraries of some three thousand monasteries in India and the Himalayas.
Even as Tibetan text production claimed more and more of Dharma Publishing’s resources, time, and personnel, Western students were not neglected. Dharma Publishing introduced Tibetan masters to the West in accessible ways; great masters of the Nyingma tradition were virtually unknown in the United States. Works like Calm and Clear by Lama Mipham, and Now That I Come to Die by Longchenpa, open the door to a treasure-house of knowledge for readers of Western languages. For serious students, Zhechen Gyaltsab’s Path of Heroes is an intensive introduction to a time-honored Nyingma approach to spiritual development.
Finally, through Dharma Mudranalaya Tarthang Tulku was able to communicate innovative new approaches to self, mind, and experience to Western readers. The concepts that underpin Kum Nye, Nyingma Psychology, Time, Space, and Knowledge, Skillful Means, and the modes of inquiry outlined in the Lotus Trilogy are rooted in the wisdom Tarthang Tulku inherited from his lineage; yet at the same time they are taking new forms, developed for modern people. They are designed to inhabit a world that is shared with Western disciplines, and to illuminate the boundaries of that world, making space for a wisdom as yet unknown in the West.
Today, Dharma Mudranalaya Press is located in Northern California where it continues to produce critically important works for the Tibetan Sangha, Tarthang Tulku’s own writings, and beautiful, durable editions of precious Dharma translations for the West.