James A. Blumenthal, PhD (1967-2014)

James Blumenthal was an associate professor of Buddhist philosophy at Oregon State University and founding faculty member in Buddhist Studies at Maitripa College.  He is the author of The Ornament of the Middle Way: A Study of the Madhyamaka Thought of Santaraksita (2004), editor of Incompatible Visions: South Asian Religions in History and Culture (2006), co-author and editor with Geshe Lhundup Sopa of Steps on the Path: A Commentary on the “Shamatha” Chapter of Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo in addition to more than 40 articles in academic journals, books, and popular periodicals on various aspects of Buddhist thought and practice. In 2004 he had the honor of translating Nagarjuna’s “Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning” for His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the occasion of his public teachings on the text in Pasadena, California.

IN MEMORY OF JIM BLUMENTHAL


With deep sadness, we announce the loss of our dear friend and spiritual brother, Professor James Blumenthal (“Jim”), who passed away in the early hours of October 8, 2014 at his home in Portland, Oregon after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 47 years old.

Born in Los Angeles, California to Dr. and Mrs. Jack and Susan Blumenthal, Jim grew up in Southern California. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of San Diego and continued to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he finished his MA and PhD under the direction of the Tibetan Buddhist scholar/practitioner Geshe Lhundub Sopa. His graduate studies focused on the work of the Indian teacher Śāntarakṣita.

Both in his career as Associate Professor in the School of History, Philosophy and Religion at Oregon State University and as Professor of Buddhist Studies at Maitripa College, Jim displayed the rare combination of deep commitment to teaching and rigorous engagement as a research scholar. Even more unusually, Jim was able to produce scholarly texts that were valued equally by the academy and by Buddhist communities. He published analytical and translation works on Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism based upon this research, including The Ornament of The Middle Way: A Study of the Madhyamaka Thought of Śāntarakṣita (2004) and Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning (2004). With Geshe Sopa, he completed a translation of the 4th Chapter of the Lamrim Chenmo, and was pursuing the publication of a translation of Śāntarakṣita’s Madhyamakālaṃkāravṛtti.

Jim was a strong advocate for institutions of higher education that strive to integrate the knowledge base of Buddhist philosophy with meditative practice and service to the community. In 2004, Jim invited Yangsi Rinpoche to Portland, Oregon to speak to interested persons. In 2005, Jim began working alongside Yangsi Rinpoche, Namdrol Adams and Angie Garcia on the founding of Maitripa Institute, soon to become Maitripa College, which seeks to embody those ideals.

Jim first encountered Buddhism as an undergraduate, in a philosophy class. He told friends later that upon completing a reading assignment on Nagarjuna’s philosophy, he felt that he had finally found what he was looking for. In the fall of 1991, he traveled to Thailand in the company of his best friend, but continued on to Nepal on his own. It was during his time in Nepal that Jim first made a personal commitment to Buddhism and that his vision of becoming a Buddhist scholar started coming into focus. He underwent a formal refuge ceremony later with Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche.

His main teachers were His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Geshe Lhundub Sopa Rinpoche, Jangtse Choje Rinpoche, Choden Rinpoche, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Yangsi Rinpoche, and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche.

Jim’s interest and commitments ranged far beyond his scholarship. He loved music—particularly jazz, rock, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. He traveled to more than 80 Dead shows in his youth, and was known to sport tie-dyed shirts on occasion. He was also an activist for Greenpeace and was arrested 12 times on behalf of actions in protection of the environment.

In his youth, Jim played baseball in Little League in LA and loved both the game and collecting baseball cards. As an adult, he became a baseball card historian and was published in Old Cardboard, the card-collecting magazine. Jim was also a poet.

Jim was charitable to almost everyone who knocked on his door to ask for support, being sensitive to the task of fundraising for charitable causes from his days at Greenpeace. He gave generously to OSPRIG, and to any organization promoting equal rights for the LGBTQ community or in support of the environment or liberal politics.

Jim was a man of deeply-held principles, but most highly valued integrity and loyalty. He was committed to the causes of Engaged Buddhism and social justice. In a short video message he left behind for his son, Ben, he advised Ben to develop a good heart, do his best to help others and to live with integrity.

Jim was very close to his parents and brother, and was a dear friend to many. He was devoted to his family, his teachers, his friends and to helping the Dharma flourish in the West, particularly through Maitripa College.

Jim and his second wife, Tiffany Patrella, were married in June of this year. He is survived by his parents, his brother Tom, his wife Tiffany and his seven-year-old son, Ben, a child from his first marriage, to Sara Ritter. He is also survived by his spiritual family at Maitripa College, composed of students, teachers, colleagues and friends who love him dearly and will hold him forever in their hearts.

A Celebration of Jim’s Life will be held on Sunday, October 26 at 1:30 pm at the Oregon Forestry Center. All are welcome to attend. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Maitripa College. (See links on this page).

Thank you to all those who are working in support of Jim’s family, communities and life’s work.

by Namdrol Miranda Adams and Damcho Diana Finnegan
Special thanks to Jim’s wife, Tiffany, for her contributions to this piece