“All forms of Buddhism can welcome historical study as relevant and useful. Buddhist teachings have always told us that impermanence is a great, unalterable fact of our experience and that it is crucial for us to become comfortable with that fact. History is simply the study of how things change and develop, which is to say that history studies changing institutions and ideas. History studies impermanence, including the impermanent characteristic of Buddhist institutions, practices, philosophical systems, and sacred narratives.”

–Rita Gross, ‘Why We Need to Know Our Buddhist History’ (Lion’s Roar)

Subject Guide Sections

  • General Buddhism
  • Chos ‘byung
  • History of Buddhism in Tibet
  • Primary Tibetan Sources
  • Key Figures in Tibet
  • History of Buddhism in India
  • Primary Indian Sources
  • Key Figures in India

Related Subject Guides

General Buddhism

  • Gombrich, Richard Francis. 1997. How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings. Munshiram Manoharlal. JABL
  • Skilton, Andrew. 1997. Concise History of Buddhism. Windhorse Publications. JABL
  • Strong, John. 2002. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations. Wadsworth Publishing. JABL
  • Williams, Paul. 1991. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. JABL
  • Williams Paul and Anthony Tribe. 2000. Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. JABL

Chos ‘byung (ཆོས་འབྱུང་)

Chos ‘byung: religious history, Dharma history; book on the history, origin of religion; ‘source of dharmas’, double triangles, double triangle design (Rangjung Yeshe); source of phenomena (Hopkins)

Buton Rinchen Drub (1290-1364)
bu ston rin chen grub

  • Bu Ston and Eugene Obermiller, trans. 1931. “The Jewelry of Scripture” in The History of Buddhism (Chos-ḥbyung). archive.org
  • Bu Ston and Eugene Obermiller, trans. 1932. “The History of Buddhism in India and Tibet” in The History of Buddhism (Chos-ḥbyung). archive.org
  • Tsering Namgyal. 2012. “Buton Rinchen Drub.” Treasury of Lives. treasuryoflives.org 

Tāranātha (1575-1634)
tA ra nA tha

  • Stearns, Cyrus. 2008. “Tāranātha.” Treasury of Lives treasuryoflives.org 
  • Taranatha Jonang-pa and Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya. 1970. Taranatha’s History of Buddhism in India. Motilal Banarsidass. JABL (archive.org)

History of Buddhism in Tibet

  • Cabezón, José Ignacio, and Roger R. Jackson. 1996. Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre. Snow Lion. JABL
  • Davidson, Ronald M. 2008. Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture. Motilal Banarsidass. JABL
  • Dreyfus, Georges. 2003. The Sound of Two Hands Clapping. University of California Press. JABL
  • Goldstein, Melvyn, and Matthew Kapstein. 1998. Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet: Religious Revival and Cultural Identity. University of California Press. JABL
  • Goodman, Steven D, and Ronald M Davidson. 1992. Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation. SUNY Press. JABL
  • Kapstein, Matthew, Gray Tuttle, and Kurtis Schaeffer. 2013. Sources of Tibetan Tradition. Columbia University Press. JABL
  • Kapstein, Matthew. 2000. The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory. Oxford University Press. JABL
  • Kapstein, Matthew. 2003. Reason’s Traces: Identity and Interpretation in Indian & Tibetan Buddhist Thought. Oxford University Press. JABL
  • Kapstein, Matthew. 2014. Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. JABL
  • Perdue, Daniel. 1992. Debate in Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion. JABL
  • Powers, John. 2007. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion. JABL
  • Smith, E. Gene, and Kurtis R Schaeffer. 2001. Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. Wisdom. JABL

Primary Tibetan Sources

Ornament of the Middle Way
dbu ma rgyan gyi tshig le’ur byas pa
Śāntarakṣita (705-762)

  • Blumenthal, James, Śāntarakṣita, and Rgyal-Tshab Dar-Ma-Rin-Chen. 2004. The Ornament of the Middle Way: A Study of the Madhyamaka Thought of Śāntarakṣita: Including Translations of Śāntarakṣita’s Madhyamakālamkāra (the Ornament of the Middle Way) and Gyel-Tsab’s DbU Ma Rgyan Gyi Brjed Byang (Remembering “the Ornament of the Middle Way”). Snow Lion. JABL

Distinguishing the Views
lta ba’i shan ’byed theg mchog gnad kyi zla zer
Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429–1489)

  • Go-rams-pa bsod-nams-seng-ge, José Ignacio Cabezón, and Lobsang Dargyay. 2007. Freedom from Extremes: Gorampa’s “Distinguishing the Views” and the Polemics of Emptiness. Wisdom. JABL

Emptiness in the Prasangika System
 Jamyang Shepe Dorje Ngawang Tsondrü (c. 1648–1722)

  • Hopkins, Jeffrey, and Elizabeth Napper. 1996. Meditation on Emptiness. Wisdom. JABL

Key Figures in Tibet

Gendun Chompel or Gendün Chöphel (1903–1951)
dge ‘dun chos ‘phel

Lopez, Donald S, and A-Mdo Dge-ʼdun-Chos-ʼphel. 2006. The Madman’s Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendun Chopel. University Of Chicago Press.  JABL

Dölpopa Shérap Gyeltsen (1292–1361), known simply as Dölpopa
dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan

Stearns, Cyrus. 2002. The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Motilal Banarsidass. JABL

Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyeltsen (1182-1251)
sa skya paṇḍita kun dga’ rgyal mtshan

Sa-skya Paṇḍi-ta Kun-dgaʼ-rgyal-mtshan, John T. Davenport, Sallie D. Davenport, Blo-bzang-don-ldan, and Sakya Khenpo Sangye Tenzin. 2000. Ordinary Wisdom: Sakya Pandita’s Treasury of Good Advice with a Commentary Entitled A Hive Where Gather Bees of Clear Understanding. HarperCollins. JABL

History of Buddhism in India

  • Davidson, Ronald M. 2002. Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement. Columbia University Press. JABL
  • Donald Sewell Lopez, ed. 1995. Religions of India in Practice. Princeton University Press. JABL
  • Schopen, Gregory. 1997. Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks: Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India. University of Hawaii Press. JABL

Primary Indian Sources

  • Prebish, Charles S., ed. 2010. Buddhist Monastic Discipline: The Sanskrit Prātimoksạ Sūtras of the Mahāsāmg̣hikas and Mūlasarvāstivādins. Delhi Motilal Banarsidass. JABL
  • Brunnholzl, Karl, trans. 2007. Straight from the Heart: Buddhist Pith Instructions. Snow Lion. JABL
  • Lopez, Donald. 2017. Norton Anthology of World Religions. Buddhism. W. W. Norton. JABL
  • Wedemeyer, Christian K., ed. 2007. Āryadeva’s Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa): The Gradual Path of Vajrayāna Buddhism According to the Esoteric Community Noble Tradition. American Institute of Buddhist Studies. JABL

Key Figures in India

Nāgārjuna (active 2nd century) 
ཀླུ་སྒྲུབ་ klu sgrub

Walser, Joseph. 2005. Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture. Columbia University Press. JABL

Candrakīrti (c.570-650)
ཟླ་བ་གྲགས་པ་ zla ba grags pa

Vose, Kevin. 2009. Resurrecting Candrakīrti : Disputes in the Tibetan Creation of Prāsaṅgika. Wisdom. JABL