Dear Maitripa College Community,
Our beloved Bill Magee passed away peacefully yesterday (February 20, 2023) in the sunset hours. Bill has had visits and prayers from teachers, friends, and community members all week, and Yangsi Rinpoche and Venerable Yonten were able to be with him shortly after he passed at home last night. All reports are that Bill’s passing was very quiet, loving, and peaceful.
Please email Namdrol at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to add a personal tribute to this page. (photo: Dr. Magee teaching Classical Tibetan Language at Maitripa College)
(From the foreword of a forthcoming publication) Honoring William A. (“Bill”) Magee: He is my colleague known well during his eleven-year multi-faceted stint as Vice President of the UMA Institute for Tibetan Studies 2011-2022. But far more so as close friend for several decades, illustrated so well by a short tale: An evening thirty-one years ago, I suddenly felt that I should put his phone number into the speed-dial and asked my partner to dial it when needed. The next morning, I told him to push the button. Bill arrived from Charlottesville at the foothills of the Blue Ridge, long before the ambulance. Without him, this translation also would still be on a dark shelf! ~ Jeffrey Hopkins
Dear colleagues, It is with great sadness that I must inform you that William Magee passed away at his home in Portland (OR) last night, peacefully, and in the company of his friends and family.
Known as “Bill” to his friends and colleagues alike, Bill Magee began his studies of the Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy in the mid-1980s with the ven. Geshe Jampel Thardo, for whom he subsequently served as translator. Shortly afterward, Bill entered the Ph.D. program of studies in Tibetan Buddhism at the University of Virginia under Jeffrey Hopkins, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1998, writing his dissertation on the subject of “nature” (svabhāva / prakṛti) in the thought of Nāgārjuna, Candrakīrti, and Tsong-kha-pa.
Over the years, Bill taught at the Namgyal Institute in Ithaca, New York, at Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Jinshan, Taiwan, and at Maitripa College in Portland, Oregon. He is perhaps most well-known, however, for teaching the Summer Tibetan Language Intensive courses at the University of Virginia from 1988 to 2000, during which time he taught the fundamentals of the Tibetan language to hundreds of students, many of whom would go on to pursue advanced studies in the field.
Bill was renown for jovial disposition and his kindness and generosity toward others, routinely opening his home to students and monks alike, and with his wife, Rabia, generously cared for, fed, and housed any and all who appeared at their door.
Even after retiring from teaching the summer language intensives at UVa, throughout the years that followed, Bill’s passion for the Tibetan language remained, and during the COVID pandemic, Bill used his personal funds to revive the Dharma Farm institute (thedharmafarm.net) and began offering free classes online in Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy.
Bill continued to translate and publish research on Buddhist philosophy, authoring several works on the thought of Jamyang Shepa (1648-1721), and publishing them freely online under the auspices of Jeffrey Hopkins’s UMA Institute (uma-tibet.org).
Bill is survived by his wife (Rabia), his son (Tristan), and his daughter (Meri). He was 72 years old. ~Paul Hackett
Bill was one of a kind, with deep knowledge, a generous spirit and great good humor. I will miss him sorely. Pam and I just said the King of Prayers for him, and I see him now, dissolving into the infinite light that is the heart of Amitabha. I wish I could be there to grieve and commemorate him with you, but my prayers join yours from afar. As my Jewish friends are wont to say, “may his memory be a blessing!” ~ Roger Jackson
Bill, I remember when you started at Maitripa years ago: leaving you in the classroom with our students on your first day I felt an overwhelming sense of safety, peace, and trust, and I knew that everything would be all right with you at the helm. I carry that same sense of conviction today: you leave behind a world more loving and more wise for your presence in it. Maitripa and all of us are forever changed by you. Thank you for your love and kindness. ~ Namdrol Miranda Adams, Maitripa College Dean
Bill brilliantly taught so many more places, especially Sravasti Abbey, and yet it is his immense kindness and generosity that just as powerfully changed people’s lives that, I feel, is his most inspiring legacy. I know we are all going to miss him so much…and that he is under the best possible care and protection of his gurus, Tara, and his own bright consciousness. (I see twinkling eyes grinning in the bardo.) ~ Leigh Miller, PhD, Maitripa College Faculty
I don’t know if Bill ever made it to the Abbey, but he was certainly a presence here, especially with the three nuns who studied Tibetan with him and Paul. He loved teaching and spurred his students to delve further into the meaning of the texts. The nuns were very appreciative of his time and energy, and the good effects of his educating more Tibetan-English translators will ripple out for generations. ~ Venerable Thubten Chodron, Abbess, Sravasti Abbey
When I saw Bill I remembered again how much when someone like him is in the death process it is a gift to those around him. I was all concerned I wouldn’t know what to do or say or that I would cry- but instead it felt like a perfect place to meditate and it was so beautiful. ~Tiffany Patrella Blumenthal, Maitripa College Faculty
Bill opened the door to the Dharma for me… and that makes him one of the most important people in my life. I had just turned 20 years in 2003 and knew nothing about the Buddha’s teaching, when I arrived at Chenrezig Institute in Australia as a working student. Bill taught Tibetan and Debate there and I still vividly remember my first lesson with him. I was intrigued by the Tibetan script and the way Bill taught Debate – and in this moment, my heart opened for the Buddha’s teaching and Tibetan Buddhism. As he finished teaching at Chenrezig Institute, Bill invited me to the US to continue studying Tibetan with him. I lived in his house with Rabia and Meri and another student and later joined Summer School at Menla College in Upstate New York. Bill and his family were so incredibly generous and supportive in every possible way. These experiences firmly rooted my love for the Buddha’s teaching in my heart. Thank you so much!
I was very happy when I could be Bill’s student again in Thösamling Institute, India, in 2015. That was the last time I saw Bill physically. When I contacted Bill in September 2022 for his birthday, he was just getting his diagnosis of cancer. Now, with the message of Bill’s passing on, I do feel sadness in my heart, but I also feel that Bill is protected, guarded and guided by the Three Jewels and the devas. For me, Bill was a great Bodhisattva, a living example of generosity, compassion, kindness and wisdom. This and Bill’s very accepting, open-hearted and humble nature have deeply touched and inspired me and will continue to do so. My heartfelt compassion for Rabia, Tristan and Meri. Thank you! ~ With love, Tanja Kaller, PhD, “Schule des Herzens” (School of the Heart), Germany
Bill was a wonderful, kind, and gentle teacher. In the language of a Buddhist – his good nature, a manifestation of his merit/good heart. Thank you so much dear Bill for teaching us so unconditionally with endless patience. I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to study under you. I often revisit your classes on translating Je Tsong khapa’s lam gyi tsowo nampa sum. I feel closer to the text having learnt to translate it from you. Thank you so much from the depths of my heart for all that you have taught us. We will miss you dearly. ~ Sunitha Bhaskaran, Maitripa College
Bill, you saw my face a few times, though I only needed one of your famous summer courses to find myself among the many seeds, sprouts, and billowing trees of your legacy in Tibetan language, pedagogy, reverence, wonder, gentleness, and bone-dry humor in Dharma. Someone who can come in and out of my awareness without causing a ripple, while warming my heart, belongs in the set of things called sage. Your footprint feels large and soft. ~ Anthony Hanagan, Maitripa College
Bill Magee was tutor for the Basic Program at Chenrezig Institute. He showed deep respect for our teacher Khensur Tashi Tsering and his methods of teaching the BP. Bill’s classes were memorable for the kindness, inclusion and humour with which he taught. His love of the dharma and joy in teaching made his short year with us memorable and most beneficial. He was a good example of how kindness and wisdom leave a lasting legacy. ~ Tenzin Tsapel, Madchik Labdron Nunnery, Bendigo, VIC Australia (Former Tutor of the Buddhist Studies Program of Chenrezig Institute and Leader of the Chenrezig Nuns Community)
The word that comes to mind when I think of Bill is “generosity.” For the last five years, Bill Magee taught classical Tibetan to a few nuns at Sravasti Abbey. Aside from the joy, humor, and care that was present in each class, what struck me over time was the purity of his motivation. He was teaching Tibetan so that the pure Dharma could exist in the world for a long time. That was his mission: to produce translators who could accurately translate the scriptures, enabling the correct Dharma to exist in the world. As his students, whether we go on to actually translate, or simply use our Tibetan language skills to inform our Dharma practice, may we repay Bill’s kindness by actualizing the Dharma in our hearts, for the benefit of all beings. ~ Thubten Lamse, Sravasti Abbey
When I received the news that Bill had passed, I was translating some verses in a sutra from Tibetan and struggling with the grammar. But I had my cheat sheet from his 2017 classical Tibetan grammar course at Maitripa College, and many other tools and tips he shared as he continued to teach the Sravasti Abbey nuns freely online. So I did what I knew he would do—keep going, carefully, especially when crossing the perilous bridge of the sixth case. Take out your grammar list and go through all the options, one by one. When I want to give up and “just make it sound good,” I hear Bill say, “That’s a nice idea, Damcho, but that’s just not what the Tibetan says.” I am forever grateful to Bill for teaching me a precious skill that I will use till the end of this life, and perhaps also in future lives. May we meet again very soon. ~ Thubten Damcho, Sravasti Abbey
I met Bill during the Summer of 1988, when I participated in the first of what was to become his famous Tibetan Language Summer Intensives at UVA. I had tried to learn Tibetan several times in the past, but Bill’s class, with his unique, deadpan, engaging, and encouraging style of teaching, proved to be the catalyst that I needed to make significant progress in my studies. That Summer, Bill encouraged me to apply to the Buddhist Studies Program at UVA. I remained in Charlottesville the following year as a “citizen-scholar” and pursued my Tibetan language studies as Bill’s student. During those early years, I closely observed and benefitted from Bill’s teaching style, his humor, his warmth, his generosity, and his humanity. He was an inspiration, not just to me, but to all of us. When it came time for me to assume teaching responsibilities as a Teaching Assistant and later as a college instructor, I consciously emulated Bill’s teaching as much as possible. Today, close to 35 years later, I continue to do so. It is no exaggeration to say that without Bill Magee’s teaching, mentorship, and encouragement, I would not have pursued Buddhist Studies, received my PhD, and become a teacher myself. I will always owe Bill a tremendous debt of gratitude and appreciation. Rest in Peace Brother Bill Magee. ~ Greg Hillis, UC Santa Barbara