Taking over the Reins: Meet our new editor-in-chief, James Gentry

As a long-time translator with the Dharmachakra Translation Committee, James Gentry joined 84000’s editorial committee in 2015, and this year sees him formally taking over the reins from outgoing editor-in-chief Tom Tillemans. Having completed his undergraduate degree in Asian Studies with a study of the Tibetan translation of an Indian Yogācāra treatise, James received further academic training in Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia (UVA) and at Harvard University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 2014. Throughout these years of formal study, James continued to learn from traditional scholars and lamas by spending lengthy periods of time in India, Nepal, and Tibet studying philosophical treatises and tantric commentaries at monastic institutes such as Kanying Shedrup Ling, Namdroling, and Dzongsar Institute. Currently, he serves as professor of Buddhist Studies at UVA’s Department of Religious Studies, where he carries out his role as editor in chief of 84000, and promotes interest in the project among faculty and graduate students. Read more on what initially drew James into Buddhist study, the impact Tom has had on James’ own work, and how he intends to further Tom’s legacy into the next era of the project.

My interest in Buddhism was first sparked by reading about it in books and learning about it in college courses as a teenager. But what drew me toward studying Buddhism in greater depth was meeting truly erudite and accomplished Buddhist masters during an extended trip to India, Nepal, and Tibet in my early twenties. I was struck then by what seemed to me living proof of what one might hope to learn and achieve through practicing the Dharma. Inspired and encouraged by the wonderful translators active then in the Kathmandu Valley, I plunged myself into the study of Classical Tibetan as a prerequisite for deeper engagement with the scholars and lamas of the tradition.

My involvement with 84000 began with my translation of a short tantra under the auspices of the Dharmachakra Translation Committee just after the project was first underway. In 2010, at the invitation of Gene Smith, I also took part in an 84000 meeting held in Kathmandu. It turned out that this was the series of meetings through which Tom was first brought on to the project. I continued to work on behalf of the project as a translator with Dharmachakra until 2015, when I was invited by Tom, John, and Andreas to join the editorial committee.

My work with 84000 is inspired foremost by the prospect of playing some small role in making available to the English-speaking world for the first time the Buddhist scriptural traditions inherited by Tibet in all their depth and diversity. I believe that this project holds the unique promise of revolutionizing our collective knowledge of what Buddhism is and has been throughout human history. The potential impact of this revolution in knowledge is certain to have rippling effects throughout a diversity of domains, ranging from the more obvious outcomes of transforming the academic field of Buddhist Studies and inspiring generations of Buddhist practitioners, to the less predictable outcomes of helping to ensure the continuity of existing Buddhist traditions, and establishing a foundation for the formation of new ones.

Tom’s work as editor in chief has been absolutely crucial in setting the course for the project and ensuring that its impact and influence can extend as far as possible. Tom was particularly successful in establishing a high standard of academic integrity for the project. This standard has won the admiration of Buddhist Studies scholars throughout the academy and has also ensured their eager involvement with the project for decades to come. This high standard has also set the tone for my own work and is certain to serve as my guiding principle during my tenure as editor in chief.

Tom also has the rare quality among academics of recognizing that significant contributions can come from the world of learned Buddhist practitioners. Not only was Tom instrumental in courting translation teams consisting of Buddhist practitioners. He was also integral in helping to provide academic training for future scholar-practitioners through his advisory role in the formation of Rangjung Yeshe Institute’s Master of Arts program in Translation, Textual Interpretation, and Philology. As director of that program from 2014 to 2018 I can personally attest that it plays a leading part in the formation of the next generation of translators.

It is my great honor to work with the outstanding 84000 team to help carry Tom’s legacy into the next era of the project. With Tom as inspiration I hope to continue making strides in encouraging the collaborative involvement of academics, practitioners, and traditional scholars. I also plan to extend Tom’s vision of training the next generation of translators through organizing opportunities for young translators to train in Buddhist scriptural languages and traditions at academic institutions such as the University of Virginia and Rangjung Yeshe Institute.

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