A spokesman for the Dalai Lama recently announced that the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, 82, is curtailing his globetrotting days of lectures and appearances due to exhaustion. Some speculate that political tension with China, which seized Tibet in 1950, is really what prompts him to stay near at his base in Dharamsala, India. But one thing is apparently not slowing down: His books will keep on coming.
Publishers say his prodigious writing – appealing across a broad audience from general readers, to scholars, to Buddhist practitioners – has helped widen the publishing gateway for authors in many wisdom traditions and kept booksellers’ backlists thriving as well. The first association many American readers have to books on Buddhism is his face or name on a book jacket, released by more than 20 different publishers and imprints. The Book of Joy, coauthored with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Penguin Random House, 2016) was a New York Times bestseller. His first, The Art of Happiness (Riverhead, 1998) spent 37 weeks on the list. His newest book, The Foundation of Buddhist Practice, releases May 15 from one of his most frequent publishers, Wisdom Publications.
This will be the 90th book by him or co-authored by him published in English since his 1962 title, My Land and My People (Potala) according to the Office of Tibet, in Dharamsala. That doesn’t count scores of books by other authors where publishers splashed on the cover “Forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” Neither does it tally shelves of books about him including a graphic biography, Man of Peace: The Illustrated Life Story of the Dalai Lama of Tibet (Tibet House, 2017). The colorful book's authors included Columbia University professor and renowned Tibetan Buddhism scholar Robert Thurman, a lifelong friend of the Dalai Lama and a co-founder of Tibet House, promoting Tibetan Buddhism and culture, 30 years ago.
Thurman has a theory on why the Dalai Lama’s books and his cheerful-monk maroon-and-saffron appearances are so immensely popular. “He’s not trying to convert people. He thinks trying to move people to another religion is not a good idea and that it promotes religious conflict. He wants to set an example for the other missionary religions – Islam and Christianity – by not recruiting people,” Thurman said.
Nikko Odiseos, president of Shambhala Publishing, echoes Thurman. "Quite simply he walked the walk. It's not because he has a title or is a reincarnated lama that makes him so magnetic. It's that he did all the training. He mastered his own mind," said Odiseos.
Shambhala became the single largest publisher of the Dalai Lama's works in the U.S. in 2012 when the acquisition of the Snow Lion imprint included 24 unique works by him, with more to come this summer. Odiseos said, “We are issuing a new series, Core Teachings of the Dalai Lama, which will consist of eight reissues of books that have some of the most important teachings by (him). Some of these were published long ago and will benefit from clearer titling and they all share a fresh, new package. The first two, Introduction to Buddhism and The Complete Foundation, come out this summer and then two per season after that.”
With so many choices, Odiseos said they crafted a guide for readers on the Shambhala website. This way people curious about Buddhism’s perspective on the world – be it on science or psychology or ethics or how to find joy – can find titles of interest and so can Buddhists who want to move further down the path of knowledge and practice.
HarperOne's Dalai Lama releases — Freedom in Exile in 1990 and My Spiritual Journey in 2010 — have sold well for decades and "played a significant role in our Buddhist publishing program,” said Gideon Weil, v-p and editorial director. These works "demonstrated our commitment to the Buddhist category when we began working with Thich Nhat Hanh, with whom we have published eight titles including The Art of Power and most recently The Art of Living."
Readers and publishers need not worry that the current influential incarnation of the Dalai Lama will be gone anytime soon. Thurman said His Holiness has such a robust, sophisticated, multi-lingual website that “he’ll live on and on electronically in his lectures, dialogs, and teachings. He has a global digital presence. And he feels great. I just saw him. He’s nearly 83 and he’s promised to live to 113 ‘if necessary’ to fulfill his promises to the Tibetan people.”