PW: Yet another version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead is scheduled for publication. Why do you think The Tibetan Book of Dead first enjoyed such success in America in the 1970s, and why has it continued to do so?
FF: In the 1970s there was an enormous amount of interest in eastern spirituality, especially among young people. The Tibetan Book of the Dead tapped into this, plus a growing number of people committed to Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism in particular. Having my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, as co-translator also figured largely in its success, as he was among the best known and most influential of Buddhist teachers in America. I believe it will always continue to enjoy success, because it is such a remarkable and inspiring text, dealing with a subject that fascinates most human beings.
PW: How would you describe your 1975 translation in comparison to the others on the market?
FF: Evans-Wentz's 1927 edition, the first English version, was translated by Kazi Dawa-Samdrup, and it uses an almost biblical style of English. This has an inspirational quality of its own, but I feel that it does not reflect the original, which is quite direct and straightforward. We tried to produce a translation that would be faithful to the original, not only in relation to the meaning, but also in terms of style and atmosphere. Robert Thurman's translation is very contemporary, while The Illustrated Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Stephen Hodge with Martin Boord, is the closest to ours stylistically. I'm pleased to say our version is still available as a Shambhala Classic.
PW: Please tell us about your motivations for writing Luminous Emptiness.
FF: When Trungpa Rinpoche first asked me to work on The Tibetan Book of the Dead translation, I was rather surprised and reluctant to do it. I did not feel any great enthusiasm for this text, and had previously thought of it as only being relevant to death. But he was very insistent that I should do it, and impressed upon me that it was extremely important. After more study I began to understand what he meant. This text really contains the entire Buddhist path. I never expected it would haunt me, returning decades later to demand my attention! I began Luminous Emptiness with a rather vague idea of explaining the imagery in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, but then working on this wonderful material made me want to convey as much as possible of the principles that lie behind the text, and to write from my heart rather than just to translate or comment. My debt to Trungpa Rinpoche is great, and I regret not having spent more time with him, to receive his teachings and, most importantly, simply to be in his presence. I also regret not having shown my gratitude to him during his life, by remaining part of his community and contributing to his work. As I say in the preface, "This book is my offering to him."
PW: How has your long affiliation with the volume known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead has changed your attitude or approach to life? To death?
FF: In the sense that this text sums up and represents for me the whole spectrum of Buddhism, it has influenced my life profoundly. As for death, I won't be able to tell until I arrive there, but I have great confidence in the power of these teachings, and I hope that I will remember them, or that someone will be there to remind me, at the right moment.