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Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz (February 2, 1878July 17, 1965) was an anthropologist and writer who was a pioneer in the study of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born in Trenton, New Jerseymarker, and as a teenager read Madame Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine and became interested in the teachings of Theosophy. He received both his B.A. and M.A. from Stanford Universitymarker, where he studied with William James and William Butler Yeats. He then studied Celtic mythology and folklore at Jesus College, Oxfordmarker (1907); there he adopted the form Evans-Wentz for his name. He travelled extensively, spending time in Mexicomarker, Europe, and the Far East. He spent the years of the First World War in Egyptmarker. He later travelled to Sri Lankamarker (then Ceylon) and Indiamarker, reaching Darjeelingmarker in 1919; there he enountered Tibetan religious texts firsthand.

Evans-Wentz is best known for four texts translated from the Tibetan, especially The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Evans-Wentz credited himself only as the compiler and editor of these volumes. The actual translation of the texts was performed by Tibetan Buddhists, primarily Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (1868–1922), a teacher of English at the Maharaja's Boy's School in Gangtokmarker, Sikkimmarker who had also done translations for Alexandra David-Neel and Sir John Woodroffe.

Evans-Wentz was a practitioner of the religions he studied. He became Dawa-Samdup's "disciple" (E-W's term), wore robes and ate a simple vegetarian diet. He met Ramana Maharshi in 1935, and meant to settle permanently in India, but returned to the U.S. when World War II compelled him to do so. He passed his final twenty-three years in San Diego, and provided finanancial support to the Maha Bodhi Society, Self-Realization Fellowship, and the Theosophical Society. His Tibetan Book of the Dead was read at his funeral.

The Department of Religious Studies at Stanford Universitymarker has hosted The Evans-Wentz Lectureship in Asian Philosophy, Religion, and Ethics since 1969, funded by a bequest fromEvans-Wentz.

Evans-Wentz died in 1965.

Partial bibliography

  • The fairy-faith in Celtic countries, London, New York, H. Frowde, 1911 ..
  • The Tibetan book of the dead; or, The after-death experiences on the Bardo plane, according to Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English rendering, with foreword by Sir John Woodroffe, London, Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1927.
  • Tibetan yoga and secret doctrines; or, Seven books of wisdom of the great path, according to the late Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English rendering; arranged and edited with introductions and annotations to serve as a commentary, London, Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1935.
  • Tibet’s great yogī, Milarepa : a biography from the Tibetan ; being the Jetsün-Kahbum or biographical history of Jetsün-Milarepa according to the late Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English rendering (2d ed.), edited with introd. and annotations by W. Y. Evans-Wentz, London, New York : Oxford University Press, 1951.
  • The Tibetan book of the great liberation; or, The method of realizing nirvana through knowing the mind, preceded by an epitome of Padma-Sambhava’s biography and followed by Guru Phadampa Sangay’s teachings. According to English renderings by Sardar Bahädur S. W. Laden La and by the Lāmas Karma Sumdhon Paul, Lobzang Mingyur Dorje, and Kazi Dawa-Samdup. Introductions, annotations, and editing by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. With psychological commentary by C. G. Jung. London, New York, Oxford University Press, 1954.

See also


  1. Sutin 262, pg. 262
  2. Sutin 2006, pg. 263
  3. Sutin 2006, pg. 267
  4. Stanford Evans-Wentz Lectureship
  5. The Fairy-faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz (1911): Parts of this book are available online on Google Books.


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