Tharpa Publications (Sanskrit for "liberation" and pronounced "Tar-pa") is "a major international and multilingual publisher of Buddhist books" by the Buddhist author and scholar Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. They are based in New York. These include basic Buddhist meditation books such as The New Meditation Handbook, books on the Buddhist way of life such as Universal Compassion, books on Buddhist philosophy and psychology such as Heart of Wisdom, and books on Buddhist Tantra. Tharpa Publications is a non-profit corporation that has operated for 25 years and claims to have sold over a million books. Waterhouse adds that the books "are distributed widely and may be seen on the shelves of popular booksellers as well as in university libraries."
To date, Tharpa has published 22 of his books, covering the entire range of BuddhaShakyamuni's Sutra and Tantra teachings. These are in the process of being translated into German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch and Croatian. According to its website, "Tharpa publishes the works of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a contemporary Buddhist master who presents the essential practices of Buddhism in a way that is easy to understand and practise in modern everyday life." Biography Research Guide describes Kelsang Gyatso's books:
A Tibetan Buddhist monk and scholar; Geshe Kelsang has written twenty books that aim to provide Western Dharma practitioners with essential Buddhist texts; some are books for beginners such as Transform Your Life and How to Solve Our Human Problems, books about the Mahayana path like Universal Compassion (Lojong), and books on Vajrayana (Tantra) like Mahamudra Tantra; (born 1931, in Tibet).
A number of Kelsang Gyatso's textbooks have received favourable reviews. Bluck writes that "The three most popular works—Introduction to Buddhism, The New Meditation Handbook and Transform Your Life—have sold 165,000 copies between them, showing their appeal far beyond the movement itself." Batchelor says that Kelsang Gyatso's books are written with "considerable clarity." Braizer echoes this sentiment, saying that Kelsang writes "excellent" books that are "an important contribution to Western understanding of Buddhism and its traditions. They can stand on their own merit."Guide to Dakini Land and Essence of Vajrayana have been described as "the most detailed and revealing commentary on specific tantric practices yet to be published in a Western language." In his book review of Guide to Dakini Land, Richard Guard said:
It is remarkable that the author has managed to give us so much information in only a few hundred pages. The editors are to be commended for their skilful efforts in conveying Geshe Kelsang’s instructions in such simple and precise language... By making this book available for Vajrayogini practitioners, Geshe Kelsang has truly brought a blessing into our lives.
The books are also highly thought of within the Tibetan establishment. Three of his published works contained forewords by previous Ganden Tripas and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama contributed a foreword to Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition, while Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche (who each held the position of Ganden Tripa) also provided forewords for his books Meaningful to Behold (which was dedicated to the long life of the Dalai Lama) and Clear Light of Bliss (which was dedicated to the late Trijang Rinpoche), respectively. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche refers to Kelsang Gyatso as "this most precious Spiritual Guide," while Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche refers to him as "The excellent expounder, the great Spiritual Master Kelsang Gyatso." Tsem Tulku praised Kelsang Gyatso and his publications: "The great master, the Kadampa Geshe, Kelsang Gyatso, you can see very clearly his works, his centers, his books, his pure vows, and how many thousands of people he affects."
New Kadampa Tradition
Tharpa Publications is part of the New Kadampa Tradition - International Kadampa Buddhist Union, which is an international Buddhist charity set up for building Buddhist temples for world peace in every major city of the world. It was established in 1985 in Ulverston, UK and now has affiliates in countries throughout the world.
Tharpa Publications is devoted to the preservation of the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa:
We are studying and practicing Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings and taking as our example what the ancient Kadampa Lamas and Geshes did. All the books that I have written are commentaries to Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings. We try our best to follow the example of the ancient Kadampa tradition and use the name Kadampa to remind people to practice purely.
For example, Joyful Path of Good Fortune is based on Je Tsongkhapa's Lamrim Chenmo (Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment). Other examples include:
The teachings in Tharpa's books are also in the Gelugpa lineage of Pabongka Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche's teachings. For example, Joyful Path of Good Fortune is a modern equivalent of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, written by Je Phabongkhapa and edited by Trijang Rinpoche; and The New Meditation Handbook is a concise rendition of these teachings. In the preface of Joyful Path the author writes:
I have received these teachings from my Spiritual Guide, Trijang Dorjechang, who was an emanation of Atisha; thus the explanations given in this book, Joyful Path of Good Fortune, actually come from him and not from myself.
Waterhouse notes that "All pictorial material produced by the NKT is carefully controlled to maintain the accuracy in the smallest detail":
A Bath printer responsible for the production of some of the NKT's most recent publications, told me that the movement's representatives had been so particular about the reproduction of some of the illustrations in Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's Guide to Dakini Land, that the whole print run had to be repeated because a moon symbol had been omitted from one of the diagrams.
Use of Tharpa's books on Buddhist study programs worldwide
Fourteen of Tharpa Publications classic textbooks are used as the basis of the New Kadampa Tradition's Foundation Program and Teacher Training Program, which have tens of thousands of Buddhist students worldwide. The Foundation Program is described by Steven Heine in Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition:
The Foundation Program is meant for serious students who want a guided study at a deeper level than they can get through the series of Lamrim talks, usually all pitched to a beginner's capacity, that normally constitute the fare of Western Dharma centers.
The New Kadampa Tradition's Teacher Training Program is a rigorous "multilayered educational" study program of Buddha's teachings of Sutra and Tantra presented in accordance with the tradition of the Tibetan master Je Tsongkhapa (AD 1357-1419), designed for those training as Buddhist teachers.
Losing money each year from 1985 onwards, Tharpa Publications "broke even" for the first time in 1996. Tharpa Publications claims that, since that time, the author has donated all royalties from Tharpa's books to non-profit organizations that promote Buddhism. Firstly he gave these to Manjushri Institute:
Tharpa Publications publishes my books. They are financially independent from me and from all my Dharma Centers around the world. From the very beginning I have given Manjushri Buddhist Centre the royalties to which I am entitled as author. I have never used even one penny from this money.
Now Tharpa says that the author donates all royalties to the International Temples' Fund. Each book also contains the information: "Profits received by Tharpa Publications from the sale of this book will be donated to the NKT-International Temples Project" which is "a Buddhist Charity, Building for World Peace."
The books by Kelsang Gyatso in the order they were published:
Meaningful to Behold: The Bodhisattva's Way of Life, Tharpa Publications (5th. ed., 2008) ISBN 978-1-906665-11-1
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life: How to Enjoy a Life of Great Meaning and Altruism, a translation of Shantideva's Bodhisattvacharyavatara with Neil Elliott, Tharpa Publications (2002) ISBN 978-0-948006-88-3
Tharpa Publications was originally a general Buddhist publishing house, also releasing the following works by other authors:
A Survey of Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Methods through the Ages, Tharpa Publications (1987) by Sangharakshita, ISBN 0-948006-01-3 .
Treasury of Dharma: A Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Course, Tharpa Publications (1988) by Geshe Rabten, ISBN 0-948006-04-8.
In addition to publishing books, Tharpa also supplies audio books, Buddhist art, and sadhanas for prayer and meditation.
The 'half-drop' repeat patterns used in some NKT-IKBU artwork as well as sadhana covers, such as the peony-style flower and emblem of Manjushri (a sword and book upon a lotus) were designed by Robert Beer.
Tharpa Publications also has affiliates (which are independent companies) in Brazil, the USA, Spain, Mexico, France, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Africa.
Tharpa books have been translated into a number of European and Asian languages.