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Dispelling the Darkness

Dispelling the Darkness

A Jesuit’s Quest for the Soul of Tibet

Donald S. Lopez Jr., Thupten Jinpa

ISBN 9780674659704

Publication date: 04/10/2017

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In a remote Himalayan village in 1721, the Jesuit priest Ippolito Desideri awaited permission from Rome to continue his mission to convert the Tibetan people to Christianity. In the meantime, he forged ahead with an ambitious project: a treatise, written in classical Tibetan, that would refute key Buddhist doctrines. If he could convince the Buddhist monks that these doctrines were false, thought Desideri, he would dispel the darkness of idolatry from Tibet.

Offering a fascinating glimpse into the historical encounter between Christianity and Buddhism, Dispelling the Darkness brings Desideri’s Tibetan writings to readers of English for the first time. This authoritative study provides extended excerpts from Inquiry concerning the Doctrines of Previous Lives and Emptiness, Desideri’s unfinished masterpiece, as well as a full translation of Essence of the Christian Religion, a companion work that broadens his refutation of Buddhism. Desideri possessed an unusually sophisticated understanding of Buddhism and a masterful command of the classical Tibetan language. He believed that only careful argumentation could demolish the philosophical foundations of Buddhism, especially the doctrines of rebirth and emptiness that prevented belief in the existence of God. Donald Lopez and Thupten Jinpa’s detailed commentary reveals how Desideri deftly used Tibetan literary conventions and passages from Buddhist scriptures to make his case.

When the Vatican refused Desideri’s petition, he returned to Rome, his manuscripts in tow, where they languished unread in archives. Dispelling the Darkness brings these vital texts to light after centuries of neglect.


  • The Jesuit missionary Ippolito Desideri’s engagement with Tibetan Buddhism in his Tibetan writings combine a profound understanding of its philosophy and theology with a closely-argued, penetrating critique of some of its tenets, particularly rebirth and emptiness. This critique is articulated in the two treatises most ably and lucidly translated here by Donald Lopez and Thupten Jinpa, and their excellent introduction and notes provide the intellectual and historical context needed to fully appreciate Desideri’s arguments. Dispelling the Darkness is an important contribution to our understanding of the ongoing encounter between Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity.

    —Michael Sweet, author of Mission to Tibet


  • Donald S. Lopez Jr. is Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan.
  • Thupten Jinpa is Adjunct Professor of Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy in the School of Religious Studies at McGill University.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press