Samten Gyeltsen Karmay (Wylie: bsam gtan rgyal mtshan mkhar rme’u), one of Tibet’s foremost scholars, was born in Amdo Sharkhog in 1936 and attended a local Bonpo monastery from the ages of 8 to 14 before following the 3-year course of Dzogchen meditation at Kyangtshang Monastery. He obtained his Geshe degree in 1955 and travelled to Drepung for further studies. On the 1959 Uprising he and his family left Tibet to exile in India, where he met Tibetologist David Snellgrove, who, recognising his extensive knowledge of Tibetan texts arranged for a Rockefeller fellowship as a Visiting Scholar at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Doing research with Snellgrove and Rolf Stein, in 1964 he obtained the M.Phil degree for his thesis on Bon history and a Ph.D for his thesis on the origin and development of Dzogchen in Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
In 1980 he moved to France, where he was appointed Chargé de Recherche at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (National Centre for Scientific Research) and a member of Paris University’s Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative,Nanterre, engaged in research on symbolism, mythology and ritual in Tibetan popular religion and the Gesar epic. Later he was promoted to Directeur de Recherche. During his time there, he was awarded with the CNRS Silver Medal for his contribution to Human Sciences. A festschrift, Tibetan Studies in Honor of Samten Karmay was published in the Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines in 2008 and another edition of the same volume was published in 2009 in India. Samten Karmay also held the post of the President of the International Association of Tibetan Studies between 1995 and 2000, being the first Tibetan to be elected to the post. In 2005 he was a visiting professor at the International Institute for Asian Studies under the sponsorship of Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (“Society for the Promotion of Buddhism”).
Dr Karmay’s best known published works in English are The Great Perfection, A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, Brill 1988 (reprint 2007), The Arrow and the Spindle: Studies in History, Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Tibet,Kathmandu, Mandala Book Point, 1998 (reprint 2009) and his seminal translations of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s major spiritual and political autobiographies: Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Serindia Publications, London, 1988 (reprint 1998) and “The Illusive Play” (Serindia Publications, Chicago, 2014).