Thomas Cleary

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Thomas Cleary (born 1949) is an author and translator of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Muslim classics, and of the Chinese Art of War tradition of strategy and statecraft.[1][2][3] He lives in Oakland, California in the United States.[3]

Life and work[edit]

Cleary "got into Buddhism... in [his] teens",[1] and was driven to research Buddhist texts because he "wanted to learn".[1] He usually translates texts that are not yet available in English; however, he has made some exceptions for books he felt had English translations that were "too limited," such as Sun Tzu's The Art of War.[1] Cleary received a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University as well as a JD from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law,[4] but has had minimal involvement with the academic world, claiming that "there is too much oppression in a university setting,[1]" and that he wants "to stay independent and reach those who want to learn directly through [his] books.[1]" He reserves some praise for his alma mater, though; "a good thing about Harvard was language training was done by native teachers. You did not find that everywhere.[1]"

Cleary's first publication, with his brother J.C. Cleary was the translation of the Zen koan collection, The Blue Cliff Record (ISBN 1-59030-232-X). Cleary also translated the monumental Avatamsaka Sutra (Huayan Jing / Flower Ornament Scripture).

Cleary's most widely disseminated translation has been of the Chinese classic The Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa) by Sun Tzu. Another major translation is of the commentaries of the 18th century Taoist sage Liu Yiming, who clearly explains the often impenetrable metaphoric coding of the main Taoist texts dealing with the transformation of consciousness and the fusion of the human mind with the Mind of the Tao.

In 2000, Cleary's various translations of Taoist texts were collected into 4 volumes by Shambhala Publications as The Taoist Classics. Following the success of these publications, a five volume collection of Buddhist translations was collected as Classics of Buddhism and Zen. Another translation from the Muslim wisdom tradition is Living and Dying with Grace. In 1993 Cleary published a translation of the Book of Five Rings written by Miyamoto Musashi.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Staff. "Interview with Thomas Cleary". Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  2. ^ Burton-Rose, Daniel. "The Lit interview: Thomas Cleary". San Francisco Bay Guardian Online. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  3. ^ a b Staff. "The Qur'an, Translated by Dr. Thomas Cleary". Fons Vitae. Retrieved 2009-07-10.  Brief biography.
  4. ^ Staff. "Thomas Cleary". Shambhala Publications. Retrieved 2011-01-01.  Brief biography plus book titles.
  5. ^