Thomas Cleary

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas F. Cleary
Born(1949-04-24)April 24, 1949
DiedJune 20, 2021(2021-06-20) (aged 72)
OccupationTranslator, writer
  • Ph.D., East Asian Languages and Civilizations
  • J.D., Law
Alma materHarvard University
UC Berkeley School of Law
SubjectEastern philosophy
RelativesJonathan C. Cleary (brother)

Thomas Cleary (24 April 1949 – 20 June 2021) was an American translator and writer of more than 80 books related to Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Muslim classics, and of The Art of War, a treatise on management, military strategy, and statecraft.[1][2][3] He has translated books from Pali, Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Old Irish into English. Cleary lived in Oakland, California.[3]

Early life[edit]

Cleary became interested in Buddhism when he was a teenager; his researches into Buddhist thought began with a desire to learn during this time of his life.[1] When he began translating, he chose either untranslated works or—as in the case of Sun Tzu's The Art of War—books whose extant translations were "too limited".[1] Cleary earned a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, and a JD from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.[4] After completing his doctoral studies, Cleary had little involvement with the academic world. "There is too much oppression in a university setting", he said.[1] "I want to stay independent and reach those who want to learn directly through my books."[1] Cleary's brother Jonathon also completed his doctoral work in EALC at Harvard.


Thomas and Jonathon Cleary worked together to translate the koan collection The Blue Cliff Record; Shambhala published the translation in 1977. Thomas Cleary's most widely disseminated translation has been of Sun Tzu's The Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa).[citation needed] He also translated, beginning in 1984, the monumental Avatamsaka Sutra (also called Huayan Jing, or the Flower Ornament Scripture). The one volume edition was published in 1993.[5] Another major translation was of the commentaries of the 18th century Taoist sage Liu Yiming, who explains the metaphoric coding of the main Taoist texts dealing with the transformation of consciousness, and the fusion of the human mind with the mind of Tao.

In 2000, Cleary's various translations of Taoist texts were collected into four 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 Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Cleary died on 20 June 2021 in Oakland, California, due to complications from previous illnesses. He is survived by his wife and brothers.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Thomas Cleary interview". Sonshi ☯ Sun Tzu's Art of War Educational Resource. Retrieved 10 July 2009.
  2. ^ Burton-Rose, Daniel. "The Lit interview: Thomas Cleary". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 March 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Thomas Cleary - Fons Vitae books ; The Qur'an Translated by Thomas Cleary ; Starlatch books". May 2004. Archived from the original on 14 December 2009. Retrieved 14 December 2009.
  4. ^ "Thomas Cleary". Retrieved 1 January 2011.
  5. ^ Cook, Francis Dojun. "Bodhicitta's Ripple Effect". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  6. ^ "0877738688 The Book Of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi". Archived from the original on 4 January 2018.
  7. ^ "Remembering Thomas Cleary, Translator of Asian Classics". Shambhala Publications. 26 June 2021. Retrieved 28 June 2021.
  8. ^ "Thomas Cleary, Prolific Translator of Eastern Texts, Dies at 72". New York Times. 10 July 2021. Retrieved 10 July 2021.