Thomas Cleary

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Thomas F. Cleary
OccupationAuthor, translator
  • Ph.D., East Asian Languages and Civilizations
  • J.D., Law
Alma mater
SubjectEastern philosophy
RelativesJonathon C. Cleary (brother)

Thomas Cleary (born 1949) is a prolific author and translator 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, Japanese, Classical Chinese, and Old Irish into English. Cleary lives in Oakland, California, a city on the West Coast of the United States.[3]

Life and work[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] Since completing his doctoral studies, Cleary has had little involvement with the academic world. "There is too much oppression in a university setting", he says.[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. The two brothers 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 the monumental Avatamsaka Sutra (also called Huayan Jing, or the Flower Ornament Scripture).[when?] 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.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Thomas Cleary interview". Sonshi ☯ Sun Tzu's Art of War Educational Resource. Retrieved 10 July 2009. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Thomas Cleary". Retrieved 1 January 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "0877738688 The Book Of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi". Archived from the original on 4 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)