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Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz (February 2, 1878 – July 17, 1965) was an American anthropologist and writer who was a pioneer in the study of Tibetan Buddhism, and in transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the Western world, most known for publishing an early English translation of The “Tibetan Book of the Dead” in 1927. Today, Evans-Wentz is best known for four texts translated from the Tibetan, “Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa (1928), Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines (1935), The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation (1967)”.
He was born as Walter Yeeling Wentz in Trenton, New Jersey in 1878. His father was a real estate businessman, of German descent, while his mother was Irish. He also had two brothers and two sisters. Though initially a Bapist, his father had turned to spiritualism and Theosophy. As a teenager he read Madame Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine at his father's library and became interested in the teachings of Theosophy and Occult. Subsequently, at the turn of century, he moved to San Diego in California, and joined his father's profession, but also because it was close to Lomaland, the American headquarters for the Theosophical Society, which he joined in 1901.
He went on to receive B.A. and M.A degrees. He then studied Celtic mythology and folklore at Jesus College, Oxford (1907). While at Oxford, he met T.E. Lawrence, a British Army officer, who advised him to travel to the Orient. He met spiritual figures like Yogananda, J. Krishnamurti, Paul Brunton, Ramana Maharishi, Sri Krishna Prem and Shunyata. He also visited Theosophical Society Adyar, where he met Annie Besant and came close of Swami Satyananda and Swami Shyamananda.
Finally he reached Darjeeling in 1919; there he encountered Tibetan religious texts firsthand, when he acquired a Tibetan manuscript of Profound Doctrine of Self-Liberation of Mind by Karmalingpa, from Major Campbell, a British officer who had just returned from Tibet.
Thereafter for the next two months, Evans - Wentz spent morning hours, before the opening of the school with Samdup working on the text. During this period, they worked out the origins of what was to become The Tibetan Book of the Dead. He soon left for the Swami Satyananda's ashram, where he was practicing yoga. Samdup on the other hand was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Calcutta, in the same year, and died in Calcutta three years later, long before the book could be finally published.
Evans-Wentz remained a Theosophist for the rest of his life, wrote articles for Theosophical publication. He passed his final 23 years living in Keystone Hotel in San Diego, and provided financial support to the Maha Bodhi Society, Self-Realization Fellowship, and the Theosophical Society.
Evans-Wentz spent his last months at Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, California and died in July, 1965. His Tibetan Book of the Dead was read at his funeral. The Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University has hosted The Evans-Wentz Lectureship in Asian Philosophy, Religion, and Ethics since 1969, funded by a bequest from Evans-Wentz.