IN MEMORIAM: PHILIP YAMPOLSKY

yampolskyPhilip Yampolsky, renowned translator and scholar of Zen Buddhism, died of complications due to pneumonia on July 28, 1996. He was seventy-five years old.

Yampolsky, born in New York City on October 20, 1920, was the grandson of anthropologist Franz Boas, who founded Columbia’s Department of Anthropology. He graduated from Columbia College in 1942, at which time he enlisted in the Navy. While being trained as a translator for the Navy, he learned Japanese. He served as a lieutenant in World War II, fought in the battle of Iwo Jima, and was awarded the Bronze Star “for meritorious service as a translator.”

In 1954 he received a Fulbright scholarship to study Buddhism in Kyoto, where he became associated with a group of Beat scholars and writers studying Zen. With poet Gary Snyder, scholar Burton Watson, and Japanese scholars Yoshitaka Iriya and Seizan Yanagiga, he helped translate such influential publications as Zen Dust and The Record of Lin-Chi, which helped popularize Zen outside of Japan.

In 1962 Yampolsky returned to Columbia University, where he taught until 1994. From 1968 to 1981 he was the librarian of Columbia’s East Asian Library, now the C. V. Starr East Asian Library, which holds more than 600,000 volumes in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other languages. A scholar of Chinese and Japanese religions, Dr. Yampolsky is best known for having made Zen Buddhism more accessible to Western readers. His translations include Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch; The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings; Selected Writings of Nichiren; and Letters of Nichiren, all published by Columbia University Press. When he retired in 1994 he received the Buddhist Studies Senior Scholar Award, which was created in his honor in recognition of his lifetime of research and teaching.

Yampolsky is survived by his wife, Yuiko, and three children: Susan Niland, Ruri Yampolsky and Robert Yampolsky, as well as six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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