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Henry Steel Olcott Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105248).

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Olcott, Henry Steel (02 August 1832–17 February 1907), cofounder with Helena Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society and an important Western advocate of Buddhism, cofounder with Helena Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society and an important Western advocate of Buddhism, was born in Orange, New Jersey, the son of Henry Wyckoff Olcott, a businessman, and Emily Steel. He was raised in New York City. At sixteen, after the failure of his father’s business, he worked on an uncle’s farm in Ohio, where he took an interest in both Spiritualism, then at the height of its vogue, and agricultural science. In 1855 Olcott opened an agricultural school in New Jersey and as its director wrote several books and articles on farming. The school failed in 1859. He was assistant agricultural editor of the ...

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D. T. Suzuki Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Suzuki, D. T. (18 October 1870–12 July 1966), the foremost exponent of Zen Buddhism in the West, was born Teitarō Suzuki, the son of Ryojun Suzuki, a physician, and his wife, Masu (full name unknown), in what is now the city of Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. He was the youngest of five children. Suzuki's grandfather and great-grandfather were also physicians. The deaths of Suzuki's father, shortly after Suzuki's sixth birthday, and an older brother, the following year, influenced Suzuki's gravitation toward religious and philosophical study. As a teenager he sought out both Zen monks and Christian missionaries and engaged them in philosophical discussions. Suzuki's high school mathematics teacher, who had a strong interest in Zen and had studied with Kōsen Imagita, one of the great Zen masters of the time, intensified the youth's curiosity about Zen through discussion and distribution of literature on the subject....

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Trungpa, Chögyam ( February 1939–04 April 1987), Buddhist leader and author, was born in the village of Geje in Kham, Tibet. In his autobiography, Born in Tibet (1966), Trungpa gives his year of birth as 1939, but later sources say it was 1940. His natural father, Yeshe-dargye, left his mother, Tungtso-drölma, while she was pregnant with Chögyam. She then married again, and her second husband accepted the child as his son. Tibetan Buddhism is known for its various religious lineages in which high-ranking lamas are said to incarnate themselves upon their death so as to ensure the continuation of their particular school’s teachings. These incarnate lamas are known as tulkus. During his infancy, Chögyam was identified as the incarnation of a famous lama who was reputedly tenth in the line of the Trungpa Tulkus (in the Karma bKa-rgyud-pa school of Tibetan Buddhism) and was thus enthroned in 1941 as the eleventh Trungpa, becoming head of the Surmang monasteries in the eastern region of Tibet. A regent was appointed to act on his behalf until he came of age, chronologically and religiously. Like all young incarnate lamas (or monks), Chögyam was given a traditional monastic education, but he also studied dance, calligraphy, and religious painting. In 1948 he took his formal novice vows, and ten years later he became ordained as a full monk (or bhikshu). Additionally, he was afforded the monastic equivalent of a Western doctor of divinity degree....