Professor Zimmermann studied Classical Indology, Tibetology and Japanology at the University of Hamburg. His dissertation dealt with the origin of the buddha-nature theory in India. Four years of his PhD studies were spent at universities in Kyoto and Tokyo. He later worked for the Nepalese-German Manuscript Preservation Project of the German Research Council (DFG) in Hamburg and Kathmandu where he also directed the Nepal Research Centre from 2002 to 2003. After four years as assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies of Stanford University (USA) and director of the Stanford Center for Buddhist Studies, in 2007, he became professor for Indian Buddhism at the Asien-Afrika-Institut of the University of Hamburg.
His research focuses on all aspects of Mahayana Buddhism in India, in particular its textual-historical dimension, based on the study of primary sources in the Buddhist canonical languages of India, Tibet and China. He is also interested in questions of Buddhist ethics such as the relation of Buddhism to political ideas and violence. The analysis of contemporary developments in the Buddhist traditions of East and West serve to illustrate how ancient questions are reconsidered among scholars, religious specialists and followers of modern Buddhism.