About The Nyingma Institute

About The Nyingma Institute

Tibetan teacher and author Tarthang Tulku founded the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley in 1972 to present the teachings of the Tibetan tradition to the West. Since this time, the Nyingma Institute has offered a full schedule of evening and day classes, retreats, weekend seminars, and lectures on traditional Buddhist studies, meditation, Tibetan Yoga (Kum Nye), Skillful Means (integrating work with spiritual practice), and other teachings presented by Tarthang Tulku specifically for Western students. Over 150,000 students from throughout the world have participated in these programs and the Nyingma Institute is recognized as a major center for Buddhist education in the West. All of the Institute’s activities are guided by its mission statement and founding principles. These are:

  • To promote, foster, encourage, teach, and disseminate the Tibetan Nyingma traditions of Buddhism and to make those teachings available to the West in forms appropriate to the contemporary world.
  • To present the living spirit of Buddhism to the Western world through its programs by establishing a suitable environment for study and through the conduct of its staff.
  • To develop and present to the public educational programs—classes, seminars, workshops, talks, and retreats.
  • As consistent with the Institute’s purposes, to engage in endeavors such as publications, art projects, exhibitions, and volunteer programs.
  • To train teachers capable of presenting our educational programs.
  • To encourage and assist the related non-profit organizations founded by Tarthang Tulku which share similar goals.

Over the forty years since it was established, the Nyingma Institute has played a major role in preserving the sacred art and books of Tibet. The story of the Nyingma Institute and of all the organizations that Tarthang Tulku has founded is one of hope and renewal. A culture and an incredible way of life with a vast literary and artistic tradition were in danger of being lost to the world. Over fifty years ago political events led to the destruction of most of Tibet’s libraries, monasteries, and works of art along with the death or displacement of large numbers of people. Yet, the compassionate light of the Buddha’s teachings proved resilient to even this tragedy. Great masters such as Tarthang Tulku have worked tirelessly since that time to bring the gentle and wise way of life that they treasure so deeply to new lands and to preserve Tibet’s heritage for the entire world.

In the past forty years the Nyingma Institute offered thousands of classes, workshops, and retreats as part of this effort. The Institute also supported the Yeshe De text and art preservation projects, which produced millions of Tibetan texts and art works that were donated back to the Tibetan people. Our students and residents helped Dharma Publishing produce authentic, high-quality books on Buddhism and helped the Tibetan Aid Project send humanitarian and cultural support to the Tibetan people. Our work is not political in nature: our goal is to continue an ancient tradition that has been a key part of many cultures for thousands of years.

Programs and activities at the Nyingma Institute reflect the attitude that we can do something of value for the world and for ourselves at the same time. Introspective practices and ancient teachings are taught in a way that integrates them into a dynamic and engaged lifestyle.

Our Founder, Tarthang Tulku

Tarthang Tulku is a Tibetan incarnation (“Rinpoche”) born and educated in Tibet. He studied with some of the greatest Nyingma masters of the past century in Tibet. In 1959 he left Tibet. After living in India for a decade, teaching at the Sanskrit University of Benares, Rinpoche came to Berkeley in 1969 where he established the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center. In 1972 he founded the Nyingma Institute as a place where men and women from all walks of life could learn from the ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

At the Nyingma Institute Rinpoche developed a unique curriculum and way of teaching that seamlessly blended cognitive with experiential learning. He established several entirely new fields of study, such as Kum Nye Relaxation (Tibetan Yoga), Nyingma Psychology, Skillful Means, and Time, Space, and Knowledge. All but the Time, Space, and Knowledge vision were solidly based in the Tibetan tradition, and they all were developed to specifically address the challenges and differing cultural values found in the Western world.

Once this curriculum was firmly established, Tarthang Tulku retired from public teaching in order to devote his time more fully to the urgent needs of Tibetan text and art preservation projects and to establishing the Odiyan Retreat Center. His writings in English (over 18 volumes) form the basis of the Institute’s programs. Over the years he has appointed his trustworthy senior students to continue to lead the Nyingma Institute. Tarthang Tulku currently lives at the Odiyan Retreat Center in Sonoma County.

What is ‘Nyingma’?

‘Nyingma’ is the name of the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism. Established in the 8th century, the Nyingma school has been a vital force in Tibet since that time. It is one of four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Nyingma Institute Today

When you come to the Nyingma Institute you will see people from all walks of life and from countries throughout the world. You will learn ancient teachings from Western teachers with many years of meditation experience. Volunteers working on Nyingma Institute projects experience what it is like to create sacred prayer wheels, produce texts, and to work with a community dedicated to bringing spiritual values to life.

The Nyingma Institute is open to the public almost every day (we close for the Christmas holiday season). The Institute houses a bookstore and a meditation garden with a traditional Buddhist Stupa and large prayer wheel. Each Sunday the Institute presents free programs beginning at 5 PM with Tibetan chanting and concluding with a free talk from 6-7 PM.

Nyingma Institutes in Brazil, Holland, and Germany

The Nyingma Institute in Berkeley is the model for Institutes in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil and in Germany and Holland. Students from those Institutes regularly come to the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley for further training.