Do I Need an “I” to Grow Potatoes?


Here is a poem that I organized — yes, organized, as not one word of the poem is mine! During the session on Monday, I wrote down all of the group members’ reflections, including yours, and organized them into a poem (I am a sometime poet, sometime published). I think the poem expresses the journey we were and are on, our experiences along the way, and our deepest learnings. As the poem is everyone’s words, and therefore everyone’s poem, I hope you will send it out to all faculty and students. — Jerry Garfield, May 19, 2022


Comments by faculty and students reflecting their nine months journey
in the vastness of Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche’s
“Knowledge of Freedom”

Unnoticed, your hair is growing!

Not-knowing is something to really pay attention to
As a becoming quality of blossoming.
Give yourself this moment to take the time, slowing down.
Wake up and feel your whole life!

We are always in direct experience.
The immensity of freedom in not-knowing!

My mind is everywhere I am.
My “I” has changed in ways I cannot describe.
In the presence of layers of conditioning and patterning
Everything is changing, impermanent.

How does my self-thing really work?
Is it OK to look at things differently?
What is knowing? What is knowledge?
Who is doing the asking?

Inquiry felt more like looking from one side of my busy life
To my other, more calm side.
I felt my heart…
I felt my heart!

Amidst the transitory moments of experiencing openness
I practice what I know:
To question what I see, what I hear, and what I do.
I am flowing.

The next step is the next step.
Not-knowing, while trusting and receiving this moment—
This is intimate knowledge! 

My fundamental ignorance is not a personal thing.
Fear is a gateway—a beacon!
To right myself amidst all the tumult,
I pull myself back from being a runaway train.
What comes to me, I have to work with it.
How can I look at this differently?

Maybe looking at it differently, it will be different?
Let life unfold naturally. This body has no expectation.

To realize this is, of itself, very liberating—
A gradual transformation that is almost not noticeable.

This feeling dimension is new—
More room and more space!
Spaciousness allows me to feel more connected with myself and with life.

I go more deeply, with slowness.
Walking together, loyalty of everyone,
Traveling as a group; meditation as a gift—
Not something I have to do.

Trusting the teaching, and myself, by learning through the teaching:
This is a new kind of trust within me.
What a lovely taste!

How many words there are!
How many I don’t need!

I have opened more the door that is myself.


Knowledge of Freedom: Inquiry at a Deeper Level

Knowledge of Freedom: Inquiry at a Deeper Level

August 13, 2021

Starting in September 2021, Nyingma Institute Berkeley will offer a 9-Month Knowledge of Freedom international program. The teaching team includes Elske van de Dulst, dean of our sister center in Amsterdam. 


How did you first encounter the Knowledge of Freedom program? 

Elske:  The program was launched as part of an international Nyingma Centers teacher training in 2004 and has in fact since then been taught successfully in Europe and Brasil -in German, Dutch and Portugese.

That teacher training was being held at the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley, with Sylvia Gretchen, who was leading the program. I happened to arrive and receive permission to join this part of the program though I was just a beginning student.

I later took the program as a student at least another three times in Amsterdam. It’s very good to do the program several times—the first time through you begin to open up many topics, while there is much more to delve into. That’s good because this study banishes the illusion that one masters the material. The program can be repeated and done at increasingly deeper levels, kind of like a Kum Nye exercise.

After following the Knowledge of Freedom three times and studying many other programs as well, I began to co-teach with Joleen in Amsterdam.


What do you most enjoy or appreciate about the program? 

I think what is very special is that it’s completely and entirely open and honest, relentlessly inviting you to further inquiry, without any dogma. It’s both challenging and very open. 
It’s beautiful to see how in this program people study their own motives, longings, and habit patterns in a very friendly but also truthful way which gradually starts opening up inner freedom. I also love how it unites people. We’re going into our own experience with these strong teachings as a tool. In doing so, we also discover how much we have in common, maybe much more so than what divides us. There’s a strong collective quality, a togetherness, even though we only work very individually on ourselves.

Another beautiful thing is that everything that people think is so personal can open up. Every ego thinks they are the only one, there’s I, me, mine and then there’s all the others. The paradox is that we all do that very same thing! The program is great for working through one’s personal memories and experiences but there’s also a point in which through hearing each others’ experiences you suddenly realize maybe it’s not as personal as I usually assume. At that point you become less obsessed with you personal identity and self image, a genuine interest arises in mind’s workings in a less personal way. This opening gives you more freedom, as the title of the program promises.


How would you describe its relationship to more traditional Buddhist approaches? 

I am told that Rinpoche wrote KOF after working with and teaching western students [Americans, Europeans and South Americans] for some years. For this program, he explicitly suggests the instructors not use Buddhist terminology of phenomena, as he says that the basis for Dharma practice should simply be an honest and fundamental study of the workings of mind.

These days, where buddhist teachings are more abundantly available, you sometimes see people using buddhist terminology more like a self adornment. This KOF approach will not let you get away with that.  And it also brings in those students who are not into any -isms but are still interested in getting to know their own minds.


Why do you think it’s valuable? What need does it fill? 

More and more people have some kind of meditation, yoga, Kum Nye, or mindfulness practice. All of us start with high expectations and then we continue in this vein for a few years, but at a certain point if your initial dream doesn’t manifest it’s rare that you then come into the right situation to go deeper. For people like this, who are ready for further inquiry , this program can open up a lot. This is also the reason we now want to offer it on a broader scale, on an international level. I have the feeling that there are many people engaged in searching who might benefit from this program.


What is the value of taking the program, as opposed to reading the book on your own? 

Direct experience rather than an idea, a concept. It’s very different. The book is not so easy to read for most people, and it’s even harder to read and also effectively go into your own experience at the same time. The program is skillfully designed and structured. It does not follow the book chronologically, and incorporates some of Rinpoche’s other teachings in order to make a process of deeper inquiry possible.

People who have followed the program usually keep the book in an honored place in their bookshelf, like an old friend. It almost becomes like a person.


What advice do you have for anyone considering getting involved? 

Check if you are ready.

Do you have enough previous background in meditation to really dive into different areas in meditation and in self-observation? To notice your defenses? If that’s the case, then register soon because spots are limited and it may be full very soon.

Lighting a Lamp in the White House for Peace and Healing

Lighting a Lamp in the White House for Peace and Healing

May 26, 2021

For the first time in the US history, the celebration of Vesak — the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of the Buddha — was held in the White House.

The event was coordinated by Wangmo Dixey, President of the International Buddhist Association of America through the good offices of Shekar Narasimhan, President of the Dharma Into Action Foundation. Lamps were lit and prayers offered by the Most Venerable Uparatana (Sri Lankan/American) on behalf of the Theravada tradition; Rev. Marvin Harada (Japanese/ American) on behalf of the Mahayana tradition and Venerable Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche (Tibetan/American) on behalf of the Vajrayana tradition.

An official statement has also been released by President Biden:

“Jill and I extend our warmest wishes to Buddhists in the United States and around the world as they celebrate Vesak, a day honoring the birth, enlightenment, and passing of the Buddha. The ceremonial lighting of a lamp, the symbol of this holiday that has been celebrated for over 2,500 years, reminds us of Buddhism’s teachings of compassion, humility, and selflessness that endure today. On this day, we also commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists in America who enrich our communities and our country as we all work together toward brighter days ahead.” — President Joe Biden 

Official White House photos by Cameron White

“It is wonderful that prayers were offered from all three great traditions of Buddhist practice here, at the heart of American democracy. It is so auspicious that this should happen on this day of celebration of the life and teachings of the Buddha. May the prayers we offer today bring peace and healing to all peoples, particularly to our brothers and sisters in India, the heartland of the Dharma, and may the light that radiates from here, the White House of America, bring wisdom and harmony to the whole world. We are lighting a million lamps today to honor this historical moment in our Buddhist history in America.” — Wangmo Dixey, President of the International Buddhist Association of America

“Today Buddhists in the US and across the world honor Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing with the celebration of Vesak—a symbol of compassion, unity and care for each other. These lessons couldn’t be more important today. Doug and I wish a Happy Vesak to all who celebrate!” — Vice President Kamala Harris via Twitter 

“On this occasion, we celebrate the invaluable contributions of Buddhist communities the world over. We join these communities in recommitting ourselves to upholding the universal principles of compassion, peace and respect for human dignity. May this day inspire us all to reflect on our shared values and to collectively work to build a better world for Buddhists and people of all belief traditions.” — US Secretary of State Tony Blinken via Twitter

 “Vesak, one of the most important Buddhist festivals, is a time of reflection on the Buddha’s teachings of peace, compassion, and enlightenment, and reminds us of the importance of USAID’s work to advance the cause of human dignity and serve those most in need. On this day, we commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists to humanity’s progress and recommit ourselves to building a more enlightened and peaceful world.” — US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power via separate statement 

We are pleased the White House has celebrated Vesak for the first time ever with the Second Gentleman, Mr. Douglas Emhoff, lighting a candle in the White House in the presence of three Venerables representing Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions. This is also the first time for all of them to come together under #peaceloveunity.

Most Venerable Uparatana (Sri Lankan/American) on behalf of the Theravada tradition; Rev. Marvin Harada (Japanese/ American) on behalf of the Mahayana tradition and Venerable Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche (Tibetan/American) on behalf of the Vajrayana tradition.

Skillful Means: Work-Study as Full-Time Practice

Skillful Means: Work-Study as Full-Time Practice

For staff members who live and work on site at Nyingma Institute (NI), our focus is on work as a form of practice, a place where we can begin to see, interact, and be differently. This field of the everyday is where we train in activating intention, transforming self-limiting habits and patterns, and developing inner goodness and well-being.

Our approach is guided by rich fields of study based on Tarthang Rinpoche’s books and teachings. As students in the classes and workshops here, we gain experience with meditation, Kum Nye Tibetan yoga, awareness practices, and modes of inquiry. Our time on the cushion flows into the post-meditation practice of tending to the so-called mundane tasks of running an organization and supporting a community as a testing ground for expanding one’s ability to find fulfillment, nourishment, and meaning. We engage with mind, body, and senses on a path that is deeply personal, yet reveals a potential for awakening that is shared by all beings.

The core staff here is usually comprised of a small group of about 6 – 9 individuals, in addition to the deans. We welcome applicants who would like to see if they might be a good fit at this point in their journeys. At the time of these responses in spring 2020, “Y” was the newest, having transitioned from a renter to working full-time on projects for Nyingma Institute about a year prior; “H” is a dedicated community member who had served full-time for seven years; and “P” for thirteen years.


Why did you become interested in doing work-study at Nyingma Institute?

  • Y: I was already living here plus some financial circumstances plus some job opportunities. Once I joined I started to appreciate the study aspect of it, but at first it was because of needing a job and housing.
  • H: I love nature and am interested in Buddhism, so I applied for Ratna Ling, one of our sister organizations in the forest, but in the end I ended up in downtown Berkeley and later in Nyingma Institute.
  • P: I graduated from college in 2006 and was looking around for what to do next with my life. Also, I had just begun meditating, liked the idea of being in a community, and tended to go for immersive experiences where you can be all in.

Describe the transition process for you of moving into the work-study lifestyle

  • Y: It feels like your world becomes more focused on this area. It became a more enclosed kind of lifestyle, and that was noticeable in transition. I was living here before, though, so the transition wasn’t too difficult.
  • H: This kind of lifestyle is not too different than I used to lead: You work and you study, sort of a monotonous life that suits me anyway.
  • P: The location is gorgeous, and the people here are kind and genuine, so that part was great, although I had to adjust my expectations about what it means to live in a spiritual community. (I think we all have to after the honeymoon period of being here, but in different ways depending on our own concepts and assumptions.) As a student, I didn’t have many belongings so moving in was straightforward. Getting used to a six-day work week was an adjustment in the beginning, but now it seems very normal. Being on a small stipend also meant that I had to watch my budget differently, but everything major is pretty much provided: room, meals, so it’s doable. It also motivated me to get creative, for instance learning to cut my own hair, and to question what I really need, rather than wanting something out of habit.

What jobs/roles do you perform as part of your work?

  • Y: I work on the garden project [with construction], but also help out with the plumbing, fixing things, and making sure all the doors are locked. Mostly maintenance and whatever small building projects might come up.
  • H: Whatever needs to be done and I have the ability to complete it, I take it and make it a fun project for me. I like to be challenged and feel it is very rewarding when I acquire some knowledge/skill and perform appropriately. I did front desk job, lead people for work study, cleaning rooms, woodworking, cooking, ironing, translating, babysitting, bookkeeping, etc.
  • P: This has fluctuated greatly over the years. Currently I help the deans with projects, and also with the day-to-day processes of running the organization somewhat on an as-needed basis. As we are here for a while, we tend to fall into specific roles that suit our abilities and care for the needs of the organization, while still wearing many hats.

What classes or programs are you taking?

  • Y: The classes I have taken are Transforming Negative Emotions, In the Words of Buddha, and a meditation class.
  • H: Meditation, Kum Nye, Path of Liberation, Reading Sutras, Nyingma Psychology, Tibetan Chanting, Ngondro, and Tibetan Language over the years.
  • P: I’m currently learning about Vajrasattva practice in Lama Palzang’s meditation class, taking the Kum Nye Teacher Training program, and also I’m in the Sutra studies class with Pema, Hugh, and Richard.

Describe a typical day at NI

  • Y: Make coffee, meditate, then at 9 AM the garden crew discusses what to do for the day, work, lunch, work, dinner, more work sometimes after if I’m feeling inspired.
  • H: Morning Kum Nye, Morning Meditation, day at work (mostly bookkeeping these days), communal prayer & chanting followed by evening classes
  • P: Morning practice, set intention for the day, work-practice, lunch, do the dishes, work-practice, dedicate merit, dinner, then class or back for a little more work or practice. It’s simple, but can be very full! Same schedule Mondays through Saturdays, rest on Sundays.

What do you find fulfilling about your work? About your classes?

  • Y: I can immediately see the changes I’ve made, which is the first level of gratifying. I like using my body, getting stronger. The garden hopefully one day will benefit many people. The classes have helped me with identifying my thoughts and emotions.
  • H: It is practice at work the whole day: this is the best part of my living here, and also being with like-minded people.
  • P: It’s not the work itself necessarily, but the entire system or vision that it all fits together with. Work itself can be explored on different levels. It also provides energy, focus, and is a crucible for observing mind and challenging our own patterns. Classes provide a different kind of space, and especially in the beginning they provide crucial clues, orientation, background, and tools for how to go about the rest of your day. The work and classes are all part of what’s given to us, a means of reflection and exploration through which we get to know our patterns, habits, and mind.

Describe what it is like for you to live in a communal setting

  • Y: Not lonely. I was worried at first about so many people being around, but I have grown into it. It’s been good for me to have to interact with people. I like being able to do things that are good for everyone. I like it when we can all come together and do stuff together. I think it’s good. I like how the tasks are delegated.
  • H: I am surrounded by like-minded and trustworthy people; I can talk to them and they may shed dharma lights on my situation at the moment. Beside my co-workers, there are also many experienced teachers/students who can encourage me by their examples.
  • P: It’s like training in the art of relating to others and letting go of the little things. Also, seeing how your own patterns get mirrored in how you perceive the environment and situations, noticing the ripples of emotionality, and observing the cause and effect of your actions.

Have you noticed any self-improvement from your experience here? If so, what specifically?

  • Y: I have noticed that my communication skills have improved. I’ve also become more organized and attentive to how I leave communal spaces.
  • H: Honestly speaking, I feel that a good potential had been seeded in me before I arrived here; I used to be a very conscientious learner for whatever I did and tried hard to ace it. The Nyingma community expects you to do your best in whatever you do and equally supports you to accomplish it. Specifically saying, well, for example, I was not a lover of cooking especially for many people, but I managed to do it and brought to the table the food making people wow.
  • P: The biggest shift for me was probably early on, seeing that what was described in the books and brought to life in classes felt authentic, and that the practices were very simple yet effective. I could prove it to myself in my experience, whether these things worked. That being said, seeing that it works once is different from being able to live in that space more and more. It’s a process, not a switch that gets flipped. To sum it up, I’m probably more confident, balanced, and grounded.

Describe how your volunteer work benefits others

  • Y: If we finish this garden people will be able to use it and practice in it. One day I’d like to teach a class or be able to give back in other ways too. Sustaining the place is also important.
  • H: Through many classes and practices and through many examples of people here, I learn the importance of the Bodhisattva’s vow working only for others; to live here and help this place run smoothly is, I believe, one of the many ways to benefit others. I am happy that I am a part of that big vision.
  • P: Working here, we’re part of a much larger group of organizations or projects than is immediately apparent. These organizations are connected to the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist tradition that flows through Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, and that we are helping extend. Our work is connected to cultural preservation projects in Asia, as well as the coming of these teachings on how mind works into our setting here. The teachings are precious, in that they point at the heart of experience, how suffering works (or doesn’t work), and toward being an altruistic, compassionate, and wiser being. If we can keep all this available and alive, it’s a thread of wisdom that has the potential for great benefit.

How would you describe what NI does?

  • Y: Spreading the teachings of the dharma is important for anyone in general. It keeps the tradition alive. We support the preservation of Tibet’s dharma tradition. Before COVID, people could come here and practice and seek refuge here.
  • H: Nyingma Institute lives the Tibetan Buddhism and its Bodhisattva vision in the world by educating and showing examples. NI has classes and workshops for Buddhist Study, Buddhist Psychology, Meditation, Kum Nye Tibetan Yoga, Tibetan Prayers and Mantra Chanting, Tibetan Language, Tibetan Buddhist art, and Sunday Morning Kum Nye and Evening Free Dharma Talk and Monthly Women’s Meditation Gathering and so forth. If you are interested in starting study groups and practice groups, you may find like-minded people easily.
  • P: Nyingma Institute has historically been a gateway to our organizations, and where many long-term volunteers first enter. We offer programs to the general public, including classes, workshops, and retreats on many topics, some of which focus on well-being and being human in a more general way, while others approach mind through traditional Buddhist practices. On a day to day basis, we do all the things that any non-profit, educational center would need to do. We clean bathrooms, repair the buildings and grounds, garden, cook, do the dishes, do bookkeeping, deal with IT problems, host retreatants, run errands, get supplies, answer questions from students, respond to faculty, file legal and tax related forms, email students about upcoming programs, post on social media. We also live, work, and practice together with the intention to grow and cultivate our hearts and minds through service. We are a community with many different rings of participation. By volunteering here, you kind of get to jump into the deep end, and then catch up on what is going on here at the same time.

What would you say to someone who was interested in volunteering?

  • Y: Maybe come check it and shadow to see what you think. It’s not for everybody. Some aspects that are beneficial to have are self-reliance and a good work ethic. Be prepared to work. Maybe take a class first and see what you think.
  • H: If you want to come and immerse in this life style, live in the present and do your best while you are here. It’s better not to think this is the transitional point that you may bow out anytime you encounter difficulties. I don’t believe any moment of our lives become wasted if we live sincerely moment to moment. Eventually we will see the fruit and flowers. Anyone who considers to be part of this community in the first place, I feel that person already has a great potential to survive NI.
  • P: It can be incredibly rewarding, challenging, and worthwhile. It’s also not for everyone! In some ways, things are kind of hidden beneath the mundane. It’s all very normal, and yet there is great potential. Come with an open heart, an interest in service, and the intention to work on yourself. Let your time here be a gift of positive energy, effort, and care to the organizations, to the broader mission of benefitting others, and to the possibility of cultivating simple goodness within.

We welcome new participants to our immersive work-study program, the  minimum commitment for which is six months. To learn more and apply, please send us an email and visit the page on work-study (click the button below). 

Padmakara Garden: A Lotus Beginning to Unfold

Padmakara Garden:  A Lotus Beginning to Unfold

November 28, 2020


Dear Community and Friends,

A big thank you for your support and to our dedicated Padmakara Garden team, who have been sheltering-in-place and working safely on site through the turbulent months of 2020.

Since our last update, large decorative boulders have been selected and nudged carefully into place via forklift. The main stairs to the garden have been framed and poured with terracotta colored concrete. A pump and filtration system for the pond and waterfalls has been installed. A crisscross grid of steel rods has been woven into the foundation of the plaza and the walkway around the Prayer Wheel House and covered in concrete. The latest touch has been mortaring stone (Santa Barbara split stone and Mount Moriah wall stone) into place on the fountain wall, a task requiring artistry, a discerning eye, strong arms, and the occasional chiseling. 

Next is the final layer of the plaza itself, which will be laid with Peruvian stone and feature a lotus design at its center.

Our small group of residents, who practice, live, and work together, celebrated the harvest in a spirit of gratitude on November 26, 2020 with a plentiful spread of vegetarian food, and the completion of the fountain wall, which was turned on for the first time that day!

Though we will remain closed to the public until it is safe to reopen, our vision for a beautiful contemplative space is starting to come to life, and we look forward to holding classes in the garden—meditation, Kum Nye Tibetan yoga, and other fields of study—as well as simply offering a space of refuge and beauty to you, our students, and the local community to visit, reflect, and practice in.


Warmest wishes, 

Your friends at the Nyingma Institute

The Garden team:  Yuji, Kris, Katie, and Emily

The completed fountain wall (short video!)

Autumn celebration with residents

From left to right:  New stairs to the garden; the steel rod grid underlaying the plaza; after the concrete pour; affixing stone to the fountain wall. 

Offering the Caring Anthem

Offering the Caring Anthem

We at the Nyingma Institute, dedicated to the Buddhist path of healing the causes of suffering and generating a positive momentum of body, speech and mind offer these words from Tarthang Tulku’s Caring book for all of us, inter-connected and all equally precious:


Caring’s Anthem


Caring knows every place—but caring knows no position.

Caring is not afraid to get its hands dirty, working in the sun.

Caring loves methods, and the joy of broader knowledge.

Caring does not rule or discriminate.

If there is caring, nobody will have to go lower;

nobody will ever get bullied or beaten up.


Caring is wisdom; wise caring prevents problems.

Caring can take care of impatience.

Caring can prevent not-knowing;

This sublime knowing could be knowable because I try

and do not give up.


This is the heart of my caring: what I know, I practice.

I am not ready to give up.


My caring is continuity, wisdom and compassion.

Caring continues, on behalf of body and mind.

Time is precious: I need to take care, constantly.

Caring with consistency is not a concept. Embody it! I will, too.


To promote caring, we need to listen. We need to listen

to what the problem is.

We need to look at why there is trouble:

Trees are falling down. Garbage is not picked up. People

are yelling and screaming, people are in pain.



This is the heart of my caring: what I know, I practice.

I am not ready to give up.


Look: look around. Listen to them, for they are your friends.

Investigate the motivations.

Ask: What are they looking for, what do they want to say?

What is the position they take? What are the claims staked,

and what the consequences?

What is ignorance doing here; what is missing?

And we, when we look at them: what are we missing?

What misinterpretation, what tortured self wastes away in chains?


When we feel sympathy, sorrow, we are beginning to invite caring.


We can be like hunters, searching: what is the problem?

Someone does not know why they are unhappy.

You track it down: it’s because of lack of care,

because of ignorance.


They lost their hearts, their heads, and they don’t even know.

There’s work to do, but we’ll get them back.



This is the heart of my caring: what I know, I practice.

I am not ready to give up.

Meet Katie!

May 19, 2020

Hello there!

Katie here, I’ve been a part of the Nyingma community for about three years now. I was first introduced to this special organization through volunteering at Odiyan with my other half, Kris Klark. We joined the Garden Crew in September of 2019 after living on Maui for six months as property caretakers.

Our crew of Yuji, Kris, and I are beginning to see the space transform into what it will ultimately look like.  One part of the project that’s nearly complete is the construction of the pond. We just recently waterproofed it with a spray on liner called polyurea. I’m told it’s essentially flexible enough to withstand even the strongest of earthquakes. We are preparing to install a pump and filtration system that will supply water to the six waterfall features that have been installed.  After that all that’s left is to face the wall in stone, which I’m really excited about.

In addition to the near completion of the pond, the electrical and drainage are all being put into place. Lots of digging. Whew. Luckily an excavator is on its way. We’re also preparing to pour concrete piers for the foundation of the stairs that will lead from the lower walkway up to the garden.

After volunteering at Odiyan for two years and being involved in sacred art and text preservation, as well as the simplicities of day to day life, I am excited to once again be involved with the Nyingma community and contribute to such a lovely project. Seeing this space slowly turn from a construction zone to a beautiful serene garden and place for practice is very satisfying. Our crew can’t wait until this space is complete so our community and public can finally be able to use it.

We have some work to do before the next blog post, but we look forward to sharing more updates! I hope everyone is as healthy and happy as they can be in these certainly unusual and frightening times.

With love,

Tribute to Jack van der Meulen

A Tribute to Jack van der Meulen

On February 12, 2020, at the end of the annual Longchenpa chant, long-time Kum Nye teacher and beloved Nyingma community member Jack van der Meulen died in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after a debilitating disease. Jack taught at the Nyingma Institute for over 25 years.

“Jack’s kind and gentle spirit shone through everything he did,” wrote former Nyingma Institute Dean Sylvia Gretchen, “Deeply devoted to Nyingma, he offered students at the Institute a reliable path to self-awareness and relaxation through Kum Nye. His legacy endures in their lives and in the lives of all of us who knew him.”

“Jack was a loving, kind, open-hearted being who introduced countless people to the treasures of Kum Nye and the spiritual life,” wrote Kum Nye teacher Peggy Kincaid. Peggy recalled that she first got to know Jack when she began teaching at the Institute, more than two decades before:

As a beginning Kum Nye teacher I attended Jack’s classes wanting to learn and understand how he taught Kum Nye.  When Jack walked into the meditation room he was a striking figure, tall, lanky and back then, with a long ponytail.

Jack had a way of contacting space. That was an important aspect of his teaching and what I most remember learning from him. For new students of Kum Nye who were anxious or unfamiliar with meditation and sitting in stillness, Jack was patient and attentive guiding his students inward.

Barry Schieber, another former Dean of the Nyingma Institute, pointed out that Jack “was dedicated and reliable. Small virtues that often go unnoticed.”

Kum Nye teacher Santosh Philip  began taking Kum Nye classes when Jack started teaching at the Nyingma Institute and had Jack as one of his first teachers:

Clearly Jack was doing something right, since I have practiced Kum Nye ever since then and teach Kum Nye. On the first day I remember asking him: “How did people figure out these exercises and how can you come up with a new one?” At that time he told me that he didn’t know. Many years later, as he was teaching I got an insight about how to make new exercises. It came completely from the way Jack was teaching. I told him that he had shown me. I still go up to the Nyingma Institute thinking he will be there and that I can go to his class. When I teach a workshop, I think he will be teaching with me. Maybe he is.

Jack’s impact on his students emerges clearly in this memory by his student Diana Shapiro:

Jack was and is an irreplaceable teacher and an irreplaceable influence in my life for many years.  I started practicing Sunday Kum Nye back in 2000 so I was fortunate enough to have taken countless classes from him.

Jack was a really important teacher to me.  He taught me how to enjoy my human embodiment.  I can never repay that!  I learned from him that the energetic and sensory experiences of my body are a source of great relaxation, joy and even delight.  He taught me about being gentle with myself.  He taught me how to feel like a water plant, both literally and figuratively, deeply grounded and firm but at the same time flexible and open.

Peggy Kincaid also mentioned that she was able “to spend time with Jack and his wife Candace outside the Nyingma Institute and he was as much a devoted husband as he was Kum Nye teacher.”

Nyingma Institute Kum Nye teacher Abbe Blum recalled Jack’s and Candace’s generosity, their combined care and devotion for the Institute itself—from the meditation room, and the upkeep of the building, to concern for the well-being and progress of students. “Chanting during the 2020 Longchenpa Ceremony with Jack in my heart, I would look at the glass table top that he and Candace had had specially cut for the altar with the great wish that he be blessed and protected by the Nyingma lineage, the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas.”

We along with Peggy Kincaid want to “offer gratitude for his dedication to the Dharma. His was a life well-lived.”

Jack at work in the Nyingma Institute kitchen

Jack “flying” in front of the altar at the Nyingma Institute

Jack with Candace

Ways to Help: Seeking a Used Car

April 25, 2020

Hi everyone, 

After 8 years of service our reliable donated car, a grey 2005 Volvo S40, has started having transmission problems and is no longer safe to drive. Unfortunately, the value of the car is less than that of the replacement part needed, so it is time to bid farewell to this trusty steed. 

We rely on this vehicle for all procurement and transportation needs, for everything from picking up weekly groceries and supplies, to retrieving medication for those in our community without transportation, to picking up retreatants and stranded volunteers in emergencies.

As a residential community, one person handles procurement for the entire group. This includes the organization of, ordering, and pickup of items as necessary. We’d like to thank this person (Caz!) for her ongoing support, and also to replace this very necessary tool — a vehicle — as soon as we can. (As context, our culture is one of full-time volunteers who live and work on site as staff. We like to think that living and working together is both a good way to practice and to have a lighter impact on the environment.) 

At the moment, we are sheltering in place and relying heavily on deliveries, however we still need a working vehicle to rely on for emergencies.

We are seeking recommendations for a safe, lightly-used car to purchase, one without major repairs needed, for transporting supplies and people. If you have a friend or trustworthy acquaintance who is selling a car of this description, please put us in touch. 

Thank you for your help and support!

In gratitude, 

NI Residential Staff 

May 29, 2020 

Update:  We have been gifted a well-maintained, lightly-used car! Thank you so much to our dear friend for the donation. 

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Caring: Finding Beauty and Radiance in Difficult Times

Caring: Finding Beauty and Radiance in Difficult Times

The Nyingma Institute often offers Nyingma Psychology classes based on Tarthang Tulku’s newest publications, including Caring. This online class, taught by Pema Gellek and Hugh Joswick, helps students cultivate inner resources to care more fully for themselves and to open to the possibilities of beauty, friendship, and meaningful action even in the most challenging of times. 

April 25, 2020 —


How would you describe this class?  

Pema:  It’s a practice oriented course with contemplations, practices and discussion on the theme of finding beauty in the midst of a dark, tough time.  The beauty is of any kind – the natural world, human qualities and actions that connect and uplift us, aesthetic, cultural and intellectual inspiration that speak directly to this moment.

Hugh:  Bringing care to our experience is to make space for beauty. In this class we cultivate opening the heart so as to open our capacity to care. Care operates in both an immediate way, responding to the needs of what is cared for, and a more expansive way connected to the nature of awareness.

What do you hope that students learn or are able to take into their lives?

Pema:  We want to encourage stillness, resilience, attunement to beauty, and the possibility of caring at all times, especially when we feel the most challenged.  We will be shifting from regime of mind to direct experience of the senses and a knowing that powerfully integrates the head and the heart.  Each moment we can undo the knots of the mind and heart by pressing in deeper on the presentations of mind and taking a stance of questioning, curiosity and gratitude for the miracle of our embodiment.

Hugh:  By learning to care more directly for our embodiment we begin to explore the shimmering, receptive quality that is present before perceptions crystalize. Through discussion, practice, and development of attention, we encourage the perception of beauty as an element available in every moment. Beauty becomes a guide to the cultivation of care. How often do you notice beauty during a day? What do you notice when you notice something beautiful?

What types of practices or content will be shared?  

Pema:  We will do breath practices, different practices working with the senses, and weekly “beauty challenges.” We will discover the radical possibility, the daringness of finding beauty that heals and liberates in the thorniest of moments.  We come to realize this is not just relevant to this moment but a life-long practice of how we can accept our pain and our worst fears as teachers that reveal the very nature of our existence, always full of polarities, but offering the possibility of integration through beauty and caring.

Hugh: It is not exactly a meditation class, but a serious reflection on the nature of caring and the awareness of caring in the act of perception. It will encourage students to practice caring in all aspects of their experience:  Beauty is another way in to the power of caring. 

Early Drawings & Coordination: Interview with Nathan

Early Planning & Coordination   

Interview with Nathan Galanter 

April 22, 2020


When did planning for the garden project begin?

Nathan: The seed of the garden project started much earlier but I began actual planning full time after finishing the drum project. All of us contributed our ideas together with Pema and Palzang and I started with that pencil drawing followed by the SketchUp model as well as that storybook [a presentation with reference images and a narrative of the garden’s intended use]. That was the start of March 2018. The first meeting with David Warner and John Wong at the Institute occurred a month later at the beginning of April 2018. It’s been over two years!

When did the vision of the garden take hold for you? What about the project has been most exciting for you?

I think I really started to see how encompassing the vision was as I was creating the 3D model. There were earlier drawings — I just found a transparency sketch dated Dec 8, 2016 — but it was during the modeling stage where all the different ideas were being worked out. There are so many parts to this project and hundreds of small decisions that have to be built up in line with each other in order to realize the full vision.

I am always interested in learning, especially when it comes to complicated problems and systems that are new and challenging. This project required a constant new education in various fields; a crash course in 3D modeling, building processes and materials, navigating the realm of city permitting, communication with contractors, or even just keeping on top of the budget and schedule.

It’s also inspiring to bring in professionals at the top of their field to help us realize this vision. Their sense of discipline, knowledge, attention to detail, communication, and dedication to the project even after several years is motivating. Also in project management it is necessary to be able to see the intended plan through each detail out to the end results so it is a great way to expand one’s own sense of vision. And of course I was also really excited about making sacred art!

What do you think might be interesting or helpful for other people to know about the process of bringing this project to life?

It was through community contacts and good luck that we ended up forming a relationship with our architect. That was an important moment that set the course of the project. (A similar combination of reaching out to our community and happenstance also gave us the great crew that’s bringing this vision into reality!) When tackling a project of this nature you have to work with many different parties. It can be a challenge to communicate with a multitude of contractors and city officials but it was really neat to see how willing people were to give information and aid in making the vision a reality if we remained patient with the process. After months of planning and waiting, finally seeing the permit accepted by the city was very gratifying for everyone!

The early stages of construction are usually messy and the foundation work done is mostly never seen [as it gets covered up by later stages]. However it is critical for supporting and protecting the functioning topical elements including all the sacred art and architecture. Seeing the heavy machines digging after so much planning was very cool.

By New Year’s, the very beginning of 2020, we hit the milestone of finishing 150 feet of retaining wall to protect the main building and that was very satisfying. A lot of difficult work was done and those pier footings reach 18 feet deep, so it’s going to protect the building for a long, long time. A month or so later we finished all the retaining walls on the site and so all of the landscape is now secure.

There is a good amount of construction still to be done, and of course we are all looking forward to seeing the finishing touches [including the stone veneers, landscaping, and sacred art elements]!

How do you think that this project is an extension of Rinpoche’s vision? How do you view your own work/service in relation to this? What are your hopes for this project, in terms of the intentions going out into the world?

The Padmakara garden project is an extension of the offerings of the lineage. It is one contribution, among many, to the manifestation of the Buddhadharma in our time. The impetus you might say came from the leadership of the Institute directors Pema and Lama Palzang, who initiated the concept and are providing the backbone of commitment to see it through. Groundwork was also laid by previous community efforts, resources, and leadership with the desire to transform the landscape into a space of sacred offering. Which in turn was all made possible by the Institute’s very existence created through Rinpoche’s visionary activity. His work to preserve and carry on the lineage of his teachers is on a vast scale. We have the opportunity to enter this field of merit in our work through projects such as this one. That is how I view my small part of service in the context of the garden’s creation.

The intention to manifest a beautiful space for inspiration, teaching, and practice is our guide and I hope the result is long lasting and of benefit for all the sentient beings who come to visit.

Sentient beings inclusive of both people and the local critters?

Yes! I look forward to seeing the goldfish and dragonflies enjoying the garden again.


Letter from Rinpoche

Nyingma Net

Practicing Together with NyingmaNet

April 8, 2020

Dear Friends of Nyingma,

In these uncertain times, it seems especially important to practice together, find new ways to keep in touch with each other near and far, and deepen our understanding.

The undersigned, all long-time students of Tarthang Tulku, invite you to join NyingmaNet, a free new program to be offered online starting Friday, April 17.

NyingmaNet meetings will take place online every Friday from 8:00-8:45 AM California (PST) time on Zoom. Teachers and members throughout the international Nyingma community will contribute to NyingmaNet. There will always be some form of meditation or Kum Nye or other practice to support our inner balance. There will also be interviews, project updates and special practices drawn from other aspects of Rinpoche’s teachings.

To join NyingmaNet please send an email to . We will do our best to send you program information ahead of time. New friends are welcome, so feel free to invite others who may be interested.

The first session of NyingmaNet will take place on Friday, April 17, from 8:00-8:45 am, California time (12:00-12:45 in Brazil and Argentina and 5:00-5:45 pm in Europe. There will be 6 sessions through Friday, May 29. In mid-May we will decide if we continue the series.

At the first meeting of NyingmaNet, in addition to a practice for calm and stability, we will have some updates on how the community is responding to the pandemic and Lama Palzang and Pema Gellek from the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley will lead us through some powerful mantras and prayers.

As this is an experiment for all of us, we hope you will share your feedback, suggestions for program items, and tips by sending them to .

We look forward to meeting with you Fridays, starting April 17.

Elske van de Hulst
Abbe Blum
Jack Petranker

Begin Digging! A blog entry from Yuji

Begin Digging! 

By Yuji Matsumoto 

April 6, 2020

Hello everyone, this is Yuji here again, and this time I will tell you about the early days of construction. They say one must destroy to create anew, and while this isn’t always the case, it was for us. However, I’d like to think we were careful destroyers as we were able to salvage much of the material from the old garden. This included slate flagstone, wooden decking and boulders – materials we will make use of in future projects. It was still sad to see something beautiful go. I kept thinking about all the different incarnations this space had been, and all the hands that had put it together. It’s as profound as it is obvious, but it’s fun to think about a house, for instance, and realize that it’s made of tens of thousands of objects, each one placed right where it needs to be, one by one, by a person. 

Once we had salvaged what we could, it was time to bring in the machines and start digging. I love digging and I love machines so I was beyond thrilled at this point. We brought in expert help in the form of Dennis Robins, who is an experienced excavator operator and community friend. An excavator is basically a giant arm with a bucket hand, on wheels. Nathan and I mostly ran the skid steer, which is good at transporting material from one place to another. After removing old retaining walls, hidden masses of concrete and a few unlucky trees, it was time to start working on the first major part of the project: a retaining wall along the main house. 

Our beloved Nyingma Institute is located in the hills of Berkeley where retaining walls are a part of life. When one looks east, one is confronted by a hill, and the first priority of this project was to ensure that it stayed where it was. This retaining wall is nearly 200 feet long, running along the north and east sides of the main building. It is 6 feet tall, and I like to think of it as our guardian protector. Most visitors will never know it’s there because it isn’t very visible, but when all is said and done, it took a significant part of the project’s time and budget to construct it. I’ll try to not get too detailed about the process, but in order to build this wall we first needed to build a road down to it. This required removing hundreds of cubic yards of dirt. It also required some careful maneuvering as we were operating the machines inches away from the building. 

Once a space was cleared, we brought in drilling experts who dug holes 20 feet deep every 10 feet. These holes would later get filled with rebar and concrete to act as the foundation to the walls. They were also just wide enough that when one stood above them, one could imagine falling in. Serious yikes. I should also say that this was a point in the project where I was working almost entirely by myself. Dennis had gone back north, and Nathan, though involved still with the logistics of the project, had transitioned to life outside of the Institute. A former student John Klein would volunteer a few times a week and he was a great help, but it was mostly just me. I would hop into the excavator, scoop some dirt into the skid steer, then hop into the skid steer and drive it away. But together, John and I wove an intricate web of rebar tying all the holes together, and it is here that I will end this entry. Kris and Katie will be writing the next few blog entries, so I’ll see you again in a little bit. 

Next time: Inspections, concrete, and the arrival of Kris and Katie! 

Padmakara Garden Planning: A blog entry from Yuji

Padmakara Garden Planning 

By Yuji Matsumoto 

April 4, 2020

Hello, my name is Yuji and I am part of the residential community and a full-time staff member at the Nyingma Institute. My current duty, along with fellow residents Katie Black and Kris Klark, is to construct our newly designed outdoor space, Padmakara Garden. The project is now past its halfway point, but we’ve decided to start blogging our experience to keep everyone informed about our progress … starting today! Without further ado, Padmakara Garden construction, raw and uncut.

But first, some background. The new space was dreamed up by our deans, Pema Gellek and Lama Palzang, in order to provide an accommodating outdoor area for practice and gatherings. The previous incarnation of the garden was beautiful, but lacked a large open space. Also, its retaining walls and substructure were beginning to fall apart, prompting a change. But where to start? Like all large projects, we needed architects and engineers to provide drawings and specifications. We also have former volunteer Nathan Gallanter to thank for getting the project started. Nathan, along with Pema and Palzang, teamed up with the landscape architects SWA [John Wong and Bill Hynes] to work on the design. [We also consulted with David Warner of Redhorse.] With the building permit in hand, only one question remained: who would build it? 

The Nyingma community has a rich history of working volunteers who have made everything from our large outdoor prayer wheel to the drums we use for chanting. However, it was clear that a project of this scale and complexity would also require professional involvement. After negotiations with local contractors didn’t pan out, the team reached out to longtime community member David French, who agreed to take on the job. David French is a general contractor who has helped to build many large projects for the Nyingma organization and its various centers. We are very grateful to have David on board. At this point, David and the Nyingma Institute still needed to find people to actually do the physical work. Who would they be? Kris, Katie and Yuji. [Yuji joined the team full-time at Nyingma Institute around August 2019, followed by Kris and Katie in September 2019.] 

Kris and Katie will have their opportunity to introduce themselves in future blogs, so I’ll take mine now. I’m Yuji. I grew up not too far from here in Sonoma County, and went to college in Berkeley. I lived a few blocks down from the Nyingma Institute while I was studying but didn’t discover it until I was looking for housing years later. Nyingma had just started renting out rooms to the public, and I was fortunate to secure one in February of 2018. It is a wonderful place with wonderful people – I fell in love right away. At the time, I was working for myself as a licensed contractor, doing whatever jobs came my way. I even did a few jobs around Nyingma, such as helping to renovate our second floor conference room and eventually recladding the outdoor prayer wheel with new wood. I worked with Nathan on these projects and it was a blast, as he is also an accomplished builder. When May of 2019 came around, we were issued our building permit for the garden and it was time to start digging. To make a long story short, I couldn’t resist a good project, especially one right at home. I now feel fortunate to be a part of this community and to be able to offer my skills.

That is all for this time, next time: Padmakara Garden construction begins! 

Garden of the Sacred: The Padmakara Meditation Garden

Garden of the Sacred: The Padmakara Meditation Garden

By C.M. Kushins — journalist and author

March 1, 2020


“Without any commentary or explanation, we can walk through a garden and feel the fullness of the experience … Sustained, nourished, and supported by beauty, the heart begins to open, like the petals of a flower unfolding.  The flower of the heart is the center of the mandala.  When the heart opens, we begin to realize the unity of existence and our communion with nature.”

—Rinpoche Tarthang Tulku


Nowhere are the words of Rinpoche Tarthang best echoed than within one of the Nyingma Institute’s most important and ambitious projects, the Padmakara Meditation Garden.

Since 1973, the meditation garden has been a beautiful, intimate place for students, retreatants, and visitors to practice and reflect in a space of tranquility and refuge. Now, almost 45 years later, the garden is in need of renovation in order to continue serving our community, friends, and visitors.

Thanks to the efforts of a world-class landscape designer, the mindful labor of the Nyingma Institute’s dedicated volunteers and staff, and the generosity of our donors, the garden’s progress is now on an incredible track into restoring the beauty and luster it has long represented within Tarthang Rinpoche’s vision for a sacred space for Nyingma residents and visitors alike.

“This is definitely the largest-scale project that I’ve worked on for the Institute,” says Yuji, a volunteer and resident who has been a core crew member of the Nyingma Institute’s many sacred art and sacred space projects.  “I’ve worked on maybe a dozen projects here, but this is the biggest in scope and one of the largest for the whole Bay Area community.”

The garden itself has long been considered the crown jewel of the Nyingma Institute, and its initial construction dates to the spiritual facility’s 1973 founding.  Envisioned as an intimate place for students—both devout Buddhists and secular alike—retreatants, and visitors alike to practice and reflect in an area of tranquility and refuge, the intricate design of the garden not only contains material embodiments of all eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism, but was uniquely framed to exemplify the Tibetan concept of “the value of sacred space.”

Demolition began in the fall of 2018, with the needed machinery and crew line-up ready to begin the true groundbreaking by May of the following year.  Working alongside officials from the Bay Area—along with inclement weather and the always-needed fundraising for such spiritual endeavors—all added to the ongoing process to get to the garden’s current progress.  Just last month, the concrete was finally poured for what will shape the garden’s gorgeous overall layout, framing the interiors of the intricate design features with a large pond—which, in and of itself—proved mandatory to the beautiful water addition: the reservoir’s concrete also acts as a form of foundation for the garden’s many beautiful elements, including a hillside path for walking meditation, waterfalls, bamboo groves, and a stone courtyard with a lotus medallion design in the center.

“I think that the scale of the project is what drew us in as volunteers,” said Kris, another resident and team member. “We’ve been part of the bigger projects that are part of the community’s mandala, and this seemed like a great crew to work with as one of the largest community efforts in the Institute’s history.” He and Katie have both been involved in numerous large-scale projects at Odiyan Retreat Center, where they gained construction experience and honed their skills.

Of the Padmakara Garden’s successful progress, Katie added, “It’s always funny when you work on an ongoing project like this … There are so many intricate elements that have to go in place, that you don’t always realize how much progress you’re actually making!  Since the weather has warmed up over the last few weeks, we’ve made so much headway, the real beauty of the garden is started to take shape.” 

All are invited to be part of the creation of Padmakara Garden — a precious jewel of a cultural heritage garden, with Tibetan sacred art and architecture set in a lush Himalayan themed garden, balanced by modern architectural accents. As the final element of the Tibetan sacred symbolism, the completed garden will act as the crown “jewel” of the Institute, serving as a living representation of Tibetan cultural heritage for visitors and residents of the Bay Area to enjoy and find inner peace.

Learn More:


Letter from the Deans for Winter & Early Spring 2020

December 2019

Dear Friends,

As a new year approaches, it’s worth contemplating what you would like to cultivate and invite into your life. Here at the Nyingma Institute, we take to heart our responsibility to hold open a space for inquiry, discovery, and transformation, so that we can empower individuals with life-long tools for accessing their own inner wisdom. We see ourselves as part of a greater movement supporting meaningful living, universal wisdom, and visionary goodness in a time when the planet’s very survival depends on such values.

Many of the fields of study we offer are powerful and unique in that they essentially address how to balance and transform mind without relying on Buddhist terminology, dogma, or ritual. In addition to supporting well-being and balance, we also hold open a doorway to an authentic and ancient lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the Nyingma tradition for those seeking the richness, depth, and beauty of a traditional Dharma path. All these transformative teachings reach us through our founder, Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, to whom we are tremendously grateful.

Awakened beings have described our experience of suffering to be like a bubble or weather pattern that forms when we operate from a view of the absolute centrality of the self. How can we investigate the dark unknowing that swirls in the center? We are very fortunate, here at the Institute, to be able to draw upon an array of incisive, accessible methods that allow us to question, touch, and release the deepest knots of mind, taking us right into the mystery of our being. As practitioners we come to understand that we must continually seek out the edge of the known, where there is an incredible play of light that moves between confusion and knowing. It’s deeply rewarding to see how individuals encounter these teachings and engage their own direct experience, shining light on fractured areas and discovering that these are the very places where wholeness and freedom can manifest.

We warmly invite you to join us at the Nyingma Institute for a class, workshop, or retreat this year, so that you may delve into your own being through Tibetan Yoga, Buddhist studies, contemplation, and meditation.


Pema Gellek and Lama Palzang
Deans, Nyingma Institute

P.S. How you can help:
• Have an old but reliable van or car you’d like to donate? We are seeking a vehicle.
• Full-time and part-time volunteer positions are open. Experience in bookkeeping, IT, promotions, or construction is particularly helpful.
• We have a major renovation and construction project to create a sacred contemplative garden that will continue through 2020. Donations are tax-deductible, as we are a volunteer-run, 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Thank you so much for your support!

What makes “Path of Liberation” special?

What makes “Path of Liberation” special?

This program is an excellent entry point to the vastness of this body of knowledge that is our lineage, a living path, and a shared human inheritance that becomes all the more precious the more we appreciate its origins, sources, and context.

Two Year Buddhist Studies Program 

The Path of Liberation Program is a training in Buddhist study and practice that introduces students to the basic cognitive and experiential teachings of the Buddha. Texts will be drawn primarily from the Mahayana tradition.

Upon completion of the Path of Liberation Program, students will have a basic understanding of fundamental Buddhist teachings, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eight-fold Noble Path, Karma and Klesha, Interdependent Co-operation, and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. They will be familiar with Buddhist history and important works of literature.

Deepen your understanding of the living spirit of Buddhist teaching and practice.

Program components: 10 classes, 15 workshops, 1 retreat.

Why enroll in the Path of Liberation program?

Complete a two year course of study that is about the living spirit of Buddhism, an “insider’s” approach to practice, history, and its traditions.

This is more than being exposed to inspiring ideas, it’s about your inner journey, integration, and embodiment.

Please contact us to talk to an advisor!  (510) 809-1000 

Letter from the Deans for Fall 2019

Letter from the Deans for Fall 2019

August 8, 2019

Dear Friends,

It is well known that the Buddha taught a universal love and compassion that had a profound effect on all who met him, but he was also modeling a revolutionary way of caring for our mind at the deepest level, in order to resolutely pursue and come to know reality. The path he opened did not lead to some other transcendent dimension free from suffering. Instead, he offers us the possibility of a journey straight into the heart of reality, into an unfailing operability of knowing, shining and pulsing within each present moment.

His proclamation of reality as the ultimate medicine of liberation remains as startling today as it was two and a half millennia ago.  We stand, just like the Buddha’s first disciples, astonished at his invitation to enter reality as it is, and begin the ultimate journey that lies before all beings: to awaken from the dream of the self to a freedom that has no derivation, no point of reference in our limitations, and no reversibility.

The “how” of how we get there has been taught by the Buddha as an exacting process of study, contemplation and meditation.  Not merely cleansing and cultivating the intellect, this training aims at total embodiment of wisdom and compassion through a deep form of caring for the endlessly creative producers of experience — mind, body, speech, the sensory fields, and the subtle energies.

We live in a culture and an age of self-improvement, where we are always trying to “fix” ourselves, and worship at the altar of the ever-elusive perfect version of ourselves.  What would it mean to expand our imagination, to relinquish attachment to all “image”, and journey inward instead, into the depths of mind, where experience gets prepared, cooked, and consumed with the convincingly impenetrable feel of the “real”?

Here at the Institute, in a holistic way, we can practice the teachings of the Buddha, Padmasambhava, and other enlightened, extraordinary masters of this wisdom-lineage, including our founder and my father, Tarthang Rinpoche. Thanks to Rinpoche’s great skill and compassion, we have a rich array of secular and traditional dharma teachings that provide accessible, incisive lines of inquiry that can help us unfold our own unique manifestations of wakeful humanity.

Lama Palzang and I, our faculty and our staff are here to support you, ready to share our own curiosity, joy, and experiences on the path as we hold the space for your own discovery.  Please know that when you step into the Institute as a student, you enter a place that is connected to an authentic lineage of enlightenment. This lineage does not seek worldly power or many followers. It exists in order to keep alive the sublime pathways to the heart of what it means to be human. Its treasures are available today because its masters were passionate lovers of knowledge, tenacious practitioners of merit, and deeply devoted servants of universal awakening. Together, we can follow in their footsteps. Together, we can do our best to cultivate the same passion, tenacity, and devotion on our own journey.

With all best wishes,

Pema Gellek and Lama Palzang

Why Study Tibetan?

Why Study Tibetan?

Why Study Tibetan?

A Language Created for Translating Dharma

Translation literally means “to carry across.” It is said that the Tibetan language was created with the purpose of translating Dharma texts. Translations into English are still works in progress and in the process of being improved upon.

The terminology and understanding of translators at present is not adequate to convey certain meanings of the Dharma.

Tarthang Tulku

Milking the Painted Cow (2005)

In general, when translating any Buddhist teachings from Tibetan into English, especially precious wisdom teachings, there is a language problem, since it is difficult to connect substantial, nihilistic ordinary expressions with insubstantial wisdom expressions.

Dharma words are connected to mind, mind is connected to wisdom, and wisdom is intangible. Therefore, whoever translates Dharma must try predominately to write about the intangible qualities of wisdom . . . If words are chosen with the misinterpretation of substantial word habit, these qualities can be turned into ordinary intellectual, philosophical, or material conceptions.

For those who like to study or practice Buddhism, it is of great benefit to learn literary Tibetan rather than reading translations, since it is the most vast and profound language in the world in this generation for conveying pure spiritual meaning.

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Sunlight Speech That Dispels the Darkness of Doubt (2015)

What might people be surprised to learn about the Tibetan language?

Tibetan is the largest and most comprehensive repository of the Dharma in the world. The Tibetan written language was specifically and consciously designed to translate the teachings of the Buddha. Unlike Chinese and other East Asian languages, Tibetan is alphabetic and largely mirrors the Sanskrit alphabet, thereby affording highly precise and accurate translations.

What type of person is the Tibetan language course designed for? Or, what kind of person would particularly be interested?

Many Tibetan students are engaged in traditional study, including a personal engagement with the ngondro or preliminary practices. The study of Tibetan provides the time to engage traditional Dharma materials in much greater depth and detail than simply reading translations in English.

How much homework is there?

We recommended that students engage in Tibetan for a minimum of 20 minutes each day.

What types of reading / texts do you frequently work with for Beginning classes? What about for Intermediate?

Once students have grasped the basics of the alphabet and grammatical structure, we start with short prayers and texts, gradually moving towards longer works like the Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva. Our focus is on writers central to the Nyingma tradition such as Lama Mipham and Longchenpa.

What does the Beginning class start out focusing on?

Beginning Tibetan starts with studying the alphabet and then moves into a close study of the phrase connectors that form the unique grammatical structure of classical Tibetan.

I started to study Tibetan as a way to deepen my understanding of the prayers and practices recited in  my practice. The language class here is taught as written Tibetan, starting with the very basics like alphabet and pronunciation, and a systematic look at the grammar. This is supplemented very early with translating text, which lifts it out of a purely mechanical language study into Dharma practice. Applying what is learned in the grammar in this way builds a sense of the structure of the language, and vocabulary is acquired fluidly. Most of all, I have come to treasure the effort Mark makes to clarify the meaning of the text as Dharma teaching. The longer I study the more the beauty of language and the texts shine!
L. H.

Tibetan language student, Nyingma Institute