The Evolution of our Long Retreats

The Evolution of our Long Retreats

Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche first created the Human Development Training Program, an eight week residential summer program, for psychologists, social workers, educators, counselors and other professionals interested in the nature of mind. This program was held annually from 1973-1977.

In 1984, it was expanded into the Four Month Human Development Retreat. Practices in this program were carefully sequenced to help explore the very fundamental operating systems and patterns of human thinking, feeling, and sensing.

In 2019, we are offering a new take on our keystone program. The practices of the Human Development Program will be offered in a two month format — the Healing Mind Retreat

A Few Words from the Retreatants. Here’s what the retreatants of 2016 had to say about their experience with the Four Month Retreat. 



Getting Started & Clearing the Way

Getting Started & Clearing the Way

Garden Updates

First stage: demolition! Clearing the way to make room for the new foundations. 

Protecting the fish. One of the first things we did was to move the fish into a temporary abode; a large tank with a water filter and roof to prevent critters from playing with them. They will be returned to the pond after construction is complete. 

Renovating the Prayer Wheel House. We have replaced old rotting wood and made repairs to the frame of the Prayer Wheel House. 

This monument is one of the largest and first prayer wheels built in the U.S. and is unusual in its design.

Stay Tuned!


Tarthang Tulku arrives in the Bay Area. In a small house on Webster Street, he holds classes on Tibetan language and basic Buddhist teachings on Tuesday evenings, as well as four-hour sessions on Saturdays consisting of basic teachings, prostrations and meditation practice.

Vajrasattva Purification Workshop

April 1 (10 AM–4:45 PM)

All beings carry some negative karma that may present obstacles to the accumulation of merit and wisdom. This workshop will focus on the invocation of Vajrasattva as a powerful means of purification of the negativity of body, speech and mind.  The practice of the Four Reliances and prayers, mantras and visualizations related to Vajrasattva offer a process of deep purification of both gross and subtle imprints of the history we carry within mind.  As karmic bonds loosen in the brilliant light of bodhicitta, mind experiences ease and renewed vigor to continue the path of liberation.

Cost: $80. Instructors: Lama Palzang and Pema Gellek

A Return to Light

April 8 (10 AM-4:45 PM)

The Time, Space, and Knowledge vision describes a “light transmission” that is activated through knowledge. The discipline that leads from darkness to light begins with an experiential exploration into inner time and space. In this workshop, we discover a lightness of being through practices that illuminate the interplay of mind and world. We learn to find points of clarity within the world we inhabit, activating a path of light.

Light, radiance, and clarity then lead us forward on a journey that awakens delight and creativity. This journey takes us beyond outworn identities and concerns. “Lightly” we question the apparent limitation of who we are and what we can do—and mine each moment for clues that point beyond all limits.

Cost: $80. Instructor: Ken McKeon. Based on Tarthang Tulku’s, Dynamics of Time and Space. Open to all levels of students.

Mindfulness through Tibetan Yoga

April 15 (10 AM-4:45 PM)

“Kum Nye is based on mindfulness or body and mindfulness of feeling, the first two of the four foundations of mindfulness that are the traditional basis of the spiritual path.” Tarthang Tulku, Joy of Being.

Tibetan Yoga (Kum Nye) practices take us to direct sensory experience, free from labels or identification. Touching the very roots of perception, they activate the latent power of penetrating insight. This workshop presents Tibetan Yoga practices that develop and maintain mindful attentiveness of body and feeling.  As we partake of a symphony of rich and relaxed sensation, we learn to use the senses as agents of awakened awareness.  

Cost: $80. Primary Instructor: Santosh Philip. Based on Tarthang Tulku’s Joy of Being. Prerequisite: Kum Nye or meditation experience.

Embodiment of Beauty

April 22 (10 AM-4:45 PM)

“As we let beauty speak to us, if we bring our experience close to the heart, it will expand, and even overflow the ordinary boundaries between self and world. We may touch a quality of bliss or openness or merging where being itself is celebrating ecstatically.” Tarthang Tulku, Seeing the Beauty of Being.

Our physical senses are capable of receiving great beauty, bringing moments of exquisite feeling and deep satisfaction. To activate this capacity for beauty, confusion and repressed anger must be cleared out of the pathways of the senses. The Kum Nye practices introduced in this workshop initiate a stream of inner feeling that purifies the senses.

Cost: $80. Primary Instructor: Santosh Philip. Based on Tarthang Tulku’s Seeing the Beauty of Being and Joy of Being. Open to all levels of students.

Seeing Through Self-Images

April 29 (10 AM-4:45 PM)

In this workshop, we will explore the restrictive force of ‘self-images,” the conceptualizations our minds make of who we are. Developing neutral observation of these images, we can recognize how they operate and notice the thoughts and emotions tied up with them. This recognition begins a natural process of healing, allowing us to release negative self-talk and to let go of the images themselves.

Cost: $80. Instructors: Erika Rosenberg and Olivia Hurd. Based on Tarthang Tulku’s Openness Mind. Open to those with some experience in meditation or Nyingma Psychology.  

The Wheel of Life

May 5-6 (Friday, 7-9 PM; Saturday, 10 AM-4:45 PM) 

The symbolism of the Tibetan Wheel of Life demonstrates fundamental Buddhist teachings concerning the force of actions, interdependent arising, and how mental patterns evolve and take form as conscious beings (like us) in various realms of existence. These key teachings point out how suffering arises, is perpetuated, and how it can be brought to an end.

Cost: $95. Instructors: Mark Henderson and Hugh Joswick. Friday, 7-9 PM; Saturday, 10 AM-4:45 PM.  Prerequisite: sincere interest in the Buddha’s teachings.

Integrating Flow of Feeling in the Energy Centers

May 13 (1–4 PM) 

Practices in this 3 hour workshop stimulate awareness and address tension in the head, throat, heart and belly centers. Learning how energy flows through or may be blocked in various centers, we can encourage positive energy, clarity, and more balance in our lives. This workshop is intended to support the Kum Nye students taking the weekly Working with Energy Centers class. Others are welcome to join in

Cost: $40. Instructor: Abbe Blum. Open to all levels of students.

Resolving Problems

May 13 (10 AM-4:45 PM) 

“By testing and refining understanding, we experience directly for ourselves how knowledge works. In time we find knowledge in our hands and in our voice; we know it so closely that there is no need to seek it or even give it names.” Tarthang Tulku, Mastering Successful Work.

Are your thoughts helpful? Do they resolve your problems at home and work? Why do some problems never get resolved and some situations seem hopelessly complex? Innovative cognitive and experiential exercises in this workshop show us new ways of thinking that address our problems directly. We feel better about ourselves and open new windows of opportunity.

Cost: $80. Instructor: Barr Rosenberg. Based on Tarthang Tulku’s, Mastering Successful Work. Open to all levels of students.

Increasing Brain Health through Tibetan Yoga

May 20 (10 AM-4:45 PM)

What is good for the brain is good for the whole being. This workshop presents an integrated program of Tibetan Yoga movement, breathing, and awareness exercises that can increase the healthy functioning of the brain. You will also learn about foods that nourish brain health and how exercise and good sleep patterns can rejuvenate the brain.

Recent research studies provide clear evidence that regular meditation, healthy eating, exercise, and a positive mental outlook slow the aging process in the brain—allowing us to stay healthy and happy longer. Writer Jeffrey Kluger recently wrote in Time Magazine that, “Deciding to live better, it increasingly seems, is the same as deciding to live younger.” Tibetan Yoga helps us to do just that: decreasing stress and negative thinking, while increasing circulation throughout the body as it opens the senses to positive stimuli. Tibetan Yoga instructor, physical therapist, and nutritional consultant Donna Morton has successfully worked for many years with students and clients battling illness and physical limitation. She firmly believes that we are never too old or too young to make healthy lifestyle changes. Says Donna, “Tibetan Yoga offers techniques and approaches that simultaneously benefit body and mind. This is a powerful combination that can be utilized directly to increase brain functioning and health at any age.”

Cost: $80. Instructor: Donna Morton. Open to all levels of students.

Honoring the Buddha

May 27 (10 AM-4:45 PM)

This workshop will focus on meditations and prayers that connect us to awakened presence. Devotions directed in this way can cleanse the dark ignorance and frustration of desire and aversion, transforming mind into a precious receptacle for realization. Staying balanced within this open and responsive space, each thought and each dimension of experience conveys radiance and the visible blessings of the Buddha.

Cost: $80. Primary Instructor: Lama Palzang

Prerequisite: Sincere interest in the Buddha’s teachings.

Dharma Contemplation

The Four Seals

All compounded things are impermanent.

All that is tainted is suffering.

All phenomena are empty and devoid of self.

Nirvana is peace.

Letter from the New Deans

A dynamic point of balance

A letter from the new Deans, Pema Gellek & Lama Palzang
Dear Community and Friends,

Last July, when my father, Tarthang Rinpoche, requested that we become the new deans of the Nyingma Institute, it came as a great honor and surprise. It also made us pause and look with very full hearts to the previous deans, Sylvia Gretchen and Barr Rosenberg. For eighteen years, Sylvia carried out her role as Dean and lead teacher at the Institute with unfaltering love and devotion; in the process, she was able to share the healing wisdom of the Dharma with thousands of students. Barr, too, tirelessly supported the Institute as Dean and as a creative and invigorating teacher, with a profound dedication to the vastness of Rinpoche’s vision.

For quite some time, unfortunately, Sylvia has been facing mounting challenges to her health, and, with the deepest gratitude for her extraordinary contribution to the Nyingma Institute all these years, Rinpoche saw that a new deanship was the compassionate decision for all. It is our hope that we can honor the efforts of our predecessors and continue to learn from their noble and selfless example.

As my husband Lama Palzang and I have stepped into our new roles, we are grateful for this opportunity to offer our energy, knowledge, experience, and deep commitment to the Nyingma lineage. Since I was a child I have witnessed the Nyingma Institute, the first Tibetan Nyingma center in America, take root and flourish and give rise to a remarkably dedicated community. Though Rinpoche went on to engage in other monumental Dharma activities, the Nyingma Institute has always remained central to his mandala of organizations, and the portal through which many of his long-term students have come.

Eastern Tibet
Lama Palzang, like Rinpoche, comes from Tibet, where Dharma is as important as air: it lives in the very breath of people’s souls. Tibet and America couldn’t be more different, and yet here we are now, well past the first flush of this extraordinary encounter. And we have learned so much from one another.

On the surface it might seem as if there is a great chasm of space, time and knowledge between our cultures. Tibet has had an unbroken lineage of realization since the 8th century, when Padmasambhava arrived like a thunderbolt of realization in Tibet, and together with King Trisong Detsen and the Abbot Shantarakshita, laid the field for fruitful transmission. Yet I have found that many Westerners find themselves drawn to the Nyingma tradition that springs from these roots, as if Padmasambhava were answering an important question for them, a question they could not quite put into words.

Perhaps Westerners have such an affinity for that period of early transmission in Tibet, because, we too, find ourselves now in a similar moment of tremendous hope and uncertainty, a moment of knowledge transmission as urgent as it is profound.

Over the last 45 years at the Institute, more than a hundred thousand students have passed through these doors. Since that time, America has undergone great cultural shifts. The first generation of Dharma practitioners in America has already passed; thanks to the efforts of those early pioneers, Buddhism is much more mainstream now, with magazines on all kinds of Dharma topics available at the check-out of every Whole Foods store across the country. But in truth the perspective offered by the Dharma is still a very new one for Westerners, and its future here is still fragile.

Nyingma Institute, Berkeley, California
Since he first began to offer classes here in America, Rinpoche has understood the importance of presenting teachings in ways that transmit the heart essence of the enlightened lineage of his masters. This must take place even as other vital parts of the Nyingma Dharma-vehicle—including the support of traditional forms and practices, and the emergence of a new translation tradition—are still being developed. Both the traditional vehicle and the vehicle that seeks to communicate the essence of the lineage are necessary and precious; both require skillful means.

It is for this reason that the Nyingma Institute offers two approaches: a path that emphasizes Dharma Studies and practices with a Nyingma orientation; and a more secular, humanistic path that offers the wisdom, beauty and practices of Buddhism but does not require belief in a special doctrine. Both paths are reliable, versatile and accessible: trustworthy ways that the ordinary person can benefit from the riches of teachings that Rinpoche has shared with the West.

How do we honor the Awakened Ones with the precious gift of Dharma that we have received? How does Dharma ennoble our life beyond giving us a set of methods that ease our personal suffering? We want to help nurture a community that addresses these deeper questions—a community that studies, contemplates, and meditates upon the teachings of the Buddha and the Nyingma lineage and at the same time, endeavors to benefit others in the most effective way, by working to support the longevity of the Dharma on this planet.

From our standpoint, especially at this moment in history, the purpose of studying Dharma is not just to gain peace for ourselves, but to find a dynamic point of balance between individual practice and active engagement in service of humanity, so that all we learn can become a force that brings more and more goodness into the world.

The Buddha’s footprints, Bodhgaya, India
Here at the Nyingma Institute, we will continue to try to follow Rinpoche’s distinctive approach, to look with unflinching honesty and tenderness at our own experience, so that we might discover the radiant truth of the Buddha’s teachings in the story of our own lives.

Lama Palzang and I, along with our dedicated faculty, would like to share the teachings in ways that speak to and benefit the whole person at all stages of life. As a community composed of individuals and families, we aspire to create a place of contemplative refuge, a spiritual home where all can learn to nurture and align the heart, mind, and body and deeply open the senses and discover a sense of the sacred, and enter a traditional path if they wish.

Lama Palzang’s teaching will draw upon his own extensive training in Tibetan Buddhist mantra and authentic retreat practices, as well as crucial fundamental practices like Ngondro. These preliminary practices are common to all the Tibetan schools, and it is an honor and a privilege to make them available to our students here in the West.

For those who aren’t inclined to the ritual or cultural aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, we will, of course, continue to offer teachings such as Kum Nye Yoga, Nyingma Meditation and Psychology and Skillful Means—healing and inspiring paths that help restore well-being, arouse energies of love and compassion, expand inner freedom, and awaken the potential in all of us to live meaningful lives based not on ego, but on kindness and respect for all beings.

Over the years, many who studied with Rinpoche have gone on to become influential pioneers in their fields, whether in physics, psychology, philosophy, religion, or meditation. We are very interested in reconnecting with our old students, and working together to bring new and diverse perspectives to the Nyingma Institute. Exploring the arc of the knowledge they gained here, we could create new programs, seminars and talks together that are relevant to the needs of our time.

Water lily in the Insitute’s Meditation Garden
We have many questions to explore together. How can we expand and refine the fields of the senses to take in the exquisite beauty of this world?  What are the entry points for going beyond language, identity, and karmic patterning, to journey into our innermost being? Can we learn to dwell in the heart of space, freed of the structures of the self and of ordinary, chronological time? If we can become the carriers of realization, with what wisdom shall we answer the cries of suffering beings and the earth itself?

With all our hearts, we thank you for supporting the Nyingma Institute all these years. As your spiritual friends, we hope that you will approach us with your needs and concerns so that we can carry out our purpose of serving you and supporting your practice. It takes all of us, deeply seeking beings, showing up with our full humanity to make a vibrant and luminous community together.


Pema Gellek and Lama Palzang

Deans, Nyingma Institute