A Tribute to Tibet

Taste & Tribute 2023

On September 24, 2023, Nyingma Institute will be hosting the 20th annual Taste & Tribute, a benefit dinner for the Tibetan Aid Project featuring 60 guests, 5 courses prepared by 5 amazing chefs, and Live and Silent Auctions.

All proceeds support the continuity of Tibet’s wisdom tradition. Your participation puts Tibetan-language texts into the hands of monks, nuns, and laypeople; fills libraries across the Himalayan regions; supports education; and keeps this body of knowledge alive for the world’s benefit. 


Stories of Life and Death

Stories of Life and Death

November 2, 2022 

by Laurie Hopman 

We teach our children ‘the facts of life’—when do we learn ‘the facts of death?’

Over the course of my life, death became a companion to life. Like most people I had experiences of illness in myself or in family members. 

As a physician, I became party to those intense times in many, many people’s lives. I worked hard to fend off sickness and death. This life [and my vocation as a doctor] is my dharma practice, and I have had the best job in the world, filled with joy and opportunity. The ‘facts of death’ became familiar with repetition.

I discussed with my patients their wishes for end of life care, and I recall smiling inside when a man told me he didn’t need anything in particular because he had decided that he was going to die in his sleep. I have seen people die in agony, I have seen people die unaware, I have seen people die peacefully and surrounded by love.

I thought about all those stories, and what I know from over 30 years of experience working as a physician, but the story that feels most mine to tell is my own. Though I saw impermanence so frequently, I still grew comfortable in my expectations, so accustomed to my own chronic illness and to all the suffering I saw every day that I relegated my [own] death to ‘later.’ 

Then suddenly, it was me who was dying right now. It was 2017. I was attending a retreat at the Nyingma Institute, as I had done once or twice a year since the 1990s. Suddenly I was ill, and in less than a day, with no warning came overwhelming abdominal pain, vomiting and blood. In the middle of the night I had an ambulance ride to the hospital, and my doctor-brain knew exactly what was happening to me as an ulcer ruptured and blood and digestive juices poured into my abdominal cavity. No drugs relieved the pain. With my condition deteriorating rapidly, I knew I might or might not survive.

At that moment I received the most precious gift I can imagine. I had a precious dharma friend, who took my wallet, clothes and phone, and held me and chanted quietly with me amidst all the beeps and noises of the ER. She helped me move my mind that was crazed with pain and chant the Vajra Guru mantra, and hold my concentration there when there was nothing else left that I could do. She was prepared, and she gave me support. In ways I hadn’t always clearly planned, I had prepared and practiced. I couldn’t have been in a better place to experience this crisis. 

By sharing what I know, using my medical knowledge and practicing compassion, as well as my personal experiences, I hope to ease suffering, reduce pain and fear, help people live longer and more satisfying lives, open up space for joy and love. Planning for death and knowing what to expect helps alleviates fear and gives us support. And it is only part of the story, for practice — learning how to relax deeply, how to work with mind, emotions, body, and senses — builds the habits of mind we can rely on. I treasure teachings from the Buddhist tradition to prepare for the time of death because I know the value of that support, and how much I need it. 

After all, ’the facts of death’ are as much part of living as ‘the facts of life,’ and they can help us see what is truly precious about each moment, as well as to face ourselves with less fear, more peace, and a deep abiding gratitude and love for the universe and opportunities we have before us. 

3-Day Program

Healing, Dying, and Awareness

Dates: November 18-20th, 2022

Instructors: Laurie Hopman, MD, Olivia Hurd, Anita McNulty, Lama Palzang, and Pema Gellek


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).