Nitartha Institute: Dharma Without Compromise

The following article is from the Autumn, 2003 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


"Dharma without compromise"

The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche had just finished a talk at a Public Day program at this past summer's Nitartha Institute in which he used the above phrase. Afterwards, as we were walking back to his residence, he turned and said, with the usual sparkle in his eye, "Maybe this should be Nitartha's new slogan...."

Nitartha Institute was founded in 1996 by The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche under the guidance of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. While many Western Buddhists have embraced two of the three main elements of the Buddhist path, meditation and conduct, the study of Buddhist view has been underdeveloped and undernourished in the West. It is this gap which the Institute aims to fill by making translations, transcripts and live oral teachings by master teachers available to Western students through a creative blend of Eastern and Western styles of pedagogy. The Institute offers Western students an authentic transmission of higher Buddhist philosophical theory and practice from the monastic college (shedra) tradition of the Tibetan Kanna Kagyu lineage.

images Above photo: Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche teaching (photo by Steve Seely)

Combining a systematic course of study with training in Tibetan Buddhist forms of meditation and debate, the Institute introduces Western students to the ancient Tibetan Buddhist science of mind and gives them a sound basis in Foundational and Mahayana Buddhism for understanding Vajrayana, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Through the transmission of oral teachings and translations of key texts along with their commentaries, the Institute is helping to transplant this ancient oral and philosophical tradition to the West.

Nitartha Institute convenes for annual programs each summer in North America and Europe, as well as for shorter programs throughout North America. It is envisaged that the Institute will grow into a year- round educational institute that will permit students to continue into a course of study designed to develop fully trained Western acharyas (senior teachers), authorized to teach and represent the tradition and, thus, to aid in its transplantation to the West.

This summer, for the eighth year in a row, Nitartha Institute had a most successful month-long program, for the first time on Vancouver Island at Queen Margaret's School in Duncan, British Columbia. Over 50 students attended, most for the entire month. People came from all over North America, with surprisingly many from the East Coast. Some were very new practitioners, some were very old (in more ways than one). All were connected by the desire to invigorate their practice by going more deeply into the meaning of the view.

Ponlop Rinpoche taught Vajrayana View from the Profound Inner Reality by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, while our two Acharyas, Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen and Tashi Wangchuk (who both graduated from the same Rumtek shedra as Rinpoche), taught Analytical Meditation, Madhyamaka/Middle Way School and the Mahayana Stages of the Path.

For the first time, the three traditional courses of the first year student curriculum were combined into one course called "Mind and Its World." This course brings together the study of three classic shedra texts: 1) the "Classifications of Mind" (Lorik),on the various types of mind, and how they function, 2) the "Collected Topics" (Dudra), which gives a detailed analysis of all the categories of phenomena according to the Abhidharma tradition and how they are apprehended by mind, and 3) Hinayana tenet systems (Truptha), which presents the view, path, and fruition of two major schools of Foundational Buddhism. Also for the first time, analytical meditation was tied in closely with the daily content of this new unified class, instead of proceeding as a separate class.

As a confirmation of the continuing transplantation of the tradition to the West, ten Western faculty were formally certified as teachers of the Nitartha Institute Foundation Curriculum by Rinpoche: Karl Brunnholzl, June Crow, Tyler Dewar, Stephanie Johnston, Harrison Miller, Joseph Parent, Linda Patrik, Steve Seely, Phil Stanley, Scott Wellenbach

Nitartha has grown to the extent that Steve Seely has been hired as the Managing Director of the Institute. He will take on additional administrative responsibilities, while continuing to serve as codirector along with Scott Wellenbach and Phil Stanley. By hiring a Managing Director, Nitartha will be able to sustain its growth and stabilize the administration for the long-term. This is possible because of the generosity and enthusiasm of many of Nithartha's students and benefactors.

Some of current activities of the Institute include:

  • The growing annual summer program. Next year, at Rinpoche's request, a new Health and Healing module directed by Dr. Phil Weber will be added to the core curriculum.
  • Year-round regional programs in various centers in North America are being instituted to make Nitartha more widely available to those who cannot make it to the summer program. Refer to the Web site at for scheduled programs.
  • Starting this fall, Naropa University is offering a sequence of eight courses based on the Nitartha Institute materials and curriculum as part of several of its M.A. and Master of Divinity degrees, which will allow students to receive a systematic grounding in the shedra curriculum within a graduate degree program. These courses are under the direction of Phil Stanley, chair of the Religious Studies Department there. Please refer to the Web site at index.html. It is expected that about 10 of those students will attend Nitartha next summer.
  • The great classic Kagyu (and, in the future, Nyingma) texts and commentaries are continuing to be translated and published, many for the first time in English. Some of them have only recently been discovered in Tibet or China. Texts to replace those lost to the lineage are also being written by Rinpoche and the Acharyas so that they can be re-introduced. Over $70,000 in major foundation support has been committed to these projects.
  • Nitartha is happy to announce that it is allying with Snow Lion Publications to produce a Nitartha Institute Series of classic Kagyu and Nyingma texts, texts on their related oral traditions, and new texts to introduce Westerners to these in-depth teachings. There are four books in the works at the moment: one each on Lorik and analytical meditation and two on Madhyamaka to be brought out by Snow Lion within the coming eighteen months. The books will be available for use in the Nitartha educational programs at the Institute, at Naropa University and Buddhist centers, as well as being available to the general public.

Nitartha's 2004 summer program will return to Mt. Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. The tentative dates for the two-week sessions are:

  • Session 1 July 10-24
  • Session 2-July 24-Aug 8

Students may come to one session or both (all first-year students should come to the first session or both). Please refer to our website at to confirm dates and for information about the curriculum and registration, or write to us at

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