The Karmapa International Institute of Buddhist Studies

The following article is from the Autumn, 1991 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

by Mary Pernal

The newly opened Karmapa International Institute of Buddhist Studies, located just south of New Delhi, completed its first academic year this past spring. Inaugurated on February 6, 1990, it is under the direction of the XIV Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, who is known as the Red Crown Lama of Tibet, and who is a regent of the Karma Kagyu lineage in the in-terim period until the new Karmapa is discovered and enthroned. The Institute is the culmination of the vision of the late XVI Gyalwa Karmapa, Rengjung Rigpe Dorje, (who passed away in 1981), to establish an international college of Buddhist studies in order to provide interested students with an academically rigorous and thorough study program in Tibetan Buddhism.

According to Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, Many people in western countries and elsewhere have developed a strong and sincere desire to study Dharma but they are not able to receive truly systematic or complete teachings. By studying here I believe that practitioners will gain a solid foundation of learning which will aid not only in their understanding of Buddhist ideology, but will also definitely enhance their practice of meditation.

Meditation practice actually has two aspects, or stages. One aspect involves studying and gaining full and precise knowledge of meditation, and the other involves applying that knowledge by training in actual meditation, such as is done in a retreat center, and so on. Both are necessary.

Futhermore, by making efforts to acquire an understanding of the Buddha's teachings, one is able to accomplish two excellent results. The first is that one is able to keep the teachings in one's mindstream purely, without any mistaken interpretations, which has the effect of maintaining the lineage in its pristine and unaltered form, in this case, as it is passed down through the lineage teachers, such as Milarepa. (Our style of meditation comes from Milarepa, so this aspect of our institute is unique to the Kagyu lineage, although in all other respects the studies in philosophy and schools of thinking are relevant to all lineages stemming from the Buddha.)

The second result is that through this knowledge one is able to effectively teach people. If one were interested in only one's own personal meditation practice one or two types of teachings would be a sufficient basis, according to one's interest and predisposition. The Buddha's teaching, however, is a vast and profound treasure, which contains appropriate teachings for each and every type of individual. So, if one has a desire to teach others it is necessary to attain a very broad understanding of the Buddha's instructions. To be an effective teacher requires tremendous versatility, since out of a group of one hundred practitioners, for example, there may be one hundred individual requirements concerning the teachings.

The main instructors of the Institute include His Eminence Shamar Rinpoche, as well as Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and Khenpo Chodrak Tenphel Rinpoche, both of whom are senior khenpos (abbots) and head instructors of Nalanda Institute of Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India, as well. The other instructors include highly qualified acharyas who have graduated from advanced level studies in Buddhist philosophy at Nalanda Institute. In addition, senior western students, who have extensive experience with the Tibetan language, participate in the teaching of language classes.

H.E. Shamar Rinpoche emphasizes the fact that this Institute was created mainly with the intention of serving lay practitioners, and does not function as a monastery or retreat center, since such centers exist elsewhere. Also, the reason for teaching Tibetan language in addition to Buddhist philosophy is for the simple purpose of providing students with an opportunity to obtain a clear and precise understanding of the texts, which, when studied in translation, may give one only a rough idea of the actual meaning.

The course structure has been devised to include compulsory classes in Tibetan language study and Buddhist philosophy. The latter cover such topics as the Buddha's teachings as well as the expositions and commentaries of historically significant Buddhist masters of the Vajrayana tradition. Students can choose from various elective studies according to preference, such as Buddhist history, poetry, logic and valid cognition.

This coming year the philosophy courses will cover four main schools of Buddhist thought: the Vaibashika, the Sautrantika, the Chittamatra and the Madhyamika systems, the first two of which relate to the first cycle of the Buddha's teachings (Mahayana).

The courses will examine in detail the progressive stages of the paths, their view points, conduct and fruition. The textual reference will be The Treasury of Knowledge by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-1899), a proponent of the Ri-me nonsectarian movement which strove to overcome the boundaries separating the various sects of Tibetan Buddhism as well as to preserve precious teachings and to apply the teachings to daily life.

The Institute is presently in the process of becoming accredited, and starting with the new term, beginning October 20, 1991 and finishing on March 15, 1992, it will be possible to follow a four-year course of study leading to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Buddhist philosophy. Short term study is also possible, and those who don't have much time may elect to come for one semester the first year, and the second the following year. Costs will run between $200 and $300 per month for room, board, and tuition according to accommodation. Meals are appropriate for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

Inquires may be sent to the following representatives: Sandy Roberts, 320 E 23rd St #7M, New York, NY 10010, tel. 212-777-5071; or Eleanor Mannik-ka, 614 Miner St., Ann Arbor, MI 48103, tel. 313-668-8246.

Back to all Snow Lion Articles