THE NINETIES…Rinpoche’s early experiences in the United States included exposure to the creative and intellectual energies of his urban environment. He became especially interested in art, film, and graphic design. He also took note of social issues and the dramas of the American political process. His contact with an open-minded American culture and a new generation of students who were interested in finding a genuine spiritual path deepened Rinpoche’s thinking on how best to teach Buddhism in the West. He began to develop a vision of a genuine lineage of Western Buddhism, one that would be unencumbered by the social, religious, and political cultures of Buddhism’s past, which often overshadowed the original teachings of and the principles emphasized by the Buddha.
In 1992, Rinpoche was invited to assume the spiritual direction of a Buddhist community in Vancouver, BC, Canada-another dynamic urban center. Vancouver became Rinpoche’s first home in North America, and he lived there for several years teaching to a growing community of students. He also traveled widely during this period, responding to teaching invitations across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.
Nitartha International: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern MindTM
Rinpoche’s interest in technology, coupled with his love of Buddhist literature, led him in 1994 to found Nitartha International, a non-profit New York educational corporation with headquarters in Seattle, WA. Nitartha International preserves endangered Asian texts and art in digital formats and in modern-style print publications and provides technological and educational resources to likeminded scholars, software developers and professionals from varying fields. The broader mission of Nitartha International is not only to preserve the rarefied wisdom of East Asian contemplative traditions, but to modernize its delivery and make it accessible to modern people in the East and the West alike.
In 1996, through the inspiration of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Rinpoche established a division of Nitartha International that he named Nitartha Institute, a systematic and comprehensive program of higher Buddhist studies. The Institute’s curriculum reflects the rigorous philosophical training of Rinpoche’s own monastic college, yet adapts it for Western students and integrates it with the practice of meditation. Students who have completed the foundational and intermediate curriculum, passing all examinations, may apply to the Institute’s three-stage teacher training program. Once the stages are accomplished, a teacher in training is eligible to become an authorized teacher of Nitartha Institute. With Nitartha Institute, Rinpoche sought to combine the best of Eastern and Western scholarly methodologies to create a vehicle capable of transmitting the subtle philosophies and powerful wisdom of classical Indian Buddhism. Rinpoche has taught in great breadth and depth over many years on several of the key sections of the traditional shedra curriculum, including the Middle Way, Transcendent Knowledge, and Valid Cognition. Many of Rinpoche’s courses at Nitartha Institute marked the first time that the topic matter he elucidated had been presented in detail in the English language. As a result of Rinpoche’s teachings and other efforts, Nitartha Institute has developed a sophisticated system of study, complete with a rich library of its own publications and study support materials unparalleled in the West. Rinpoche has installed a large of Western students as faculty members who in turn regularly teach the Core and Intermediate Curriculums of Nitartha Institute throughout North America.
A Pioneer in Translation
In the context of Nitartha Institute projects, as well as publications of Nitartha International and other organizations, Rinpoche has initiated and guided a great many translations of key, never-before-translated works of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and rare meditation instructions. Rinpoche’s passion for Buddhist wisdom to be just as rich and informative in the West as it has been in the East, combined with his exceptional skill with the English language and deep training in Tibetan academic disciplines, has made him a unique contributor to the field of translation.
Nalandabodhi: Gateway to the Buddhist Science of Mind
In January of 1996, Rinpoche was invited to join the faculty of the Religious Studies department at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado, as a visiting professor. The combination of his scholarly prowess, personable demeanor, and surprising knowledge of popular culture drew great interest. In 1997, in response to the requests of students wishing to study formally with him, Rinpoche founded his spiritual community, Nalandabodhi, which soon developed into an international network of Buddhist study and practice centers.
In 1999, after years of constant travel, Rinpoche moved his residence to the port city of Seattle, Washington, just a short distance south from his Vancouver home. With the encouragement and blessing of his guru, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Rinpoche, in 2003, opened the doors to the primary seat of his activities in North America: Nalanda West, “Center for American Buddhism.”
To the great fortune of Rinpoche’s students, Rinpoche developed comprehensive paths of both study and meditation, complete with extensive and accessible support materials, for the members of Nalandabodhi, beginning with the fundamentals and culminating with opportunities to practice some of the most profound Buddhist methods for awakening in a context of a lay householder lifestyle. Rinpoche has convened and taught at an annual, private retreat for the members of Nalandabodhi since 1999.