A Pioneering Curriculum for the Palpung Thubten Choling Sangha
The Palpung Thubten Choling Dharma Path program was created in 2006 under the guidance of Lama Norlha Rinpoche to meet the needs of sangha members of the monastery and its affiliated centers who would like a structured path for practicing the dharma but don’t have the circumstances to participate in the traditional three-year retreat. Designed to provide an opportunity for significant personal development in the basic meditation practices and contemplation techniques of the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dharma Path program serves as an in-depth curriculum for lay practitioners as well as an excellent preparation for students who aspire to do the three-year retreat in the future.
Independent Study with Mentor Support
The Dharma Path is an independent study program that requires a significant commitment to daily practice and contemplation, under the guidance of a mentor. All level 1 mentors are longtime practitioners and senior students within the Dharma Path program. For subsequent levels (2-7), all mentors are three-year retreat graduates. Students meet with their mentor at the beginning of each level for orientation, and again at the end of each level to review their understanding of the material. Additional meetings may be scheduled as needed to answer questions or provide guidance, and students are also welcome to contact their mentor with questions between scheduled meetings, as needed. Mentors and students communicate via a combination of email, telephone, and videoconferencing, as mutually agreed upon. In-person meetings may also be arranged when circumstances permit.
Scope of the Program
Dharma Path level 1 part 1 introduces students to a variety of foundational techniques of shamatha, or calm abiding, meditation, along with intensive contemplation of the four common preliminaries, or thoughts that turn the mind toward the dharma, as taught by Jamdron Kongtrul Lodro Thaye in his classic text The Torch of Certainty, also available as The Torch of True Meaning. Level 1 part 2 introduces the practice of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion, which includes chanting, visualization, and mantra recitation, and also provides an overview of the structure of sadhana practice. Each level of the Dharma Path is based on teachings by Lama Norlha Rinpoche in the form of recordings, and in some cases, also transcripts.
In levels 2-5, students complete the traditional Karma Kagyu ngondro, or preliminary practices: refuge and bodhicitta (prostrations), the purification practice of Vajrasattva, the mandala offering, and guru yoga. Students are encouraged to complete the full ngondro of 111,111 repetitions of each practice, which is a prerequisite to many advanced practices and teachings within the lineage; but they are also given the option to complete an abbreviated “Introduction to Ngondro” that requires just 30,000 repetitions of each practice as a minimum prerequisite to move on to the next Dharma Path level. Please note that completion of the 30,000-repetition “Introduction to Ngondro” does not count as completion of the traditional ngondro and cannot be used to meet the ngondro prerequisite for any program outside the Dharma Path itself.
Levels 6 and 7 are advanced sadhana practices, respectively the Shangpa Kagyu practice of The Four Deities (Lha Shi) and the guru yoga tsok feast of Milarepa, one of the founders of the Kagyu lineage.
Participation in the program consists of listening to assigned teachings by Lama Norlha Rinpoche and other teachers, reading assigned texts, and applying the teachings through contemplation and meditation on a daily basis. For those with a typical work week, the recommended daily commitment is one hour a day of practice on workdays and two hours a day on two days off, totaling nine hours of practice per week. By following this recommendation, each full level can be completed in approximately a year (this will vary somewhat depending on the level). The time commitment can be structured according to individual needs. Those with more time can complete each level more quickly, while those with less time will take longer. The most important commitment in order to progress on the path is to practice consistently every day, however much time you are able to allocate.
Participants are required to keep an accurate record of their practice hours. Each level includes a time sheet to be filled out as you accumulate practice hours, and shared with your mentor when you complete the level.
How to Register for Dharma Path Level 1
Please note that because we have a limited number of mentors, the Dharma Path program is open only to students who are already participating in the activities of Palpung Thubten Choling Monastery or its affiliated centers, or by referral of a sangha member. If you meet this criterion and are interested in applying for the Dharma Path program, please contact our registrar for more information. Please note that there is a fee for each level to cover administrative costs. The fee for level 1 is $150.