Building a Stable Foundation of Dharma Practice
A pioneering online Dharma curriculum, the Palpung Thubten Choling Dharma Path program was created in 2006 under the direct guidance of Lama Norlha Rinpoche to meet the needs of serious meditation practitioners who do not 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 dharma students who aspire to do a three-year retreat.
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.
Working with a Mentor
Each level 1 participant is assigned a mentor who is a longtime practitioner and senior student within the Dharma Path program and/or a graduate of the Palpung Thubten Choling three-year retreat. For subsequent levels (2-7), all mentors are three-year retreat graduates. Students meet with their mentor at designated points in the program to review their understanding of the material. Additional meetings may be scheduled as needed to answer questions or provide guidance. Mentors and students meet via a combination of email, telephone, and videoconference, depending on the student’s location and the individual mentor’s availability. When there’s no pandemic, in-person meetings may also be scheduled if feasible.
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.
Dharma Path FAQs
How do I start?
Fees are charged to cover administrative costs of the Dharma Path program. The registration fee for Dharma Path level 1 is $150, payable before beginning the program. The fee for most subsequent levels is $250. Each level is estimated to take approximately a year, but this can vary depending on the individual student’s practice schedule. Dharma Path mentors provide their services freely as part of their practice to benefit beings. Students are welcome to make dana offerings to their mentor. Offerings are entirely at the discretion of the student and not required.
How do I arrange to meet with my mentor?
After you send in your registration and fee, you will be contacted by our Dharma Path administrator. The program’s contact email once you have registered is email@example.com.
Do I have a choice of mentors?
If you know a particular mentor that you would like to work with, it’s fine to request that mentor when you register, and they will be assigned to you if they are available to take new students. Otherwise you will be assigned one of the available mentors, all of whom are senior students within the Dharma Path program and/or graduates of the Palpung Thubten Choling three-year retreat. It is also possible to change mentors at any point during the program if circumstances change or you feel a different mentor would better serve your needs.
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.
Levels 6 and 7 are advanced sadhana practices, respectively the Shangpa Kagyu practice of The Four Deities (Lha Shi) and the tsok pratice of Milarepa, one of the founders of the Kagyu lineage.
What if I have already started other dharma practices such as Ngondro?
You can speak to your mentor about how to integrate Dharma Path practice with your existing practice.
What if I can’t keep the daily commitment?
Consistency is key to progress in dharma practice. The amount of time you spend practicing each day can be tailored to your individual needs, but however much time you allocate to your practice, if you find you are not able to maintain it consistently at least on most days, benefit will be limited.
After I register for the program, what if circumstances arise that prevent me from participating?
Requests for refunds for purposes of exiting the program will be honored under the following circumstances:
- 100% (less $10 handling charge + credit card/Paypal fees) within 30 days of enrollment
- 75% within 2 months of enrollment
- 50% within 3 months of enrollment
If you have any other questions about the Dharma Path program, please contact our administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org.