Naropa University: Wikis


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Naropa University
Seal of Naropa University
Established 1974
Type Private, non-profit
President Stuart Calvin Lord[1]
Faculty 198
Undergraduates 451
Postgraduates 634
Location Boulder, Colorado, United States
Mascot Bodhi Cheetahs

Naropa University is a private American liberal arts university in Boulder, Colorado. Founded in 1974 by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa, it is named for the eleventh-century Indian Buddhist sage Naropa, an abbot of Nalanda.

Naropa describes itself as Buddhist-inspired, ecumenical and nonsectarian rather than Buddhist.[2] Naropa promotes non-traditional activities like meditation to supplement traditional learning approaches.

Naropa was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 1988, making it the first Buddhist, or Buddhist-inspired, academic institution to receive United States regional accreditation. It remains one of only a handful of such schools.

Besides spirituality, Naropa is noteworthy for having hosted a number of Beat poets under the auspices of its "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics".



The school as seen from Arapahoe Street.
The Allen Ginsberg Library on the right.

Naropa University was founded by Chögyam Trungpa, an exiled Tibetan tulku who was a Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineage holder. Trungpa entered the USA in 1970, established the Vajradhatu organization in 1973, and then in 1974, established Naropa Institute under the Nalanda Foundation.[3] Initially, the Nalanda Foundation and Vajradhatu were closely linked, having nearly identical boards of directors. In subsequent years they differentiated into more independent institutions.[4]

Trungpa asked poets Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, John Cage and Diane di Prima to found a poetics department at Naropa during the first summer session. Ginsberg and Waldman, who roomed together that first summer, came up with the name for the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

Naropa's first formal degree programs were offered in 1975-76. These included a BA in Buddhist studies and visual art, MA in psychology, MFA in visual art, and expressive arts certificates in dance, theater and poetics.

The MA in psychology was originally designed as an extension of Trungpa's Maitri program—a 16-week meditation course held in Connecticut, and based on Vajrayana teachings on esoteric energy patterns within the mind and body. Trungpa asked Marvin Casper to restructure the Maitri program for use at Naropa as a full-fledged graduate degree program in contemplative psychology. Casper went on to chair that department and edit two of Trungpa’s books. Initially for the degree, students were required to attend three of the institute’s summer sessions, take two Maitri programs in Connecticut and complete a six-month independent project.

In 1977, at Trungpa's urging, Naropa's administration made the decision to seek regional accreditation. Evaluation visits continued through 1986 and, in 1988, Naropa Institute received accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. In the mid-1980s, Naropa's president, Barbara Dilley, asked Lucien Wulsin to chair the board of directors. One of Wulsin's first acts was to formally separate Naropa from Vajradhatu. [5] Ties with Vajradhatu were further weakened with the physical relocation of Vajradhatu's main center to Halifax, and then by Trungpa's death in 1987.

In 1991 Naropa's board of trustees hired John Cobb, a Harvard-educated lawyer and practicing Buddhist, as president. [6] Thomas B. Coburn served in this role from 2003-2009, succeeded by Stuart C. Lord in July 2009.1 Naropa denotes Buddhist teacher Sakyong Mipham as its current lineage holder. [7]

Spiritual principles

Naropa promotes contemplative education—a term used primarily by teachers associated with Naropa University or Shambhala Buddhist organizations—including activities such as meditation, the Japanese tea ceremony, taijiquan, Christian labyrinth, ikebana, and neo-pagan ritual. Robert Goss comments that

Geoffrey Samuel, Reginald Ray, and Judith Simmer-Brown have traced the Shambhala lineage [Trungpa's teaching] back to the nineteenth-century Rimed movement in Eastern Tibet... When Naropa describes itself as a Buddhist-inspired, 'nonsectarian' liberal arts college, nonsectarian translates the Tibetan rimed. Nonsectarian does not, however, mean 'secular' as it is commonly used in higher education. Nonsectarian is perhaps understood as ecumenical openness to contemplative practices and arts of the world religious traditions that foster precision, gentleness, and spontaneity. [8]

Goss goes on to note that as with many U.S. Protestant and Catholic colleges and universities, Naropa has faced pressure to establish independence from its associated religious organization, Shambhala International; but unlike many such institutions, it has avoided relegating religion to the periphery of university life.[9]

Naropa's description of contemplative education makes liberal use of Buddhist language and concepts. For example, its catalogue speaks of "students wholeheartedly engag[ing] in mindfulness awareness practices in order to cultivate being present in the moment"..."the development of openness, self-awareness and insight"...and "interior work" as "preparation for compassionate and transformative work in the world."[10]

As of 2008, contemplative education requirements include: All undergraduate students must select three semester hours of "Body-Mind Practice" such as taijiquan or African dance as well as three hours of "World Wisdom Traditions" which may include a religion course. This is comparable to the religion or physical education core requirements of other universities. In addition certain majors, such as psychology and religious studies, specialized courses in meditation are required. In the psychology program, the type of meditation required is specific to Shambhala Buddhism. Besides these requirements, a number of Naropa's professors incorporate a contemplative element into their classroom teaching or course requirements, such as beginning with a bow or a moment of silence or asking students to consider how to integrate their studies into their lives.

For one day each semester, Naropa University holds a "Community Practice Day," during which regular classes are not held and offices are closed. On this day members of the Naropa community—students, faculty, staff, and others—are invited to participate in group sitting meditation practice during the morning. Other contemplative disciplines are offered throughout the day. Panel discussions, departmental lunches, and community service projects are often offered in the afternoon. The stated object of the day is to cultivate togetherness in the Naropa community and to emphasize the importance of leading a mindful, aware life rather than a high-speed, cluttered one.


In 1979 student editor Tom Clark published ‘’The Great Naropa Poetry Wars”, revealing that during a 1975 Halloween party, Trungpa had ordered the poet W.S. Merwin and his girlfriend, Dana Naone, (present for a three-month seminary program) to take off their clothes. (This was during the 3rd Vajradhatu Seminary held in Snowmass, Colorado.) Merwin and Naone resisted, whereupon members of Trungpa’s “Vajra Guard” (security) stripped them naked, despite their protests and calls for the police. After the incident they stayed to complete the program, but only after Trungpa promised no further trouble. The school later asked Ed Sanders and his class to conduct an internal investigation, resulting in a lengthy report.[11][12][13][14][15]

Eliot Weinberger commented on the incident, in a critique aimed at Trungpa and Allen Ginsberg published in The Nation in April 19, 1980. He complained that Trungpa had successfully captured some of the best minds of his generation, yet he believed their fascination with Trungpa's presentation of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan theocracy created a dangerous exclusivity and elitism in literature.[16]

Academic programs


Undergraduate programs

Naropa University currently offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Students are allowed the option of a double-major or creation of a customized focus of study in the Interdisciplinary Studies program.

Naropa offers the following undergraduate majors:

  • Contemplative Psychology
The program is founded on the mindfulness/awareness teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages, world wisdom traditions, and western psychology. Students choose a concentration in Psychological Science; Psychology of Health and Healing; Somatic Psychology; or Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology.
  • Early Childhood Education
This department offers teacher education. Various western holistic pedagogies are studied for developing one's teaching style. Students are given the opportunity to participate in apprentice-style internships with experienced teachers.
  • Environmental Studies
The program integrates the disciplines of natural science, ecology, horticulture, systems theory, ecopsychology, service learning, sustainable living, and wilderness rites of passage.
  • Interdisciplinary Studies
This program invites its students to design a unique major by selecting courses from two or three different disciplines. Students begin the program by taking the required gateway seminar which surveys the history of disciplines as they are studied and as they constitute major and minor degree programs.
  • Music
This program includes examination of technical skills, emphasis on a multicultural perspective, and elements of composition and recording technology.
  • Peace Studies
This major explores the causes of violence and war and approaches to promoting peace. Within this major there are four related areas of inquiry: history and politics of social change; theory and practice of peacemaking; the arts in peacemaking; spiritual disciplines and contemplative practices in peacemaking.
  • Religious Studies
Varying somewhat by individual program, the department offers a review of religious traditions. Students are encouraged to explore meditation traditions by practicing them directly.
  • BFA in Performance[17]
This program includes technical training with mindfulness awareness practices and cultural studies.
  • Traditional Eastern Arts
Students choose a major area of concentration from the following disciplines: t'ai-chi ch'uan, yoga, or aikido. The program also includes the study of the history, philosophy, and culture of the major discipline, and was the first degree program of its kind offered in the United States.
  • Visual Arts
This major offers studio electives in several painting mediums, calligraphic forms, sculpture, pottery, and photography. Required courses in drawing, the history of visual art, meditation in conjunction with studio practice and portfolio preparation form the foundation of the major.
  • Writing and Literature
The writing program at Naropa favors creative writing in verse and prose. Literature majors are required to complete a critical thesis. Courses offered by the department are taught by active, published writers.

Graduate programs

Naropa University offers twelve (or fourteen when foreign language requirements significantly alter Religious Studies and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism) master’s degree programs. Some are available as low-residency programs.

Master of Divinity
This three-year program results in a Master of Divinity degree, used most often in pastoral care, chaplaincy, dharma teaching, and community development careers.
Master of Arts in
  • Contemplative Education
This is a low-residency graduate program in education that includes contemplative components. Non-teachers are accepted into the program.
  • Psychology: Contemplative Psychotherapy
The only graduate program in the United States that joins psychotherapy training with Buddhist meditation. Meditation practice and Maitri retreats are an integral part of the program. It meets the requirements for the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential in the state of Colorado. With the LPC students are then eligible to sit for the Colorado State Board licensing examination after graduation.
  • Environmental Leadership
The department is influenced by living systems theory.
  • Indo-Tibetan Buddhism
A two year program of study in Buddhism. Students choose between the History of Religions or a Tibetan Tradition sequence. An Indo-Tibetan Buddhism with Language degree is also available and includes training in either Sanskrit or Tibetan.
  • Religious Studies
In addition to a masters degree in Religious Studies, Naropa offers a variant that includes training in either Sanskrit or Tibetan.
  • Transpersonal Counseling Psychology
Three concentrations are offered: counseling psychology, art therapy and wilderness therapy.
  • Transpersonal Psychology (low-residency)[18]
Offers concentrations in transpersonal psychology and ecopsychology delivered primarily through online classes.
  • Somatic Counseling Psychology
This program offers two concentrations options—dance and movement therapy or body psychotherapy—and meets the academic requirements for the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential in the State of Colorado. With the LPC, students are then eligible to sit for the Colorado State Board licensing examination after graduation.
Master of Fine Arts in
  • Theater: Contemporary Performance
The MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance is offered on Naropa's campus in Boulder, Colorado and was the first graduate program to integrate contemporary physical theater, viewpoints theory and practice, and traditional contemplative practices.[19]
  • Writing and Poetics
The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded in 1974 by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, offers courses taught by active, published writers. The Kerouac School has as its stated mission the education of students as knowledgeable practitioners of the literary arts.
  • Creative Writing (low-residency)[20]
This program is a combination of online work and attendance at the Summer Writing Program.

See also



  • Clark, Tom. The Great Naropa Poetry Wars. Graham Mackintosh, 1979. ISBN 0-932274-06-4.
  • Goss, Robert E. "Buddhist Studies at Naropa: Sectarian or Academic?" Chapter twelve of Duncan Ryuken Williams & Christopher S. Queen (eds.), American Buddhism: Methods and Findings in Recent Scholarship. Curzon Press, 1999.
  • Kashner, Sam. When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School. HarperCollins, 2004. ISBN 0060005661.
  • Hayward, Jeremy (2008) "Warrior-King of Shambhala: Remembering Chögyam Trungpa" ISBN 0861715462
  • Marin, Peter. "Spiritual Obedience: The Transcendental Game of Follow the Leader." In Harpers Magazine. February 1979.
  • Sanders, Ed (ed.). The Party: A Chronological Perspective on a Confrontation at a Buddhist Seminary. 1977.

External links

Coordinates: 40°0′51″N 105°15′59″W / 40.01417°N 105.26639°W / 40.01417; -105.26639


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