Looking Into the Future of Vajrayana Buddhism In the West

Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön, Lama Justin von Bujdoss, and Lama Drupgyu Tenzin (Anthony Chapman) join Lion’s Roar/Buddhadharma editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod to discuss how, or if, the very advanced practices of Tantric Buddhism can be introduced and promulgated in modern Western society.

By Buddhadharma

Lama Drupgyu Tenzin (Anthony Chapman), Lama Karma Yeshe Chodron, Justin von Bujdoss
Yogins meditate on external and internal lights during phases of waking, dreaming, sleeping, and dying, the goal of all the Six Dharmas of Naropa. Mural (detail), Lukhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet. ca. 1700. | Photo by Ian A. Baker.

Melvin McLeod: Thank you all. I think it’s ideal to have a panel of the three of you who, I would say, are among the most highly trained Westerners in advanced Vajrayana/tantric practices.

Perhaps, Lama Yeshe, we could start with you telling us a bit about your background as a practitioner of advanced Vajrayana practices.

Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön: I began my practices of Vajrayana with much more philosophical and linguistic studies: studying the Tibetan language, the typical monastic college curriculum on a scaled-down basis at Rigpe Dorje Institute at Pullahari Monastery in Nepal. Then, after spending some time studying and doing some translation work for the khenpos there, I went into a classical, three-year retreat in the Karma Kagyu lineage, a Mahamudra retreat in Crestone, Colorado, headed by Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche. And that curriculum was fairly standard for a Mahamudra retreat: basically a year of ngondro (preliminaries), guru yoga, and Mahamudra practices, a year of yidam practices, and then nearly a year of the Six Dharmas of Naropa. And I teach more basic-level practices of Vajrayana—so Chenrezig, or Tara—that are commonly presented at different Tibetan Buddhist centers throughout the Americas and in Europe.

Melvin McLeod: Lama Justin, you are someone who has not done the standard three-year retreat.

Lama Justin Von Bujdoss: Thank you, Melvin. That’s correct. I began a yogic-style practice under the late Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, beginning with the practice of Vajravarahi in the Karma Kagyu tradition, under his guidance completing the standard outer, inner, and secret levels of this.

When he passed away, I moved on to study with His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Under his guidance I continued with this and then studied in practice the Six Dharmas of Naropa, and Mahamudra, under him. I also studied Mahamudra under Bokar Rinpoche. Then I was ordained as a repa under His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s kind support.

Over the past six, seven years, I’ve been practicing Dzogchen, mostly within the Yuthog Nyingthig with Dr. Nida Chenagtsang, including the practice of dark retreat. I’ve done five dark retreats over the past few years, and I’m in the process of developing a dark retreat center with Dr. Nida Chenagtsang, and have received ngakpa (nonmonastic Dzogchen and Tantra ordination) under him in the Yuthog Nyingthig as well recently. I teach primarily Dzogchen and Mahamudra these days. Out of the Six Dharmas, bardo yoga, phowa, and illusory body practice are the yogas that I teach, usually within the context of death and dying.

Melvin McLeod: Lama Drupgyu, I believe you are a three-year retreatant as well?

Lama Drupgyu: Yes. I became a student of Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche, the previous Kalu Rinpoche, early on, and took part in the first three-year retreat for Westerners. That took place in France from 1976 to 1980. I was then appointed lama in Paris and instructed to learn French, which I did. After two years in Paris, I was appointed druppön, retreat master, of three-year retreat on Salsbury Island.

And so I led a couple of retreat groups on Salsbury Island before going to India to participate in the translation of the Treasury of Knowledge [by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé (1813–1900)]. Around 2000, I was instrumental in founding Tsadra Foundation, of which I’m vice president and continue to be involved in terms of teaching. More recently, I got involved with Sukkhasiddhi Foundation in Marin and San Francisco, California, founded by Lama Palden, and helped them set in place a three-year retreat curriculum that individuals could go through while continuing in their daily lives. In our retreats, from the beginning, it was a combination of Shangpa Kagyu and Karma Kagyu. I’ve been more focused on the Shangpa. And so I’m currently going through the Six Dharmas of Niguma with a Sukkhasiddhi group. That’s my teaching activity at the moment.

I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to police the dharma world.Providing places to practice with a high level of integrity and a lot of focus on integration is really the best thing that you can do. —Lama Justin von Bujdoss

Melvin McLeod: Even the less esoteric, less yogic practices themselves are often considered secret and dangerous, with one needing to be highly qualified to undertake them. As is often said, it’s like a snake entering a tube: you come out the good end, or the really bad-outcome end. So, let’s start by looking at not even the most esoteric practices, but Vajrayana practice in general: Why is it considered risky and how do we mitigate its risks?

Lama Drupgyu: My point of view is that Vajrayana is made for the modern world. In a certain sense, the vajra mind, the vajra attitude, the vajra approach is really adapted to the modern world. That having been said, there’s a lot about Vajrayana that can appear exotic, and living in a consumer society, inevitably, there’s a tendency for it to become consumerized, where there’s a sense of wanting to pursue the exotic aspect and to collect the teachings. Whereas what we’re talking about here is methodology for deep personal transformation. And that brings us back to the fact that the reason, or not, for secrecy is that there’s a logic to the development of the skill that is needed at different levels, which has to do with the ability and the skill and the nature of focus and attention. As one moves through the logic of Vajrayana training, one presumably develops those skills, as they become necessary for the later stages of practice. I used to joke at one point with students: one of the reasons the Six Dharmas were considered dangerous was that if you learn them and try to practice them without having developed the inner skill, they would not work. And so you would lose any confidence in their ability to be useful—rather than [contend with] some exotic danger like your eyes falling out or whatever one might have read somewhere. 

The key to the understanding of Vajra­yana is that attention empowers the object of attention. So starting from the shamatha side of stability and leading into the insight aspect of the freedom of mind, we become empowered through our practice. And often there’s not an understanding that with that comes responsibility. So in terms of what we might call the dangers of Vajrayana, that’s a much more complex topic.

Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön: I don’t know that Vajrayana, per se, is dangerous on its side. It has a lot more to do, in my mind, with what we bring to it. So our perspective has a great deal to do with it: how we engage the practices, the teacher, the progression. As Lama Drupgyu says, there’s a real logic to the process, but that’s going to vary somewhat.

There’s a standardized progression that I definitely found helpful, but others might find that they can move through the steps much more quickly. I like to think of the perspective we bring to the situation more as subjective purity, with both a sense of taking experience as a teacher, as a guru, and at the same time not dumbing ourselves down or forgetting that things are the way we experience them at the same time. Being able to hold the paradox of how things appear to us and at the same time have a sense of subjective purity is no joke. It’s a difficult thing to do. And there are any number of warnings and vows and so forth that are usually brought up when the danger comes into play. It’s hard to hold [what are] usually described as fragile vows when, at almost any moment, our purity of view can fall away. But I also agree that there are very few practices other than Vajrayana—Mahumudra, Dzogchen—that I can imagine are more suited to our day and age.

Lama Justin von Bujdoss: I agree with both Lama Drupgyu and Lama Yeshe. I definitely feel, for example, that practices like Mahamudra and Dzogchen have a huge applicability for people living in the modern era, primarily because we’re working all the time, busy, not always able to engage some of the complexities that you find with certain aspects of tantric practice—especially the kinds of complexities you find in very complex yidam or deity practices.

I also agree that it’s not inherently dangerous. However, the kind of danger that I see playing out from time to time is ego inflation. I think this is one of the larger problems that everybody, to some extent, at one point in a dharma-practice life, has to learn how to be able to deal with. 

I’ve vacillated from time to time reflecting on this, as to how appropriate it has been for Vajrayana practices to be super-public. Somebody becoming interested in Mahamudra in the first place, even though they’re new to Buddhism in general, might mean that they have a karmic connection with this. So it can be hard to assess. 

The one place where I do see some danger that can be, I guess you could say, “psycho-physio-spiritual,” is with tsa lung trul khor (yantra yoga), with the yogas themselves, that we find in tummo, where you could cause physical harm to your body. But then there’s also a kind of an energetic overload called tsok lung, which can cause psychological problems. I don’t bring this up to scare anybody. My point here is that one of the things that makes Vajrayana so powerful is this union of body, speech, and mind. 

Melvin McLeod: You mentioned ego inflation. That strikes me as probably the main issue that arises in terms of the danger of Vajrayana. In effect, if you are going to say to yourself, “I am actually in my true nature a fully enlightened buddha, and I am going to visualize myself as that in the form of this amazing, powerful, glorious, pleasure-ridden deity,” there’s a pretty strong danger that you could start to feel pretty good about yourself.

So it strikes me that there are a number of factors traditionally that mitigate those dangers. The first of which, and this may be a big problem with introducing Vajrayana in this society, is in effect an understanding of emptiness, of non-ego. If your Vajrayana practice is not based on an understanding of shunyata (emptiness), it could lead to various serious problems, such as thinking you are the greatest ego of all time. Therefore that requires a solid grounding in Buddhist philosophy, of Madhyamika, of understanding of emptiness. 

And then on top of that, as far as I understand, this tradition is dependent upon a relationship with a genuine, realized tantric teacher and full devotion to that teacher. And that alone raises many tricky questions, particularly in the modern world. 

We talked about spending a year doing ngondro as part of three-year retreat. So there are the traditional four 100,000-each practices of ngondro, basically the preliminary to beginning Vajrayana practice. How many people in this society are going to be able to achieve those three factors that are traditionally said to be necessary to have a legitimate practice of Vajrayana? Or is it possible that we need to short-circuit that in some way in order to present this in the modern world?

Lama Justin von Bujdoss: I think anybody who’s done ngondro in retreat will know you can accomplish it in one year. For those attempting to do it in the midst of a daily busy life with work responsibilities and or family responsibilities, it becomes, in some cases, a twenty-year endeavor. This is something that I do think warrants some examination, and I wanna be careful to not throw out the baby with the bathwater, as it were. What kind of possible equivalencies can there be that accomplish some measure of what ngondro is intended to be? 

You can find ngondro practices in early Vajrayana texts from India and Nepal from quite early: ninth century, tenth century. But it really wasn’t until more recently that these have become instituted as they are. I would be supportive of having some examination of how to develop a kind of hybrid system, or look at other ways in which ngondro could be done […]. I think really one of the key factors is the support of and training of teachers who are skilled, have enough experience under their belt, and a degree of realization enough to be able to move into a much more experimental place with this. 

Melvin McLeod: Whether it involves traditional ngondro, study of the middle way and the understanding of shunyata, and a sincere, devoted relationship to a guru, how, in this society, can people do the groundwork that they need in order to be able to practice true Vajrayana?

Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön: Just knowing these are really important issues is a very big point. And I think experience with each of those elements is quite helpful. Realizing emptiness is not the preliminary to Vajrayana practice, but some understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of that practice is really helpful. I’ve done ngondro both in the world, which took me about two years, and in retreat. If you’re doing it in a very concentrated way, that’s possible. But I work with folks who are doing the ngondro in the middle of their ordinary lives. And yes, it takes some years. 

My teacher was also Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, and he would have people do ten thousand of each of the four main ngondro practices of the Karma Kagyu in the space of a year. Rinpoche would also have people incorporate shamatha, vipashyana, Chenrezig, and increasing levels of understanding the philosophical underpinnings of all of those Mahamudra and Vajrayana practices. I’ve found that to be really helpful for myself as well as my colleagues and students. Just having some ongoing connection to a teacher, a lineage, a support system can really help people because any number of psychological difficulties, emotional difficulties, and so forth can come up.

I really couldn’t overestimate the importance of having a one-on-one connection with a teacher. It doesn’t have to be some glorious rinpoche, because you may not have access to that, but someone [with whom] you can work through the material that comes up when you’re doing these intense purification practices. All of those practices you mentioned, emptiness, devotion, and the ngondro practices, are immense purification practices. And it’s helpful to have someone to process that with.

Melvin McLeod: Drupgyu, if you were talking to an audience of people—which you of course are—some of whom might be interested in getting into Vajrayana practices, what would you tell them, in this modern life, is the best way for them to lay the foundation to get into the practice legitimately? 

Lama Drupgyu: We talked about the ngondro practices. Then there’s the creation phase of the yidam deity practice, which is a whole world, a whole approach. Then you talk about the Six Dharmas, where then we’re talking about pathways, energy winds, and vital essence tsalung (yogic exercises).

I don’t know that Vajrayana, per se, is dangerous on its side. It has a lot more to do, in my mind, with what we bring to it: how we engage the practices, the teacher, the progression. —Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön

People hear about the Six Dharmas: “Oh, lucid dreaming. That’s interesting.” But I find in the texts referenced the fact that in yidam practice and the creation phase practices we’re using image and form somehow to manage energy configuration. And in tsalung, our intention is working with energy configuration to manage manifest form. So it’s a whole different approach, a whole different world of exploration. But then there’s the technique, which is very refined. I would say another element is working with a teacher. Ideally, in Vajrayana, it’s transmission from teacher to student, without getting into the whole story of the idealization and unimpeachability of the teacher, which I think is very problematic and has very little to do with actual dharma. It’s more religious overlay.

A teacher would recognize the mental quality of the student and, as Lama Justin said, be able to adjust the specific teachings and practices that are appropriate so a student could move through in a way that’s appropriate to them. We have these formats that are generalized, which are useful, that we can teach and groups can move through, as in three-year retreat or in the curricula that we’ve talked about. But that would not necessarily have to be the case if an individual has the capacity to apply themselves successfully to these practices.

Melvin McLeod: Vajrayana practice is vast and includes many different aspects. We could maybe divide them into two broad categories. As was said, there are the nature of mind teachings of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, which in a way are forbiddingly simple, since simplicity may be the most difficult thing of all. Nonetheless, various teachers have very effectively presented, for a broad audience, books and teachings on the true nature of mind coming mostly from the Dzogchen side, but also from the Mahamudra side. I have no issue with those, they are brilliant teachings—incredibly profound, accessible without necessarily being very risky. 

But then there’s the other side of Vajra­yana, the more elaborate practices, true deity practices, the yogic practices, the practices of working with energies in the body. So while we’re saying that Vajrayana practice is suited for the modern world, is that then limited to the broader nature of mind teachings, or can you make a case that, in fact, even the more esoteric yogic practices or visualization practices also have a place in the modern world with a broader audience? Or will they always be for a smaller, more esoteric audience?

Lama Drupgyu: Well, when I talk about Vajrayana being appropriate to the modern world, it’s more the idea that the Vajrayana approach is to embrace life and embrace the world. Often in Buddhist teachings, there are many grades and levels. And often an interpretation comes out, perhaps a little bit out of the monastic Asian community, that samsara is life. So life is to be avoided. Whereas, from Vajrayana, we understand that the totality of our experience is our buddhanature manifesting, and we embrace it and how to transform the confusion and delusion into wisdom and awareness, and then we start to learn techniques for recognizing that pure view and freeing our essential nature.

Because our modern world is so immersive, a Vajrayana approach is very appropriate. Some deity practices are very easy and common and approachable, whether it’s Tara, whether it’s Chenrezig; [these] have been always widely taught and do give an individual—without going into the more complicated aspects of Vajra­yana technique—the depth of Vajrayana’s transformative skill and ability. So, a real introduction to Vajrayana, I would say.

Then, depending on the teacher, and the student’s ability, [it can be determined] whether to move into other levels of complexity.

Melvin McLeod: I think you put it very well: the “Vajrayana attitude,” which eliminates the spiritual/secular split or opposition which is at the heart of so many of our problems. 

Lama Drupgyu: Also, I was thinking about what Lama Justin mentioned: adapting, making the retreat curriculum available to lay practitioners. The whole point of Buddhist practice is our personal development in terms of our realization and recognition and self-awareness. So the commercialization and the organization and the religification of dharma has maybe done a big disservice in a way.

Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön: Vajrayana usually catches the imagination because of the very exotic practices and the secrecy around it, but it’s about working with our perception, and we have endless opportunities to do that in our life. I started out as a dharma practitioner while at a Silicon Valley law firm as a litigator, and I probably had more opportunities, or at least as many, in that law office for engaging the Vajrayana view as I did in three-year retreat. I often say I had to go to three-year retreat to realize that I didn’t have to go to three-year retreat. 

And in some ways you do [need to go on retreat] because there’s that container and the boundaries, and a staff of people that makes it possible for you to be cloistered and focused entirely on that practice. That really creates a space that’s not easy to duplicate. But I recognized in retreat that what we were working with most of the time [was] getting familiar with our own mind, being friendly with it and all the various ways it kicks up anger or desire or irritation or whatever. We have so many opportunities for that and really moving our practice to that Vajrayana view. It’s not just the meditation on the cushion, but the post-meditation off the cushion. That’s our life: you’re either in meditation or in post-meditation. Such a view is incredibly vital, incredibly supportive, where most of us don’t have a lot of time to sit, or that structure of cloister that gives us that luxury of being on the cushion. But [with] the Vajrayana practices, even if we’re talking about the more accessible ones like Chenrezig and Green Tara, they already offer us sufficient basis for carrying the view onto the path right from the start.

So, it’s extremely valuable for us to have ways to engage the nature of mind with support, which is what Vajrayana really does—it gives us that support of the imagination and the recognition of emptiness in a more subtly embodied way that we can interact with day to day.

Lama Justin von Bujdoss: I think I would basically echo Lama Yeshe and Lama Drupgyu, that it depends on the context. The Vajrayana world is massive. Even just one lineage: if you take the Karma Kagyu tradition, there are so many obscure practices that it seems like barely anybody does these days. And then there are much more common ones. But then when you account for everything, it’s overwhelming. So I think that understanding all of the different styles of practice is important as well. 

My root teacher, a nun in Sikkim, told me at one point, all you need is one protector, one guru yoga practice, and a connection to a nonconceptual meditation. And don’t worry about more than that. And even that, depending on the yidam, depending on the protector, depending on samaya, could be already overwhelming. 

I think also some of my view is informed by having worked as a chaplain. It has definitely affected my dharma teaching in a more organic, situational way. You know, sometimes less is more. And I think in the case of Vajrayana, less can be more because it’s so easy to bite off more than you can chew and then be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis.

Melvin McLeod: What are we to do about the co-optation, or popularization, or even perversion of these practices? Justin, this is really in your bailiwick because you teach a lot of dark retreats, and there was the fairly famous case of the NFL quarterback Aaron Rogers, who was trying to decide whether to retire or not. And he went into a dark retreat and he came out and said he’d got the message that he should not retire. He then tore his Achilles tendon in the fourth play of the first game. So maybe that was a message from the protectors. [Laughter.] 

Either way, this stuff is all very exotic. When you talk about tantra, you could talk about sexual practices like karmamudra, you could talk about chandali or tummo, you can talk about dark retreat, all of that stuff. What do we do in a society where there would be people who would latch onto those in a dilettantish way that could make the practices perhaps dangerous, as maybe even Aaron Rogers found out, or at the very least, debase them?

Lama Justin von Bujdoss: This is a really good question. I could tell you what’s not helpful: I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to police the dharma world, or police the larger American spiritual industrial complex, as much as that might feel necessary from time to time.

Providing resources—meaning places for people to practice, with a high level of integrity and a lot of focus on integration—is really the best thing that you can do. This is motivating me in the creation of this retreat center, a safe place for people to do dark retreat, where it is informed by the tradition, but also, perhaps we could say, “not overly punitively so,” where somebody who aspires to do dark retreat is then told, “Okay—now you have to do fifteen years of dharma practice in order to get there.” 

I think there is truth in the [idea] that a lot of Vajrayana practices are self-secret. Take the Six Dharmas for example: they are so secret, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Perhaps there should be more writing about how to do these practices safely, more public engagement in the topic. Maybe take them out of this kind of exclusive secrecy and bring them back into context, which is what we’re doing right now, and what this issue of Buddhadharma is supposed to be about. 

I think the other thing is for teachers to have the [necessary] support—and maybe this takes the form of being in relationship—to be able to address this. So that we’re not all in isolation but are more of a community of Vajrayana teachers or communities focused on integrity and maintenance of a tradition, rather than feeling like our blood is boiling in isolation, in the face of a capitalist system that’s just not going to stop.

Melvin McLeod: That makes me think a lot of the translations that Tsadra Foundation has done and the question of should this be public or not public. 

Lama Drupgyu: Better to have it all translated by qualified people than left to people who might not be qualified to get the information out there. And, one of the issues you mentioned, Melvin, was the importance of an appreciation of emptiness, the groundless openness of mind. Understanding that as we develop deeper and deeper stability through our practice, the mind becomes more powerful. And so whatever thoughts or concepts come up will seem more real or more valid. Perhaps making more of it available in ways that illuminate some of those aspects will save people from some of the dangers.

If we value what is so precious about the essence of Vajrayana method and technique and practice and path to liberation and awakening, then, how can we adapt that to the modern world? —Lama Drupgyu Tenzin

Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön: Thank goodness we don’t have to police the dharma. The dharma manages quite well on its own. And my understanding of self-secret practices is that the practices themselves have this kind of mystical secrecy to them: you could hand them to somebody who’s not ready for them, and they might even start and make an attempt to engage with them, but the practices themselves will fall by the wayside. My perfect example: I was fascinated by tummo/inner fire from early, before I ever left the law firm to go to Nepal, and I got Lama Thubten Yeshe’s Bliss of Inner Fire transcripts, some teachings he did in the early eighties. My goodness! I thought I was gonna become an inner fire yogi before I even had any understanding of anything else. And it basically sat on my shelf for a good fifteen years before I got to three- year retreat and pulled it out to actually do the practice alongside the instruction.

Melvin McLeod: What would you say you can do, and we should all do, to ensure that we are maintaining a tradition of institutions with integrity and integratedness and at the same time figuring out how to offer to the broader society those elements that are more broadly applicable, such as the Vajrayana attitude?

What do you see as the future of Vajrayana in the twenty-first century and in society? And what can you, and we, do to ensure that future?

Lama Justin von Bujdoss: I’m reminded of this instruction, attributed to Marpa, that he gave to Milarepa: “Practice slow, arrive quickly.” And the way this translates for me in this is trying to slow down and specialize a little bit just in what I teach and practice, right? 

These days it’s mostly Mahamudra and Dzogchen and yangti yoga, dark retreat practice. This allows me to know that I am on my A-game, focused and well-trained. And I show up with integrity and can instill this in people who are interested in connecting to these teachings.

I can focus on a little bit and try to do that as well as possible and hold that container. I’m not saying everybody should specialize, but becoming a specialist in your field and really knowing it well, having that high level of integrity, seems to be the best way I could imagine for keeping a lot of these really unique and powerful dharma methodologies going and deeply rooted in however they manifest into American or Western culture in the future.

Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön: I’m reminded of the Milarepa quote about how the Buddha Shakyamuni taught 84,000 dharmas to help us let go of the eight worldly pursuits. And he said, “But nowadays, there are all of these teachers who spend all these years studying and practicing, and their eight worldly pursuits only get stronger. What’s up with that?” I feel like that’s a really simple way for me to look at that: to involve myself in self introspection, to be connected with people who won’t pull any punches and will be straight with me when they see me veering off. 

Basically, what we’re asking when we talk about Vajrayana and all these practices being out in the world is: what are the effects of things that have always been around—profit, prestige, personal interest? All of these things happen to have a particular veneer or appearance in our world that is not terribly different. Well, it is different in appearance, but the base is not very different than what Milarepa was talking about.

And I feel if we are able to show up with integrity as Lama Justin said, that’s as much as we can do. We can’t control what anybody else is doing or how people will respond to it. I’m also reminded we had the great good fortune of having some advice from Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche while we were in retreat. He said, “Don’t go looking for opportunities to teach, but respond when they come to you.” So that’s another way of doing that. If I’m really grounded in my own practice of letting go of fixation on things of this life, and I’m responding to things as they come, then when somebody comes to me and says, “I want to do three-year retreat while I’m working in the world,” I’m going to send them to Lama Drupgyu because that’s his expertise. That’s where they’re going to be best served. Where I can best serve them, then I will do that. 

Also, it’s important for me to work with women or people in the BIMPOC [Black, Indigenous, Multiracial, People(s) of Color] community, who may feel more comfortable working with someone who looks like them, who has experiences like them. 

Lama Drupgyu: I think our task as Westerners is one of adaptation, and it’s not to somehow recreate a Tibetan world here in the West. In the early days, there was some kind of romantic illusion about that. 

If you listen to the Tibetan world, you get the impression that nothing has ever changed. But in fact, that’s not true. It’s always changed, every generation. In fact, regarding the Six Dharmas of Naropa, originally, in India, a realized master would practice one tantra, which would have a completion phase practice, which would be one of those six. And it was when they collected and brought things into Tibet that the six were put together as a group of practices. So there’s always been evolution. 

If we value what is so precious about the essence of Vajrayana method and technique and practice and path to liberation and awakening, then, how can we adapt that to the modern world? That’s really our task: with appreciation for the history and the tradition, being unafraid to recognize elements of culture and religious politics and institution and to value the essence of what we’ve learned and to somehow make that available and transmit that to the West.


Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön is a scholar, teacher, and translator in the Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. She divides her time between the Rigpe Dorge Institute at Pullahari Monastery, Kathmandu and, Santa Fe, New Mexico. With her husband, Lama Karma Zopa Jigme, she co-founded Prajna Fire and the Prajna Sparks podcast. Lama Yeshe also co-hosts the Opening Dharma Access: Listening to BIPOC Teachers podcast.


Lama Drupgyu Tenzin (Anthony Chapman), a student of Kalu Rinpoche since 1972 and a monk from 1974 to 1995, participated in the first traditional three-year retreat for Westerners conducted completely in Tibetan, from 1976 to 1980, in France. He participated for six years in the translation of Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge. In 2000, Lama Drupgyu assisted in the establishment of Tsadra Foundation, a nonprofit that supports development of Vajrayana in the West, and is currently Vice President.


Lama Justin von Bujdoss is an American Vajrayana Buddhist teacher and writer, and is a cofounder (with Lama Rod Ownes) of Bhumisparsha, an experimental Buddhist sangha, and Yangti Yoga Retreat Center with Dr. Nida Chenagstang. He is the author of Modern Tantric Buddhism: Authenticity and Embodiment in Dharma Practice. Justin ordained as a repa, a lay tantric yogin in the tradition of Milarepa , by His Eminence Gyalstab Rinpoche, one of the heart sons of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, and is a ngakpa in the Yuthok Nyingthik lineage.

Lama Drupgyu Tenzin (Anthony Chapman)

Lama Drupgyu Tenzin (Anthony Chapman), a student of Kalu Rinpoche since 1972 and a monk from 1974 to 1995, participated in the first traditional three-year retreat for Westerners conducted completely in Tibetan, from 1976 to 1980, in France. He participated for six years in the translation of Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge. In 2000, Lama Drupgyu assisted in the establishment of Tsadra Foundation, a nonprofit that supports development of Vajrayana in the West, and is currently Vice President.
Lama Karma Yeshe Chodron

Lama Karma Yeshe Chodron

Lama Karma Yeshe Chödrön is a scholar, teacher, and translator in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. She divides her time between the Rigpe Dorje Institute at Pullahari Monastery, Kathmandu, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Before studying Buddhism, she completed graduate degrees in biology and law and worked as a litigator in Miami and Silicon Valley. With her husband, Lama Karma Zopa Jigme, she cofounded Prajna Fire and the Prajna Sparks podcast. She also co-hosts the Opening Dharma Access: Listening to BIPOC teachers podcast.

Justin von Bujdoss

Lama Justin von Bujdoss is an American vajrayana Buddhist teacher, writer, and the is a co- founder of Bhumisparsha an experimental Buddhist sangha along with Lama Rod Owens and Yangti Yoga Retreat Center with Dr. Nida Chenagtsang. He is the author of Modern Tantric Buddhism: Authenticity and Embodiment in Dharma Practice published by North Atlantic Books. Justin was ordained as a repa, a lay tantric yogin in the tradition of Milarepa, by His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche, one of the heart sons of His Holiness the 16 th Karmapa and is a ngakpa in the Yuthok Nyingthik lineage.