Questions about Program Requirements
I really want to take part in the full course, but I’m not sure if I can commit to the practice and study requirements. Can I still attend the full program?
Due to the limited space available in the full program, as well as the nature of the discussion we are hoping to foster throughout the course, it is important that all those who apply for the full program be sure that they can complete the practice and study requirements. If you are not sure if you can honor the commitment, we ask that you apply for the self-study audit option, which will allow you to follow the program at your own pace.
I’m not sure what “transmissions” are needed to attend the course. What are they?
At a minimum, receiving the transmission to practice ngondro involves having the liturgy of a particular ngondro practice read aloud to you, either alone or in a group, by a Buddhist teacher who is authorized to transmit these teachings. This reading transmission is referred to as a “lung” in Tibetan. Some teachers, including Mingyur Rinpoche and other Tergar lamas, also require that one receive an empowerment or initiation (usually Vajrasattva in the Tergar community) and some basic instructions for the practices. All three of these elements – the reading transmission, empowerment, and instructions – are routinely offered at Tergar’s Path of Liberation retreats, such as the Exploring the Nature of Mind retreat at St. John’s University. If you are not a member of the Tergar community and are not sure if you have received these transmissions, please check with the teacher or community within which you have been practicing.
I haven’t received the transmissions to do ngondro practice, can I still attend?
This program – including the audit option – is only available to those who have received the appropriate transmissions to practice ngondro. If you have not yet received these transmissions you can either a) participate in the self-study option once you have received the transmissions or b) wait until the live course is offered again in the future, though we currently do not know when it will be offered again.
Questions about Program Elements
Do I have to start practicing ngondro from the beginning?
The immersion program can support your existing ngondro practice regardless of where you are in the practice. In other words, you can continue your practice as you normally would and the program will simply be a support for you along the way. Thus, there will be practitioners at varying points along the path who are participating in the program. The only requirement is that you are actively practicing ngondro on a daily basis.
Do I have to have to practice a specific ngondro liturgy to take part?
No, you can practice any liturgy for which you have received the full transmission (see above about what constitutes a valid transmission). The teachings we will study draw from a number of lineages, focusing specifically on the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages, but we are not focusing on a specific liturgy. Thus, so long as you are practicing a ngondro liturgy that has the traditional elements of the outer and inner ngondro (i.e., the four thoughts, refuge, bodhichitta, Vajrasattva, mandala, and guru yoga), you will meet the requirements to participate in the program.
What materials will we study?
The core teachings for most months will come from Mingyur Rinpoche’s Ngondro DVDs and the newly released Turning Confusion into Clarity. These teachings will be supplemented with readings from classic texts like Words of My Perfect Teacher and other teachings by historic and contemporary lineage holders. Over the first few months we will cover some of the general principles of the foundation practices, as well as the lineages through which they have been passed down to us. For these sections, we have other readings from a variety of sources, such as Tulku Thondup’s Masters of Meditation and Miracles.
What teachings and guidance will be offered by the Tergar instructors, Tim and Cortland?
Each month, Tergar instructors Tim Olmsted and Cortland Dahl will offer pre-recorded short weekly talks. These talks are not stand-alone teachings, but rather introductions to the topics that will be covered that week and background on the teachings and teachers that have been chosen for that particular period.
Tim and Cort will also offer two monthly webinars. These webinars will feature short presentations of key topics and opportunities to ask questions and discuss the deeper elements of the foundation practices.
Last but not least, there will also be opportunities for private interviews with one of the two instructors. These interviews will create the space for students to ask personal questions about their practice and receive personal guidance on any issues that may come up. The number of private interviews will depend on the final number of students in the course, but we are hoping that we can offer at least two interviews per year to each student.
Tell me more about the peer-to-peer discussion groups?
The Foundation Practices are challenging on many levels. One of the most powerful ways we can stay rooted in our practice is to connect with others who are on the same path. The peer-to-peer discussion groups are meant provide this support. As part of the program, participants will meet once a month with four or five of their fellow practitioners.
Though the format of these meetings is somewhat flexible, we recommend that groups spend part of each meeting setting goals for daily and retreat practice, checking in about progress in meeting those goals, and discussing the most important principles and practices covered that particular month. We will provide sample meeting schedules and questions for discussion each month.
What is the optional retreat?
In 2015 (at a date yet to be determined), Cort and Tim will lead an optional group solitary retreat for a period of 7-10 days. What this means is that a group of program participants will meet at a retreat center and enter retreat together. There will be no teachings. Rather, students will practice individually in their rooms or cabins and will come together once a day to practice. There will also be a group celebration before and after the retreat, and supportive guidance from Tim and Cort throughout, who will themselves be in retreat alongside program participants.
What about the event with Mingyur Rinpoche?
This option is a bit of a question mark since Rinpoche is not yet out of retreat. What we can say is that we plan on asking Rinpoche to lead a special event for those that complete the full program. This may be a full weekend, a one teaching, or something else. We’ll have to wait and see what Rinpoche would like to do.
Questions that aren’t answered here?
If you have read through the course information page and this FAQ and your question or concern is not addressed, feel free to contact either of the course instructors via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.