About Nitartha Institute

What is Nitartha Institute Shedra?

Nitartha Summer Institute is a four-week program held every summer focused on the study of the view in the contemplative traditions of the buddhadharma. Modeled upon the traditional Tibetan academic system (shedra), Nitartha teaches in-depth understanding of the philosophical systems of the Kaygü and Nyingma lineages.

Nitartha Institute was founded in 1996 by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, under the guidance of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. For over twenty years, it has offered an immersion in the study of the Buddhist path in a style that is adapted for Western students but does not dilute the traditional monastic curriculum.

How is Nitartha’s curriculum related to the 5 Sciences of the historical Nālandā University?

The framework of Nitartha’s courses are presented in accordance with the five sciences that were taught at the historical Nālandā University of India.

  1. The Science of Valid Cognition
  2. The Science of Languages
  3. The Science of Healing
  4. The Science of Creative Arts
  5. The Inner Science of Mind

All Five Sciences are covered in Nitartha’s four academic departments:

  1. The Department of Buddhist Studies (BUD) teaches the sophisticated epistemology, ontology, and logic of the Buddhist tenet systems, which falls under the Science of Valid Cognition and the Inner Science of Mind.
  2. The Department of Languages (LAN) teaches both classical literary Tibetan as well as spoken Tibetan.
  3. The Department of Healing (HEA) teaches the rich tradition of Tibetan medicine, and integrates the disciplines of mindfulness practice and healing.
  4. The Department of Creative Arts (SOCA) hones the mind’s innate wisdom in artistic disciplines such as sculpture, painting, and crafts, as well as studying the history and iconography of traditional Buddhist art.

What are the differences between the courses in Nitartha’s different departments?

Nitartha Summer Institute offers intensive programs in all four of these departments.* Although students will focus on the discipline of their individual program, all students will attend Rinpoche’s main shedra teaching every other day.

This is an intensive opportunity to study and learn. Given the in-depth nature of the studies, the courses are also designed for an intensive environment. To best maintain an environment in which students can best absorb and integrate what they are learning, the classes and departments are mutually exclusive. If you are taking the Tibetan language track, for example, then there will not be sufficient time to concurrently take Tibetan Medicine in the Healing track. Similarly, if you are taking a Buddhist Studies course, you will focus on this course along with a debate course and discussion class; two separate study courses cannot be combined at the same time. Please see the Shedra Courses page and course catalog for further course details.

How is shedra study useful?

Many programs offer meditation retreats that bring great benefit. But what are we doing when we practice meditation? Meditation is really about coming to know the nature of our own mind. The purpose of Buddhism’s vast and nuanced philosophical tradition is to cultivate just that––the awakening to the reality of mind itself. As a toolkit of logic, ontology, epistemology, and psychology, the philosophy of Buddhism is directed toward this development.

The Buddha taught wisdom through the stages of hearing, contemplating, and meditating. Here at Nitartha, we focus on the contemplative aspects of the path, which constitute the indispensable foundation for the evolution of meditation. At Nitartha, students develop understanding through listening, studying, and discussion with the living wisdom-holders of this profound tradition. Through investigating our reality, learning debate, and engaging in analytical meditation, we train to uncover unconditioned wisdom and spontaneous compassion. That is to say, one trains in the definitive meaning of the buddhadharma, so that it may dawn in the mind in an authentic way.

How much study is involved?

Excluding travel days and breaks, students engage in study every day. However, the amount of study is flexible according to the discretion of the student and how many classes they are taking. The classes include readings, study questions, discussion groups and a celebratory exam at the end of each session. Nitartha Institute tries to make the most of the environment of Western Washington University so that students can get the most out of their experience here.

Why do people go to Nitartha Summer Institute?

The Nitartha Summer Institute is a unique opportunity to meet with the direct wisdom-holders of the authentic Nyingma and Kagyü Buddhist traditions. Every year, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen guide this retreat, which is dedicated to study and practice. This summer, Ponlop Rinpoche will lead the institute, teaching from July 7th to July 25th, and Acharya Tenpa Gyaltsen will be here teaching throughout the program. Nitartha also brings together our excellent faculty, who have trained and supported students of the Institute for over 20 years. This is a truly rare opportunity to receive the direct transmission of the many precious teachings of this tradition and to really contemplate and integrate them into one’s mind in a deep and meaningful way.

Click here to learn more about our esteemed faculty

How can I register to attend?

You will begin on the Registration page. Choose a package based on where you wish to focus your studies. See course descriptions here. During the registration process, you will be able to choose from the available classes in your area of study.


Who are the main teachers?

The principal teachers at Nitartha Institute are Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche & Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is Nitartha’s President and spiritual director. He is a graduate of the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute at Rumtek, a meditation master, and acknowledged to be one of the foremost scholars of his generation in the Kagyü and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. He travels and teaches widely and is known for his sense of humor and lucid presentation of Buddhist teachings in a manner relevant to contemporary life. To learn more, see Rinpoche’s official website.

Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen excelled in his studies at Karma Shri Nalanda Institute under some of the greatest living masters in the Kagyü lineage. Acharya works closely with Ponlop Rinpoche in all aspects of leadership for the Institute, particularly in the design of our curriculum and, after Ponlop Rinpoche, is the Institute’s principal teacher. Acharya teaches many of the advanced courses in the Nitartha curriculum and this year will be giving a continuation on his presentation and commentary on Lama Mipham’s Beacon of Certainty. Learn more about Acharya Lama Tenpa.

Retreat Environment

What kind of retreat container, or atmosphere, of practice and study can I expect at Nitartha?

Although we share the dining and commuting space at WWU campus with many other programs and groups, we try to maintain a space that is conducive to studying and practicing the dharma. This means being mindful of the space and our conduct throughout the day as a support for this container. In general, we will be practicing silence, with functional speaking outside of classes, during the period before lunch each day. In addition, there will be gatekeepers maintaining a tight practice container in the main shrine room especially for any restricted teachings or practice sessions. Further details will be outlined in the Student Orientation Handbook.


Where do I purchase the textbooks for my classes?

Nitartha Institute will have its own bookstore on campus. If you are eager, you can also purchase textbooks online. You can check the required readings for your courses on the curriculum page and order them online from: www.nalandastore.com.


Live Webcast Courses

I am unable to attend Nitartha in person this year. Which courses are available to attend online?

The following courses will be available via online streaming:

  • BUD 520 Mind and Its World III
  • BUD 530 Mind and Its World IV
  • BUD 714 Mahāyānasūtrālamkāra: Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sutras
  • BUD 7XX DPR’s shedra course
  • BUD 796 Lama Mipham’s Beacon of Certainty

Please click here to enroll in a live webcast course.

Registration/Cancellation Policy

When is the deadline to register?

June 4, 2017 is the registration deadline.

What is the cancellation policy?

Cancellations prior to June 4, 2017 will receive a full refund minus a $60 processing fee.


How do I get to Western Washington University from the Airport?

Western Washington University is about a two hour drive from the SeaTac Airport and about a seventeen minute drive from the Bellingham International Airport. The Bellair Airporter is a shuttle that transports between SeaTac and Bellingham. They are now  picking up / dropping off on WWU campus Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays every week. http://www.airporter.com/wwu/index_html

How do I get to Western Washington University by train or bus?

– The Amtrak Cascade Route (Includes travel from Seattle WA and Vancouver B.C. to Bellingham Washington):

– Greyhound Service to Bellingham from U.S.A. visit:
– Greyhound Service to Bellingham from Canada visit:

What items should I pack for the Nitartha Summer Institute?

In general, dress for Nitartha Summer Institute is mostly casual; however, there is a certain level of respect and formality to be maintained in one’s dress for the Shrine Room. In general, jeans, pants, t-shirts, and long shorts /skirts are fine for comfortable wear. The daily schedule begins with Lüjong (yogic exercises), so comfortable exercise clothing would also be good to pack. Bringing layers to accommodate indoor/outdoor are recommended. An umbrella and light rain gear can be an asset!

A complete suggested packing list will be emailed out later on in the Student Orientation Handbook.


What is the local weather like in Bellingham, Washington?

WWU SITE: Bellingham’s weather is generally mild.  A coastal city, Bellingham receives about 35 inches of rain on average a year.  The average high temperatures in July and August are around 75°F or 24°C.

Are there grocery stores on or near campus?

There are a variety of grocery stores in Bellingham. The campus does offer a small number of  corner grocery stores, eateries, and cafes.

Community Food Co-op: For those of you who need to stock up on healthy snacks, the nearest health food store in Bellingham is the Community Food Co-op, which is about a 20-30 min walk or 5 min drive from the WWU campus. There is also a bus line that can be picked up from the WWU campus on Highland Dr. that makes this trip in about 12 minutes.

Bellingham Farmers Market:  Every Saturday morning in downtown Bellingham

What sights can I explore in Bellingham, Washington?

On the shores of Bellingham Bay with Mount Baker as its backdrop, Bellingham is the last major city before the Washington coastline meets the Canadian border. The City of Bellingham is at the center of a uniquely picturesque area offering a rich variety of recreational, cultural, educational and economic activities.

Bellingham Information:

About Western Washington University

Where are the dorms, classrooms and cafeteria at the WWU Campus?

The majority of Nitartha’s dorms and classes will all be located in the same complex at Fairhaven Commons. However, you will have to walk between buildings and to the cafeteria for lunch and dinner. Transportation assistance to the cafeteria will be available for anyone with mobility needs.

What are the dorm rooms like?

The majority of bedrooms have two single beds per room, a desk, chair, and closet/armoire for storage. Some rooms have bunk beds in lieu of two single beds.

The bedroom and bathroom arrangements and floor plans vary considerably on each floor of each stack. The dorm rooms range from 2 rooms per 1 shared bath; 3 rooms per 1 shared bath; some are 5 rooms per 1 shared larger bath (2 toilets, 2 sinks, 2 showers). We will do our best to accommodate everyone’s room requests, but because of the varying floor plans, we cannot guarantee  that all requests will be met. Further information on the Fairhaven Complex is provided on WWU’s campus website: https://housing.wwu.edu/apps/tour/south-campus/fairhaven-complex

I have children. May I bring them along?

Any children accompanying participants must be supervised at all times. Parents/guardians must agree to follow the Children on Campus policy.

Are there resources and/or accommodations available for people with disabilities?

Wheelchair Accessibility Map for WWU: http://www.wwu.edu/eoo/map

WWU’s Disability Resources Page: http://www.wwu.edu/disability/index.shtml

Parking Permits

Is parking available at WWU, and how much does it cost?

Yes, there is parking available. You will need to purchase a parking pass for vehicles. Parking passes can be bought online, at the parking lot paybox, and at the parking services office. Parking passes are available for $10 per day or $31 per week.

See further details in WWU’s parking guide: http://www.wwu.edu/ps/doc/pk/ParkingGuide.pdf

To purchase parking passes online: https://wwuparking.t2hosted.com/cmn/auth_ext.aspx

Internet Access

Will internet access be available in the dorms?

Yes, there is wifi available in the dorm rooms and in campus lounge areas.

Other Campus Facilities & Dining

Will students have access to a gym and swimming pool?

Summer guests/residents are eligible to use the Wade King Student Recreation Center. Any guest may purchase a temporary membership good for the duration of their visit to campus.

Recreation Center FAQ: https://wp.wwu.edu/campusrec/faq

Are there laundry facilities available?

Each of the Fairhaven Housing Stacks has a laundry room on the 3rd floor and contains two washers, two dryers and a sink.

Where are there places to eat on campus?

There are several cafes, lunch, and dining locations on campus. The Atrium POD (Provisions On Demand) and Starbucks are the two retail locations closest to Fairhaven (about 10 minutes round trip from our Main Shrine Room). Also it is only about a 30-40 minute walk or 5-10 minute drive to visit restaurants in downtown Bellingham.

What is there to explore on the WWU Campus?

One great perk about the WWU Campus is that it is nestled directly next to the 180-acre Sehome Hill Arboretum. There are several trails you can take straight from the WWU campus. You can learn more from their website here:

Sehome Hill Arboretum: http://www.wwu.edu/share/explore.html

For more information about WWU’s community and events, see the WWU community page: http://www.wwu.edu/community