Founding History and Life Today

When Naropa University founder Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche—a significant figure in the Kagyü lineage of Tibetan Buddhism—came to Boulder, Colorado in 1970, he had no shortage of ideas. The community he developed explored psychology, the arts, and spiritual traditions with freshness and vigor. Soon people of notable stature, such as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, moved to town and started planning a way to share their knowledge using a new pedagogical strategy deemed "contemplative." This would become the Naropa Institute. By 1974, the small collection of scientists, activists, and artists had advertised their fledgling school and predicted that approximately four hundred students would partake of their classes. They got far more than they expected. That summer, approximately two thousand people flooded the streets of Boulder in a brilliant, intellectual gathering—one that confirmed the drawing power of Trungpa's vision.

Trungpa continued to teach from 1974 to 1986, and the Beat writers went on to form the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, and company mentored poets, novelists, and overall critical thinkers.

Intent on creating a dialogue between the world's major wisdom traditions, Trungpa enlisted Judith Simmer-Brown and Reggie Ray to administer a Buddhist Studies program and build it into what would, eventually, become the Religious Studies program. Today, in addition to its offerings in Buddhism, Naropa offers courses on the contemplative approaches to Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

With time, the Naropa Institute honed its offerings, expanding on a tradition of visual and theater arts, as well as a growing interest in environmentalism and education. In recent years, the term "Buddhist-inspired" has been used to describe the institution's alignment with the ethical values prominent in the religious tradition of the school's founder, while abstaining from the adoption of the accompanying dogma, thus remaining nonsectarian.