Naropa University's founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was born in Tibet in 1939, a lineage holder of both the Kagyü and Nyingma Buddhist traditions.
In 1959, after the Chinese invasion, he escaped Tibet through the Himalayas to northern India. Like the Dalai Lama and other exiled Tibetan teachers, he continued to teach and transmit the wisdom of the Buddhist dharma. In 1963, he received a Spaulding sponsorship to study comparative religion, philosophy and the fine arts at Oxford University, where he became fluent in English and familiar with the particular needs and interests of Western students.
In 1970, Trungpa began presenting Buddhist teachings in the United States. During the next seventeen years, he taught extensively and founded meditation centers throughout North America and Europe. A scholar and artist as well as a meditation master, he became widely recognized as one of the foremost teachers of Buddhism in the West. This distinction put him in the unique position of possessing and understanding the wisdom of both cultures, with the ability to join them in a compassionate, innovative and fruitful way.
With the founding of the Naropa Institute in 1974 (later to become Naropa University), Trungpa realized his vision of creating a university that would combine contemplative studies with traditional Western scholastic and artistic disciplines.