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History of Naropa

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Naropa's Roots

Naropa University is based on Nalanda University. Established under the auspices of Mahayana Buddhism, Nalanda flourished in India from the fifth to the twelfth centuries. At Nalanda, Buddhist philosophy and the discipline of meditation provided the environment in which scholars, artists and healers from many Asian countries and religious traditions came to study, debate and learn from one another.

Contemporaries knew Nalanda for its joining of intellect and intuition, and for the atmosphere of mutual appreciation and respect among different contemplative traditions. This has become the ongoing inspiration for the development of Naropa University. Particularly renowned for bringing together scholarly wisdom with meditative insight was Nalanda’s 11th-century abbot, a great Buddhist scholar, teacher and practitioner named Naropa, for whom the present-day Naropa University is named.

The Summer of '74

The world population reached 4 billion. And the country was embroiled in the Watergate Scandal that would bring down President Richard Nixon.

It was in this atmosphere that the Naropa Institute offered its first two summer sessions in an old bus depot in Boulder, Colorado. Faculty included Kobun Chino Roshi, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ram Dass, Gary Snyder, Herbert Guenther, Joan Halifax, John Cage, Gregory Bateson, plus other famous writers, performers, and scholars.

More than 1,500 students attended, six times what had been anticipated.

Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, John Cage, and Diane di Prima founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute.

“It was a wild night. It was also the night Nixon resigned, and some of the townspeople may have come thinking it was a party to celebrate that. Also, it being a college town and the evening being billed as a ‘Concert with John Cage,’ some people may have thought they could just all join in and sing along. The energy was insane, people were throwing cushions around.”—Anne Waldman


Second summer session, again with luminary faculty and offerings.


Naropa begins offering an MA degree in Buddhist and Western Psychology, as well as certificates in Dance, Theater, and Poetics. Naropa continues as only a summer Institute.


MA in Buddhist Studies opens in January, beginning the first year-round program running January to August in four academic quarters. Offices were located at 1111 Pearl Street, above a Chinese restaurant on the Pearl Street Mall. Classrooms were rented throughout downtown Boulder.


Naropa moved from its storefront rental space on the Pearl Street Mall into rental of the former Lincoln School building on Arapahoe, sharing it with Shambhala Training. Naropa receives a $1 million anonymous gift to fund its endowment, guaranteeing faculty salaries for the first time. The donor was later revealed to be Martha Bonzi. She also anonymously donated the property west of the school, with its 5–6 small buildings. Naropa’s imminent demise was averted.


Naropa receives full accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, after eight years of provisional accreditation that enabled students to qualify for student loans.


Naropa purchases the Lincoln campus from the Boulder Valley School District. The University of Colorado had outbid Naropa two times over, but the Regents did not back their bid, and so the Naropa bid of $750,000 was successful.


Naropa dedicates the new Allen Ginsberg Library.


After years of phasing in first the upper-division majors, then the sophomore year, and finally the freshman year, Naropa’s four-year undergraduate college offering BA degrees in Writing and Poetics, Psychology, Buddhist Studies, Theater, Dance, and Music, becomes fully accredited.


Naropa hosts the Spirituality and Education Conference, considered by many to be the birthplace of the contemplative education movement in American higher education.


The Naropa Institute formally adopts the name Naropa University.


Naropa establishes a Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education to support faculty and provide an international resource for research and collaboration on Contemplative Education. The Center, in its pilot version of three years, was supported by a grant from the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism.


Charles G. Lief becomes President of Naropa University.


Naropa reopens the Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education, continuing its work, fostering contemplative education for our students and becoming a resource for the growing field of contemplative teaching and learning in both higher education and K-12 education.


Naropa acquires the intellectual property and physical assets of the Boulder College of Massage Therapy with the goal of launching a massage therapy school. Naropa opens Naropa Community Counseling, offering affordable therapy services to low- and middle-income clients, and launches the Authentic Leadership Center, offering mindfulness programs, workshops, and training to leaders worldwide.


Mindful U, a podcast for those with an interest in mindfulness and a curiosity about its place in higher education and the world at large, is launched as the official Naropa University podcast in the fall.

The Chogyam Trungpa Institute is founded. The Institute will highlight the work of Naropa University’s founder and will provide a comprehensive digital platform as one avenue to access his extensive lectures, poetry, and art.


Naropa acquires LeapYear, a unique gap year program combining international travel, internships, and mindfulness that supports students’ conscious transition from high school to college and development from adolescence into adulthood.

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This is where experiential learning meets academic rigor. Where you challenge your intellect and uncover your potential. Where you discover the work you’re moved to do—then use it to transform our world.

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Naropa Campuses Closed on Friday, March 15, 2024

Due to adverse weather conditions, all Naropa campuses will be closed Friday, March 15, 2024.  All classes that require a physical presence on campus will be canceled. All online and low-residency programs are to meet as scheduled.

Based on the current weather forecast, the Healing with the Ancestors Talk & Breeze of Simplicity program scheduled for Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday will be held as planned.

Staff that do not work remotely or are scheduled to work on campus, can work remotely. Staff that routinely work remotely are expected to continue to do so.

As a reminder, notifications will be sent by e-mail and the LiveSafe app.  

Regardless of Naropa University’s decision, if you ever believe the weather conditions are unsafe, please contact your supervisor and professors.  Naropa University trusts you to make thoughtful and wise decisions based on the conditions and situation in which you find yourself in.