The Pilot Light

MEET NAROPA’S FOUNDER
Renowned Tibetan Buddhist scholar and lineage holder, the Ven. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987) founded the Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) in 1974. He was enormously influential in spreading the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism to the West, authoring dozens of books and establishing the Shambhala Training program and Shambhala International, a global association of meditation centers.

"Let East meet West and the sparks will fly." -Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, quoted in Recalling Chögyam Trungpa.

NAROPA’S VISION
Trained as a Buddhist scholar and educated at Oxford University, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wanted to create a place where students could study Eastern and Western religions, writing, psychology, science, and the arts while also receiving contemplative and meditation training.

He modeled Naropa after Nalanda University, a Buddhist university that flourished in India from the sixth to the 12th centuries, attracting scholars from a wide variety of disciplines and religious traditions.

“Naropa,” was a Buddhist scholar and saint at Nalanda University, who, according to legend embarked on a spiritual journey to find the meaning behind the texts he studied. Like the famous saint, Naropa University was established to help students—through meditation and contemplative practice—find the deeper meaning in their academic disciplines and artistic work.

“’Contemplative’ here doesn’t mean one tames thought or one dwells on some particular theme a lot. Instead it means being with discipline fully and thoroughly as a hungry man eats food or a thirsty man drinks water.” -Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

HISTORY OF NAROPA

Naropa

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

1975
Second summer session, again with luminary faculty and offerings.

1976
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.

1978
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.

1983
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 imminent demise was averted.

1986
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.

1987
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.

1994
Naropa dedicates the new Allen Ginsberg Library.

1995
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.

1997
Naropa hosts the Spirituality and Education Conference, considered by many to be the birthplace of the contemplative education movement in American higher education.

1999
The Naropa Institute formally adopts the name Naropa University.

2006
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.

2012
Charles G. Lief becomes President of Naropa University.

2014
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.

2015
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.

2017
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.

2018
Naropa acquires LeapYear, a unique gap year program combining international travel, interships, and mindfulness that supports students' conscious transition from high school to college and development from adolescence into adulthood.

Psychology and Beyond

In June of 1975, Naropa Institute assembled its first degree program, an MA Psychology program designed originally as an extension of a program in Connecticut—one of the many seminars resulting from Trungpa's prolific and charismatic teaching career in the West. It was a sixteen-week Maitri program, based on Buddhist teachings about basic patterns of energy.

Trungpa had created Maitri before Naropa existed. When he asked Marvin Casper—who went on to chair Naropa's Psychology Department and edit two of Trungpa's books—to help restructure it, Casper turned it into a degree program at the Naropa Institute. Initially, students were required to attend three of the Institute's summer sessions, take two Maitri programs in Connecticut and complete a six-month independent project.

In January of 1976, the Institute offered its first group of degree programs as Trungpa pushed the Institute toward accreditation: BA degrees in Buddhist Studies and Visual Art, the MA in Psychology, an MFA in Visual Art and Expressive Arts Certificates in Dance, Theater and Poetics.

In 1986, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accredited Naropa Institute.

Trungpa taught at Naropa Institute regularly from 1974 to 1986 and continually worked with the faculty and the administration in developing the college. After his death in 1987, Trungpa Rinpoche left a legacy of teachings and writings. Among his many groundbreaking publications are Born in TibetCutting Through Spiritual MaterialismThe Myth of Freedom and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.

His aspiration for the college and his teachings remain very much alive at the Naropa University, the name formally adopted in 1999.

In June of 1975, Naropa Institute assembled its first degree program, an MA Psychology program designed originally as an extension of a program in Connecticut—one of the many seminars resulting from Trungpa's prolific and charismatic teaching career in the West. It was a sixteen-week Maitri program, based on Buddhist teachings about basic patterns of energy.

Trungpa had created Maitri before Naropa existed. When he asked Marvin Casper—who went on to chair Naropa's Psychology Department and edit two of Trungpa's books—to help restructure it, Casper turned it into a degree program at the Naropa Institute. Initially, students were required to attend three of the Institute's summer sessions, take two Maitri programs in Connecticut and complete a six-month independent project.

In January of 1976, the Institute offered its first group of degree programs as Trungpa pushed the Institute toward accreditation: BA degrees in Buddhist Studies and Visual Art, the MA in Psychology, an MFA in Visual Art and Expressive Arts Certificates in Dance, Theater and Poetics.

In 1986, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accredited Naropa Institute.

Trungpa taught at Naropa Institute regularly from 1974 to 1986 and continually worked with the faculty and the administration in developing the college. After his death in 1987, Trungpa Rinpoche left a legacy of teachings and writings. Among his many groundbreaking publications are Born in TibetCutting Through Spiritual MaterialismThe Myth of Freedom and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.

His aspiration for the college and his teachings remain very much alive at the Naropa University, the name formally adopted in 1999.

The First Summer Sessions

The first session of the Naropa Institute was a summer session in Boulder. The organizers expected between three hundred and five hundred people to show up from around the country to take courses at the Institute, whose intriguing mission of Buddhism-meets-great-Western-thought remains intact at today’s Naropa University. Instead, more than 1,300 students flocked to Boulder, transforming what many in 1974 considered a "quiet Midwestern town you’d drive through" into an energetic center of learning.

Great American minds of the time came to teach and be a part of the experience—Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, John Cage, and many others. The Naropa Institute took on a life of its own and the organizers did their best to keep up.

“Almost overnight, Boulder has become a magnet of learning and excitement and promise… The student body is made up of an astonishing assortment of college students, dropouts, scholars, scientists, artists, therapists, dancers, heads of departments, musicians, housewives, and on and on. The whole first week seems to be filled with a sort of joyous incredulity that Naropa is really happening.” —September, 1974, East-West Journal

In June of 1975, Naropa Institute assembled its first degree program, an MA Psychology program designed originally as an extension of a program in Connecticut—one of the many seminars resulting from Trungpa's prolific and charismatic teaching career in the West. It was a sixteen-week Maitri program, based on Buddhist teachings about basic patterns of energy.

Trungpa had created Maitri before Naropa existed. When he asked Marvin Casper—who went on to chair Naropa's Psychology Department and edit two of Trungpa's books—to help restructure it, Casper turned it into a degree program at the Naropa Institute. Initially, students were required to attend three of the Institute's summer sessions, take two Maitri programs in Connecticut and complete a six-month independent project.

In January of 1976, the Institute offered its first group of degree programs as Trungpa pushed the Institute toward accreditation: BA degrees in Buddhist Studies and Visual Art, the MA in Psychology, an MFA in Visual Art and Expressive Arts Certificates in Dance, Theater and Poetics.

In 1986, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accredited Naropa Institute.

Trungpa taught at Naropa Institute regularly from 1974 to 1986 and continually worked with the faculty and the administration in developing the college. After his death in 1987, Trungpa Rinpoche left a legacy of teachings and writings. Among his many groundbreaking publications are Born in TibetCutting Through Spiritual MaterialismThe Myth of Freedom and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.

His aspiration for the college and his teachings remain very much alive at the Naropa University, the name formally adopted in 1999.

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.

"Take me to your poets"

A quote famously attributed to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche came on his first arrival in the United States:

"Where are the poets? Take me to your poets!"

During the two summer sessions—and in truth, even before they started—Trungpa had an eye toward the future. He wanted to develop a plan for Naropa beyond the first summer. He wanted a plan for a hundred years. With Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, John Cage, and Diane di Prima already on hand, Trungpa asked the contemporary masters of American letters to found a poetics department.

Ginsberg recalled the intent: "It would be a way of teaching meditators about the golden mouth and educating poets about the golden mind."

He and Waldman, who roomed together that summer for the Institute, stayed up late one night discussing what they finally came to name "The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics."

"Disembodied," Waldman once explained, because "so many of our faculty would be peripatetic, and also our inspiration was from many writers long gone. Moreover, at the time we had no buildings, no desks, no blackboards, no filing cabinets, no grades, no money … only our mental commitment, our voices, our scholarship, our practice. So in the beginning, the school was truly disembodied!"

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