How to Bring The Monastery Into Your Kitchen

I recently staffed a four-week meditation retreat, called dathun (which in Tibetan means “moon-month session”). Dathun was designed by Chogyam Trungpa in the early 1970s as a rigorous form of group meditation, a way for his students to take the next step on the path.

Over the years, dathun evolved to include taking meals according to the tradition of oryoki, a form of dining developed in Zen Buddhism. I had a chance to re-experience oryoki in the dathun I staffed; here is an excerpt from my journal:

Twenty-eight days of meditation.  A strict schedule.

Taking meals in the oryoki tradition, a silent form of eating using spoon, chopsticks and four nested bowls, with cloths used to wash the bowls after you eat from them. The demanding rules of oryoki are at first intimidating and tedious, but ultimately rewarding in the way that any way of life that could go on forever is. You might not talk, but laughter is prevalent.

Initially oryoki, like meditation, can be irritating and tiresome. Every movement from untying the bow that holds the set together to the final moment of retying it is specifically choreographed (the choreography can be seen in full on this YouTube video). There is a strict order of eating and all food taken must be consumed. If the pinto beans from the kitchen are semi-raw one must still eat them! But once the form is learned it become effortless and warmly communal.

Oryoki also makes huge environmental sense. Not only does it generate no waste – no paper napkins, no plastic spoons, no landfill items – but it conserves water in the extreme. A spatula is used to pre-clean ones ones bowls and then rinse water is brought around to wash them. What happens to your rinse water once your bowls are clean? You drink it.

Typically, converts to oryoki leave meditation retreats longing to continue, at least in some way, this most mindful way of eating together. Oryoki, however, was designed for the monastery and it is not easy, or perhaps even advisable, to continue practicing it in your fifth-floor walkup or suburban kitchen. But there are ways to bring the monastery into the kitchen.
. . .
The etymology of Oryoki is telling, and apt to any kitchen or dining room:

O: the receiver’s response to the offering of food.
Ryo: a measure or an amount to be received.
Ki: the bowl.

Oryoki Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 5.23.32 PMOryoki means the bowl or plate we eat from, the amount of food we receive and, most significantly, our state of mind when we receive (and eat) the food. Normally we think a lot about the food we eat, but not much about our response of receiving it. Normally we might be polite to the wife, husband, mother, father or waiter who serves us our food, but we don’t emphasize those moments, we don’t cultivate them, we don’t regard them as moments of potential awakening.

And how often do we give thanks to the food itself, to the creatures – from earthworms to chickens – who gave their life so we could eat? We don’t often give conscious thanks to the plants and animals or to the resources – water, gasoline, even price tags – that brought the food to our table.



Bill Scheffel is a writer, creative writing teaching and videographer who has directed Shambhala Training since 1980. Bill was a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and taught classes in meditation, creative writing and poetry at Naropa University for thirteen years. Currently, Bill teaches online classes in creative writing and the I Ching. For more on Bill see Vertical Time Yoga.

The Great Mystery of Finding a Spiritual Teacher

“Don’t misunderstand – this teacher is not always a person. It can embrace you like morning dew in a field, and you get a strange feeling, Oh, this is it, my teacher is this field.”
— Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi

Finding a Spiritual Teacher

In 1970 I was sixteen and reading Chögyam Trungpa’s first book, Meditation in Action. My hair was long and I carried the book in my back pocket (or ones by Alan Watts or Herman Hesse). Part of me knew, and part of me had no idea that Chögyam Trungpa would become my teacher.

2106_56864986423_2749_n_2If Buddhism is a way to become truly human, then we encounter many teachers in our lifetime, beginning with our parents. We generally think of a spiritual teacher with a capital T, but how do we find one? The path seems to be one of tendril, a Tibetan word meaning that all situations arise through the coming together of various forces.

In Western terms the word synchronicity is similar, in which uncanny and seemingly impossible-to-foresee events conspire to lead us, in this case, to a teacher. This path is a narrative, a deeply personal story.
To participate in this story we need both openness and critical intelligence.

Openness is a humility, a knowing that we don’t know and a yearning for true knowledge, a recognition that wisdom passes to us through lineages. Sometimes a poem or novel might awaken this openness (thus Allen Ginsberg or Toni Morrison might be our lineage forbearer), sometimes a person.

Critical intelligence means a trust in ourselves, a tendency not to be duped, a recognition that the path of wisdom is fundamentally inside us, that the story is our own. As Chögyam Trungpa once said, “A teacher or fellow traveler or the scriptures might show us where we are on a map and where we might go from there, but we must make the journey ourselves.” Similarly, Trungpa once said following the spiritual path is something we must do alone, and the role of the teacher is to tell us that.

In terms of Buddhism, our search for a teacher will likely if not inevitably be conducted within the, now myriad, meditation DSC_0125programs and centers found throughout the West and the world. The first person who correctly instructs us in meditation will be our teacher. So, inevitably, will many others. Perhaps we will never find a teacher with a capital T.

My first teacher of meditation had only two years more experience than I did, but she instructed me well. I can still remember our first meditation session. I sat for one hour with a small group of other students. This felt like the longest hour of my life; how could my body hurt so much, be so restless? But also, the most vivid hour of my life.

“Ghostly Gurus”

Although Buddhism (especially Varjrayana Buddhism) places great emphasis on a teacher, the teacher we find may not always be living. This has been especially true in the wake of the passing of some of the great Tibetan gurus of the Twentieth Century: the Sixteen Gyalwa Karmapa, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche or Chögyam Trungpa.

Through dreams, through atmospheric presence, or through knowing one of their students, many people have a genuine and steadfast connection to one of these teachers. I have met many such people. I personally feel Chögyam Trungpa’s presence as strongly now as when he was alive.

Carl Jung, in his book Memories, Dreams and Reflections, tells an interesting story: Jung himself had an “invisible” teacher, Philamen – “At times he seemed to me quite real, as if he were a living personality. I went walking up and down the garden with him, and to me he was what the Indians call a guru.” This must have been an admission that Jung was reluctant to make…that his guru was a spirit or drala!

Jung went on to discuss an encounter he had some years later with a highly educated Indian man, a friend of Gandhi’s. Jung said the two of them discussed education, particularly the role of guru and chela (disciple) and at one point the Indian gentleman disclosed his own guru, “Oh yes, he was Shankaracharya.”

“You don’t mean the commentator on the Vedas who died centuries ago?” I (Jung) asked.

“Yes, I mean him,” he said to my amazement.”

“Then you are referring to a spirit?” I asked.

“Of course it was his spirit,” he agreed. At that moment I thought of Philemon. “There are ghostly gurus too,” he added. “Most people have living gurus. But there are always some who have a spirit for teacher.”

The First Steps Toward Finding a Teacher

Finding a teacher is not something we can manufacture, but it is something we can set out to do, something we can, as mentioned, have a longing for.

The best way to begin the process of finding a teacher, is to begin working on ourselves. It is like preparing the soil of a garden. If the soil is dug deeply, is well fertilized with organic material and kept watered, the seeds that we plant in it will grow.

Meditation is available to all of us now. It can even be learned online. Meditation is preparing the garden. In the openness and alertness that emerges from our practice of meditation, we are much more prone to recognizing the teacher. Without the ability to recognize, we might never notice the teacher, even if we bump into her.

In one of his talks, the late Zen teacher Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi drew attention to the fact of how we always think we “are bad,” and the teacher is someone who tells us otherwise. But he added, “Don’t misunderstand – this teacher is not always a person. It can embrace you like morning dew in a field, and you get a strange feeling, Oh, this is it, my teacher is this field.”
Conversely, Otogawa was once asked,

“When all the teachers are gone, who will be your teacher?” A student replied: “Everything!” Otogawa, paused, then said: “No, you.”

Bill Istanbul2Bill Scheffel is a writer, creative writing teaching and videographer who has directed Shambhala Training since 1980. Bill was a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and taught classes in meditation, creative writing and poetry at Naropa University for thirteen years. Currently, Bill teaches online classes in creative writing and the I Ching. For more on Bill see Vertical Time Yoga.

Teachers who Helped Bring Buddhism to the West

Suzuki Roshi

220px-Shunryu_Suzuki_by_Robert_BoniAll of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.

Nicknamed “Crooked Cucumber” by his teacher Gyokujun So-on Suzuki, Suzuki Roshi was part of the first wave of Zen masters who brought their teaching to the US. He first gained an interest in traveling to the west after serving as a translator in England. His employer, an english woman found an interest in Zen, and Suzuki became her teacher. The experience open his eyes to the idea that western students could break through their ignorance or prejudice and learn from the Zen tradition. Suzuki traveled to America for the first time in 1959, landing in San Francisco in the midst of a beat generation just starting to get interested in eastern religion. As the story goes, his growing fame was fairly low key. He began holding sitting in the mornings, and eventually his Sangha grew, and founded the San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara retreat center.

His teachings emphasized Zazen (meditation practice) above all else, rejuvenating what he saw as a lax and americanized zen being practiced in the us. He also stressed that westerners could help rejuvenate Zen with a fresh beginners mind, without preconceptions.

His influence on spreading of Buddhism in the west is still probably best encapsulated in Zen Mind Beginners Mind, which introduced an entire generation to Buddhism and is still one of the best selling books on meditation in the west.

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

2First we have to remember desire and anger. Think of friends toward whom you feel desire and enemies toward whom you feel anger. Let desire and anger arise, but then remember that these thoughts are self-liberated, that they do not arise or cease, that their nature is beyond conceptual fabrication. Then thoughts of desire and anger will be self-liberated.

Khenpo is regarded as one of the most highly realized living teachers in the kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been hugely influential in introducing the yogic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism to the west. Born to Nomads in the Himalayas, Trultrim Gyamtso, spent years wanding tibet as a wandering ascetic, doing solitary retreats in caves in the tradition of the famed buddhist yogi Milarepa. At times he lived in the charnel grounds, doing practices to that work with fear and understanding egolessness and emptiness. After years of intensive study he was awarded the title of Khenpo. Since he has taught around the world, famous for his intellectual acumen and debate skills. Although a famous teacher, Khenpo is still esentially homeless refusing property or money. Those who have seen him teach remember his songs of realization which he sings where ever he teaches.

The Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche after meeting Khenpo Rinpoche remarked, “More yogi than khenpo.”

“Know this life to be like a dream.

See the mind’s unborn nature.

Aspire to be of benefit to others.”

D.T. Suzuki

078fogofwarThe truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one’s hum drum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity.

No list of buddhist pioneers would be complete without D.T. Suzuki. In many ways, Suzuki was the first to spread Zen buddhism to the west. A highly regarded scholar in Japan, Suzuki sought to understand intellectually the zen experience. He was fascinated by how to introduce Zen into a western context, and dedicated his life to this pursuit. He first came to the United States as a translator and quickly made connections with the Theosophists and other groups interested in eastern thought. He attracted the interest of psychologist Carl Jung who wrote a preface to An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, the first book to introduce Zen in English.

Suzuki was a pioneer in Buddhism Modernism–Buddhism that emerged out of its engagement with western culture and psychology. He broke down Zen into its essentials, establishing how Buddhism would be taught taught for generations.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

His_Holiness_Dilgo_Khyentse_Rinpoche's_broad_smile,_Seattle,_Washington,_USA_1976Instead of allowing ourselves to be led and trapped by our feelings, we should let them disappear as soon as they form, like letters drawn on water with a finger.

Kheyentse Rinpoche was a master of Vajrayana buddhism and headed the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. He is much loved by Tibetan Buddhists and was considered to be a master of the Dzogchen teachings, a tradition dedicated to cultivating and maintaining the primordial natural condition of wakefulness.

Recognized as a reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, he spent 13 Years in silent retreat in the hermitages and caves of Tibet. At 28 years old he came out of seclusion and began teaching in India. Among his pupils were many of the most revered lamas of today, including the the 14th Dalai Lama. The tibetan tradition owes its preservation of its teachings to Rinpoche, who published a huge amount of teachings that were feared lost in the communist invasion of Tibet.


Thich Nhat Hanh

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAFear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.

Perhaps adored as much as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh had a huge influence on the spread of buddhism in the west, popularizing mindfulness as a distinct teaching. He was also the first to coin the phrase “engaged buddhism” in reference to his peace activism against the vietnam war. He was born in Vietnam and began training as a monk at age 16. During the war, he traveled to the US and Europe to work with fellow anti-war activists including Martin Luther King Jr. His trip, exiled him from his home. However he continued his work in Europe establishing six monestaries and over 1,000 sanghas worldwide. He has been influential in bringing mindfulness training into schools, businesses and governments

His teachings emphasize mindfulness as a way to be happy in the present moment and to build peace inside and outside.

Dainin Katagiri

220px-Dainin_KatagiriYou cannot find any peace by escaping from human pain and suffering; you have to find peace and harmony right in the midst of human pain. That is the purpose of spiritual life.

Dainin Katagiri played an important role in bring zen to westerns living outside the cosmopolitan hubs of New York or California. Katagiri was born in Osaka, Japan and moved to the united states in 1965 to teach at Zenshuji mission in Los Angeles. He became Suzuki Roshi’s assistant until his death. In the early 70’s he moved to Minneapolis, MN with the intention of founding a sangha in place without access to teachers.  

Dalai Lama 

Dalailama1_20121014_4639Altruism has two aspects. Loving others does not mean that we should forget ourselves. When I say that we should be compassionate, this does not mean helping others at the expense of ourselves. Not at all. Sometimes I say that the buddhas and bodhisattvas are the most selfish of all.  Why?  Because by cultivating altruism they achieve ultimate happiness.

No teacher has has raised the profile of Buddhism in the west more than the 14th Dalai Lama. Tenzun Gyatso was born in Tibet and recognized as the Dalai Lama as a child. He is part of the Gelukpa school which has managed the tibetan government since the 17th century. As a Dalai Lama, he is considered to be  successor in a line incarnations of Avalokitesvara. He has headed the Tibetan government in Exile until stepping down in 2011. Following a lifelong interest in science, he has sought dialogue on what he considers the affinities between Buddhism and modern science. In the 80’s he established the first Mind and Life conference which has grown into an institution that brings together scientists on the cutting edge of neuroscience, quantum mechanics and psychology.

While advocating for the Tibetan people on the world stage, he articulates a Buddhist perspective on pressing global issues.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

68896018Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which leades to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche is most famous for bringing Vajrayana Buddhism to the west and founding Shambhala Buddhism. Born in Tibet in 1939 he was recognized as an incarnate lama in the Kagyu school of Tibetan buddhism. When the Chinese invaded, he led a group of monks and nuns on foot across the Himalayas into India. During their journey he had a vision of Shambhala, a mythical paradise envisioned in buddhist and hindu texts, could be established on earth through practices that uncover one’s basic confidence and dignity. On a scholarship, he studied religion and Oxford and began teaching in England. A serious car crash made him re-evaluate how he was teaching dharma to western students. He took off his robes and vowed to present buddhism to westerners in an understandable and non-exotic form.

Moving to the US in 1970, Trungpa developed a network of Shambhala meditation centers throughout North America. Along with teaching from the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, he developed a program of secular mindfulness meditation called Shambhala training that is still taught today. Trungpa had a style that was outrageous and unpredictable. He constantly challenged his students expectations of how a guru should act. In Tibetan Buddhism this style of teaching is known as the “crazy wisdom” tradition.

10+ Buddhist Teachers to Consider

The Buddhist tradition is an oral tradition, and receiving a transmission directly from a teacher can have a lasting effect on one’s practice. The teachers on this list are for the most part accessible to new students. They have not (yet) reached the celebrity status of Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama, who you might be able to see in a very large auditorium, but with whom you would have a difficult time getting a personal audience. Of course teachers’ styles vary in accessibility and teaching method.

(We tried making a top 10 teacher list which is a rather silly idea. In the process, we kept finding more and more teachings that we could not conceive of omitting. Apologies to all the other amazing teachers not included in this page. Perhaps the best approach is to find a teacher with the qualities of these great teachers, who lives close by you, with a smaller following, and to whom you have some level of access.)

Khandro Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhism (Virginia, Tours Worldwide )

Khandro1.asp_1“Untouched, undisturbed, This life is perfect just as it is, But still I try to change the world.”

Khandro Rinpoche is recognized by the 16th Karmapa as a reincarnation of the Tibetan Dakini Khandro Urgyen Tsomo. Born into the Mindrolling practice lineage of Tibet, she comes from a long line of revered female masters. Based in the US, she travels frequently visiting sanghas in India and Europe. Khandro Rinpoche also oversees several charitable organizations working to educate and empower women in India.


Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Shambhala (Halifax and Boulder, Tours Worldwide)

Sakong july 07_new_cmyk“Karma moves in two directions. If we act virtuously, the seed we plant will result in happiness. If we act nonvirtuously, suffering results.”

Continuing in the path of his father Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the current head of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. He oversees a  global network of meditation and retreat centers that emphasize human goodness and social transformation. He is also the author of Turning the Mind into and Ally, a simple and straightforward  introduction to meditation practice. His popularity is growing among young people looking to connect their practice with social engagement, so he may not be accessible for long.

Sharon Salzberg, Vipassana (Massachusetts)


“Most of us are shrinking in the face of psycho-social and physical poisons, of the toxins of our world. But compassion, the generation of compassion, actually mobilizes our immunity.”

Salzberg is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, where she teaches Vipassana and loving kindness meditation. Her teachings have been hugely influential in bringing mindfulness practice to psychotherapy and stress reduction science. Her writing and teachings consistently translate age old dharmic wisdom into contemporary everyday issues infused with a whole lot of compassion and patience.


Pema Chödrön, Tibetan Buddhism (Colorado, Tours Wordwide)


“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”

Much loved by her students and vast readership alike, Pema is the founding director at Gampo Abbey Monastery in Canada. Her compassionate yet direct approach has touched thousands of readers, helping them turn suffering into a path of liberation. She is the author of No Time to Lose, a beautiful and accessible commentary on the Path of the Bodhisattva by the 8th century Tibetan Monk Shantideva.



Tsultrim Allione, Tibetan Buddhism (Colorado)

lama tsultrim

We find conflict in so many places today, within ourselves, in relationships, between countries, and even in places we associate with peace, like the Himalayas. What is the solution? The Buddha teaches that violence leads to more violence. So how can we be actively engaged in change, yet not caught in patterns that perpetuate suffering? Meditation can create a working basis for changing the fundamental causes of suffering and moving toward natural liberation.

Born in the United States, Allione traveled to Nepal in the 1960s and became the first American woman to be ordained as a Buddhist Nun. She has since established herself as a scholar of Women in Buddhism. In 1995 Allione founded  founder and director of Tara Mandala, an international Vajrayana Buddhist community in Pagoda Springs, CO. Her book Feeding Your Demons, explores how to work with negative and emotions and illness on the path.


Shinzen Young, Vipassana (California, Teaches Worldwide)

shinzenyoung“Suffering = Pain x Resistance”

Young has taught Vipassana meditation in the United states since the mid-seventies. In Asia, he did extensive training in the three major Buddhist traditions: Vajrayana, Zen and Vipassana. He also has a spiritual background in Shingon Buddhism and native american traditions. Young’s secular approach and interest in neuroscience has made him popular among psychotherapists, scientists and researchers.

Young teaches workshops and classes in the U.S. and Europe and offers a home retreat programs via Skype and telephone. If you are interested in straight mindfulness practice, broken down to its basics, Young may be right for you.

He is the author of numerous books and recordings including: Working with Thoughts, The Science of Enlightenment, and Natural Pain Relief: How to Soothe and Dissolve Physical Pain with Mindfulness.

Bernie Glassman, Zen (Massachusetts, Teaches Worldwide)

368“When we bear witness, when we become the situation — homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death — the right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t have to figure out solutions ahead of time. Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises.”

Glassman is an innovative pioneer, American Zen master and social entrepreneur. He is the founder and spiritual leader of the Zen Peacemakers, an international organization of socially engaged Buddhists. Peacemakers lead witness retreats, practicing in difficult areas such as conflict-zones as well practice activism and advocacy for a variety of causes.

He has a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from UCLA in 1970 and developed the Greyson Mandala, a network of socially responsible of for-profit and non-profit businesses. Perhaps the most well known venture is the Greyson Bakery in Yonkers, NY. Since a a very humble beginning in 1982, the bakery now employees more than 75 people (many homeless or previously unemployed) and boasts $14 million in revenues.

Noah Levine, Shambhala (New York City) 

Noah Levine-head _2“Waking up is not a selfish pursuit of happiness, it is a revolutionary stance, from the inside out, for the benefit of all beings in existence.”

Covered head to toe in tattoos, Noah does not fit the mold of conventional Buddhist teacher. After his own transformation from rebellious teen to meditation master, Levine has emphasized the “against the stream” aspects of Buddhism, teaching students how to transform their anger and aggression into fuel for their path. Under his guidance, Dharma Punx meditation groups have popped up around the country, engaging in rebellion against ignorance and delusion.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche (Tibetan Buddhism, Colorado)

kongWhen we trust our creativity we encounter a supreme kind of enjoyment – an amazement at the natural unfolding of life beyond our ordinary way of looking at things.

Recognized as an incarnate lama of the Nyingma school, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche teaches at a variety of centers and retreat centers in the US. Pema Chödrön herself is one of Rinpoche’s students. Rinpoche is also an abstract expressionist painter, and his sangha has attracted artistic types drawn by the merging of creativity and meditation.


Reginald A. Ray (Tibetan Buddhism, Colorado)  

Dr Ray Enhanced_1

“Meditating with the body involves learning, through a variety of practices, how to reside fully within our bodies.  What we are doing is not quite learning a technique, not quite learning how to “do” something. Rather, we are readjusting the focal length, the direction, and the domain of our consciousness. Thus, we gradually arrive at an awareness that is actually in our bodies rather than in our heads.  It’s not something you actually learn to do; it’s a way of learning how to be differently.”

Reggie Ray is the founder and spiritual director of Dharma Ocean, an organization dedicated to the practice, study and preservation of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings. Reggie is also a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism. His book Indestructible Truth is a rich but accessible introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.


Jack Kornfield, Vipassana (California, Teaches Worldwide)

Kornfield“Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.” (From Buddha’s Little Instruction Book)

Jack Kornfield is well known for popularizing mindfulness practice in the west. He trained with forest monks in Thailand and the renowned meditation master, Mahāsi Sayādaw in Burma. He has written several introductions to mindfulness including Buddha’s Little Instruction Book and Meditation for Beginners. Trained as a clinical psychologist, Kornfield has also written and taught extensively on the relationship between Eastern and Western psychology.

Joan Halifax Roshi, Zen (New Mexico)


“We live in a time when science is validating what humans have known throughout the ages: that compassion is not a luxury; it is a necessity for our well-being, resilience, and survival.”

Joan Halifax is an American Zen Priest and abbot of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, NM. She is also a medical anthropologist and pioneer in the field of end of life care. She has studied death and dying and trains healthcare workers in the spiritual aspects of end of life care. She is also a member of Zen Peacemakers, and the director of the Upaya Prison Project, which teaches meditation and other mindfulness practices to inmates as a means to ending the cycle of incarceration.

Check out her awesome Ted talk Compassion and the True Meaning of Empathy.

Lama Tsering Everest, Tibetan Buddhism (Brazil)

x“The Dharma is very counter-intuitive. Our own intuition is generally very self-centered, and it’s very oriented towards success and happiness for ourselves and our family, and so when we start to face unconditional love, compassion, and the wisdom of the nature of form, sound, and thought, it’s not really very logical for our ordinary mind. And so it takes a tremendous capacity and ripening for a person to be able to really be receptive, and then to really be able to hold it.”

Born in the United States, Tsering has been the Lama in residence at the Chagdud Gonpa Odsal Ling center in Sao Paulo for over 20 years. She established the center on her teacher Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche’s request to create a seat for the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in Latin America.

She is renowned by her students for her warm, humorous and accessible teaching style.

Adyashanti, Non-Duality (San Francisco, Teaches Worldwide)

adyashanti-2“Freedom is not necessarily exciting; it’s just free. Very peaceful and quiet, so very quiet. Of course, it is also filled with joy and wonder, but it is not what you imagine. It is much, much less. Many mistake the intoxicating power of otherworldly charisma for enlightenment. More often than not it is simply otherworldly, and not necessarily free or enlightened. In order to be truly free, you must desire to know the truth more than you want to feel good.”

Adyashanti (meaning “primordial peace”) is a spiritual teacher, writer and founder of Open Gate Sangha. Although trained in Zen, Adyashanti’s teachings are informed by Christian mysticism. The Truth he points to is not confined within any religious point of view, belief system, or doctrine, but is open to all and found within all.

Enkyo Pat O’Hara, Zen (New York City)

Pat_Enkyo_O'Hara_11“This process of stilling the mind and opening the heart brings a great feeling of ease that courses through the body, releasing the sensation of holding back, of fragility or tightness, and freeing us to work with the challenges of life.  I call that true intimacy.”

A Founding member of the Zen Peacemakers, O’Hara is the abbot of Village Zendo in New York City. A socially engaged Buddhist, much of her activism has been focused on HIV/Aids and gay, lesbian and gender issues. Her first book, Most Intimate–a Zen approach to life’s challenges, is an accessible introduction to Zen practice and includes exercises for individual and group practice.



Dzogchen Punlop Rinpoche, Seattle (Tibetan Buddhism)

Penlop-smilingLove is when you are thinking: “How can I make you happy?” Attachment is when you are thinking: “Why aren’t you making me happy?”

Considered one of the highest Tulkus in the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Dzogchen Punlop Rinpoche is a revered teacher and prolific scholar of Buddhist Philosophy and Psychology. He is also the United States Representative for the 17th Karmapa. In addition to his contributions on buddhist scholarship, Rinpoche also blogs regularly for publications such as Huffington Post and Elephant Magazine. He is a proponent of American Buddhism and insists in his book Rebel Buddha that Dharma can transcend its cultural context.



Tsoknyi Rinpoche (Colorado) and Mingyur Rinpoche (On Retreat), Tibetan Buddhism 


“If you have a hundred thoughts, you will have a hundred helpers in your meditation.”

Sons of Dzogchen master Tulku Urgyen, Tsoknyi and Mingyur are both accomplished teachers and authors. Mingyur’s engaging teachings style weaves ancient teachings together with scientific research in a playful and fresh way. His most recent book, The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happinessis a New York Times best-seller.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche has been teaching for over 20 years, and travels frequently. Like his brother, Tsoknyi has an interest in the relationship between modern science and Buddhism and his teaching often explores the dialogue between the two.

“Instead of focusing on some thoughts and feelings and pushing away others, just look at them as feathers flying in the wind. The wind is your awareness, your inborn openness and clarity.”

Lama Palden Drolma, Tibetan Buddhism (California)

lamapalden“Many times I have heard a Westerner ask a Tibetan Rinpoche,’are the deities real or are they archetypes?’ Every time the master has answered that the yidams, the protectors and the deities are as real as we are. Just as we exist so too do they exist.”

In Western culture, we lack female archetypes that embody the complete range of our potential qualities, but in Buddhism we see embodiments of all aspects of pure form.

Palden Drolma became one of the first women to be authorized as a Lama in the Vajrayana tradition. She is the founder and director of the Sukhasiddhi Foundation, a retreat center in Marin County, CA. Lama Palden is also a psychotherapist and is interested in the intersection of psychology and spirituality.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhism (California & Virginia, Teaches Worldwide)

Tenzin & tanka“Ignorance can be compared to a dark room in which you sleep. No matter how long the room has been dark, and hour or a million years, the moment the lamp of awareness is lit the entire room becomes luminous. You are that luminosity. You are that clear light.” (From The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep)

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche was one of the first teachers to bring the Bon tradition of Tibetan Buddhism to the west. The indigenous religion of Tibet, Bon is a unique variant of Tibetan Buddhism. He has written extensively on the Bon tradition, receiving several research fellowships for his work. In 1998 Rinpoche founded the Serenity Ridge Retreat Center, the international headquarters for the Ligmincha institute–his organization dedicated to preserving Bon Buddhism.

Ethan Nichtern, Shambhala (New York City)

ethan nichtern color_highres“One of the greatest lessons that comes from meditation is that a relaxed curiosity about life and sleepwalking through it are two radically different choices.”

Nichtern is a young shastri (or senior teacher) in the Shambhala tradition. He is also the founder of the Interdependence Project, a secular Buddhist center in New York City. His quirky, down-to-earth teaching style has brought a generation of young people onto the cushion for the first time. He is the author of One City, a look at Buddhist social engagement, and most recently The Road Home: A Contemporary exploration of the Buddhist Path.

International Listings of Buddhist Teachers:


Female Teachers in Buddhism