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Introducing: Radical Compassion

Naropa University

Naropa University

The Shambhala Times is delighted to introduce a new Column: Radical Compassion

Inspired by Naropa University’s 40th anniversary and their upcoming Symposium of the same name, a partnership has formed between Naropa, the Shambhala Times and Retreat.Guru. This new partnership will take the form of a new Column on the Shambhala Times entitled “Radical Compassion”. Shambhala Times’ Editor-in-Chief Sarah Lipton will be teaming up with Cameron Wenaus to interview leading teachers, thinkers and innovators from Naropa’s lineup for their Radical Compassion Symposium. Some interviews will take place on Shambhala Online and will be open to the public to join. The interviews will focus on the perspectives of radical compassion from the ground of looking at creating enlightened society, and will be available in a wide range of presentations. Stay tuned for some fun social media campaigns and contests that will be part of this partnership!

article by Jaclyn Hawkins, Naropa University

“As sentient beings we have wonderful backgrounds . . . We have soil good enough to cultivate, we can plant anything in it.”
~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Forty years ago, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s vision of creating a Buddhist-inspired university came to fruition in the foothills of Boulder, Colorado. In a wide-ranging series of interviews with Naropa’s leadership, faculty, and distinguished alumni, the Shambhala Times is proud to provide this retrospective of Naropa University, as well as the anticipation of where Naropa University is heading next. With more than 200 planned events, ranging from the Radical Compassion Symposium (October 16-19) to an inaugural Alumni Weekend and the [Dis]embodied Poetics Conference (October 10-12), Naropa University is a center of dynamic voices, workshops, contemplative practices, and community.

In the summer of 1974, students and artists of all crafts first heard Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche delve into his vision of this “one hundred year project.” This concept of a long-lasting institution was birthed an ocean away from Boulder’s foothills, during a famous retreat in Bhutan in which Rinpoche had a clear vision that he would move to America, give up the robes and take up the layman’s manifestation, creating a deep spiritual connection between Bhutan, Naropa, and the Shambhala community. According to Naropa president Charles G. Lief, “from the beginning, the notion of Naropa was that it ought to be a place that had a deep connection to the founder’s energy and vision, but also that it would evolve and grow through the wisdom and motivation and inspiration of a wide variety of voices.”

Anne Waldman and Allan Ginsberg from the Naropa archives

Anne Waldman and Allan Ginsberg from the Naropa archives

This initial vision remains true today in the uniqueness of Naropa University’s contemplative education, as well as the wide-ranging and innovative group of visiting faculty from around the world that find their “temporary autonomous zone” at Naropa. Anne Waldman, founding member of Naropa University and co-founder of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics along with Allen Ginsberg, recalls feeling “zapped with Rinpoche’s vision. No one else was talking about a long-term commitment that would exceed our own lifetimes and presumably create something of benefit for people in the future.”

Waldman and Ginsberg also co-founded the Summer Writing Program, an intensive month-long immersion program modeled off the original summer sessions. Recent guests have included Joanne Kyger, Anne Carson, Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, and several other creative artists and dharma practitioners, who “recognize the innate spontaneity and originality of mind, which then trains in various ‘experiments of attention,’” states Waldman, “while containing a vast archive to show where we have been and houses the voices of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, John Cage, Diane diPrima, Amiri Baraka, Robert Creeley,” among many other artists.

Following the inaugural summer session of 1974 was a clear vision of a Buddhist-inspired institute and a “shoestring budget and staff, all of whom had jobs elsewhere,” recalled Judith-Simmer Brown, Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies at Naropa University and Senior student of Rinpoche, an Acharya (Senior Buddhist teacher) in the Shambhala tradition. The first summer resembled a “Buddhist Woodstock in how a variety of people connected with each other and contemplative practices and the founder.”

Judith Simmer-Brown from the Naropa Archives

Judith Simmer-Brown from the Naropa Archives

While the Shambhala community and Naropa University have grown and evolved into two independent organizations, there is a woven connection that remains between these communities, as “many people who became involved in the Shambhala community made their initial connection through coming to Naropa and meeting Rinpoche and sharing his vision. Naropa was the gateway to the Shambhala community and many forged lifelong friendships during those summer sessions,” said Simmer-Brown.

Naropa’s fortieth anniversary serves as an exciting opportunity to reconnect with both the lineage and practices and communities that arose during the 1970’s and 80’s. According to Simmer-Brown, “the founder’s vision was to create an enlightened society, and we need our alumni to help us achieve that. It’s a time to reconnect and cross-fertilize because there’s such exciting things happening in the Shambhala community and Naropa University, with the lively vision of the founder at work in both organizations. What’s great is that they can meet as individual organizations with vital roles to play in transforming the world,” offers Simmer-Brown.

Naropa University’s impact on traditional education has certainly magnified in ways not foreseen by some of its earliest faculty and students, with schools such as Brown University and the University of Virginia now offering their own contemplative education programs. Scientific research is now underway on mindfulness and contemplative practice, with studies that focus on neuroscience and social science research on the effects of learning and well-being. Additional studies are experimenting with bringing contemplative practices into the classroom to benefit students’ learning and how they are taught. According to Simmer-Brown, Naropa pioneered contemplative education, and many more universities are starting to catch on. “The more people find out what Naropa is doing, and can see the progression from the initial summer sessions to an innovative and profound university that made several contributions to the transformative learning of contemplative education.”

Naropa University should be celebrated as a pioneer of contemplative education, but to limit this experience within the foothills of Boulder would fall short of the university’s mission statement to “Transform Yourself, Transform the World.” Commemorating the fortieth anniversary is to pay respect and acknowledgement to Rinpoche’s founding vision, while lending the opportunity to uncover new potentials that harness his vision. Rinpoche and many others have cultivated the soil, and now is the opportunity to continue this planting process. As Simmer-Brown stated, “We have to keep our roots deep and connected with our unique lineage, while making sure our branches are wide-reaching and inclusive.”

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For more information on Naropa’s 40th anniversary events and speakers, please visit www.naropa.edu/40

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1 response to “ Introducing: Radical Compassion ”
  1. I am greatful for my education at Naropa university. It introduced me to my path and lead me to discover what my passion and life’s work would be. I went on to study and become one of the first western women given the title of Menpa (Tibetan Dr). I now spend my days nourishing peoples bodies minds and hearts and teach them tools for being self aware and compassionate throughout their spheres of work and family. I am inspired by living a life which strives to help sentient beings. That concept was first introduced to me during my time as a student of Naropa. It has had far reaching influence which I’ve been able to share. I’m proud to be a Naropa graduate!


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