Studying Tibetan Buddhism Online

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Update July 5, 2014: After receiving many questions about the basic practices of Tibetan Buddhism, we created A Practical Guide to Tibetan Buddhism: Tools for Beginners, an 8-week course meant to supplement your work with a class or a teacher.

One of the greatest pleasures of running the YoWangdu site is meeting new friends who love Tibetan culture as much as we do, and sharing together new things that we discover and learn. This guest post is from one new friend, Ron Fairfield from the UK, who shares with us the results of his preliminary research into finding a good online course of study to learn Buddhism, specifically Tibetan Buddhism. We don’t have personal experience with the courses that he has found, and cannot therefore recommend any of them in particular, but we think that Ron’s careful research is valuable to us all as a starting point for anyone interested to learn Buddhism online.

From Ron:

I have dabbled in the Dharma path over many years and have used the Internet to find nuggets of Dharma knowledge, but pulling all the information together into a coherent study path has proved complicated.

I decided that I needed a structured formal course of study with access to teachers with a proven lineage and an understanding of the western mind. With the Internet now giving access to the many traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachers and Buddhist centres of learning, my search began for an online course that would guide me and support my spiritual path.

I contacted Lobsang as I have enjoyed his blog and the personal insights that it gives to Tibet and its culture, and out of our connection this article was born.

A Summary of the Results of my Search for an Online Course in Tibetan Buddhism

This is by no means a complete list of every course available and I have made no attempt to assess the particular benefits of one course over another, but hopefully my efforts can serve as a starting point for your own journey.

In fact I would love to hear from you of your experience of any of the many courses available. Please either contact me or Lobsang at the email addresses given at the end of this article, or if you don’t mind, just leave a comment at the end of this post. If we get new information, we can update this post.


The Kathmandu University Centre for Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute offers online Buddhist studies courses in several different course formats. Most courses begin September 3rd. They also have trial one-week courses, which is a useful way to experience a taste of the courses available.

The “Foundations of Buddhism” course is $149 for the self-study option with no interactivity. The more interactive course, including an online forum etc., is $295. For those who wish to use the courses as credits towards other universities, the Credits course gives 3 credits at the end, and costs $840. There are a further 9 courses of deeper and deeper knowledge, all with a similar course structure. Four new self-study courses starting this semester are priced as follows:

Life of the Buddha $21 
Basics of Mahāyāna Thought $42
Basics of Buddhist Philosophy $42 
A Brilliant Sun Offered by Donation


Dharma Sun 
https://dharmasun.org/index.php

This site is an offshoot of the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, and offers a practice program called the “Entire Buddhist Path.” The program is described as a gradual online meditation program which “will awaken and bring to fruition your innate pure nature by eliminating negative emotions and thoughts, through cultivating the skills needed to become calm, kind and clear which results in the unfolding of your enlightened mind.”

The fee structure is referred to as a contribution and the course is divided into the First, Second and Third Excellence. Contributions are listed as follows:

  • For the First Excellence, which offers 122 days of material, $180 USD.
  • For the Second Excellence part I, which offers 140 days of material, $208 USD.
  • The contributions for the Second Excellence part II and part III and for the Third Excellence will be announced soon.

Kagyu Samye Ling  
http://www.samyeling.org/

Kagyu Samy Ling is the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre in the West, founded in 1967 by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche, and currently under the guidance of Abbot Lama Yeshe Losal.  The online course evolved in response to increasing demands for a structured and comprehensive Dharma study course. Based on the traditional teachings of the finest Tibetan masters who have visited and taught at Samye Ling, it was launched in sping 2008 jointly by Kagyu Samye Monastery and Dharmacharya Ken Holmes as a three-year programme composed of thirty modules.  The course is over 3 years  and the fees are:

£75 per year or £40 concession which gives 10 monthly study packs and a student online forum.

The course details are available at http://www.calm-and-clear.eu/nangiintro.html  

Jamyang Buddhist Centre

Jamyang Buddhist Centre is a Buddhist and meditation centre in London UK that offers an online study course affiliated to the well-known Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an organisation of over 120 centres in 32 countries, started in the 1970s by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

The Foundation of Buddhist Thought is structured into six four-month modules:

  • The Four Noble Truths
  • Relative Truth
  • Ultimate Truth
  • Buddhist Psychology
  • The Awakening Mind
  • Emptiness
  • An Overview of Tantric Paths and Grounds


Updates from Yolanda and Lobsang on October 28, 2012

Thanks to Bill Davis and Linda for some other, very good, resources:

Berzin Archives

Bill notes: “I highly recommend visiting the Tibetan Buddhist web site of Alexander Berzin. It has the most extensive amount of texts and teachings in audio for free. You can also volunteer to help edit or transcribe texts that are being prepared for addition to the web site. Alexander Berzin is a close friend and works with the Dalai Lama, including preparing teaching materials and translations of esoteric texts for His Holiness when he teaches in various languages….Including extensive introductory and other materials prepared for the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra initiations at:

Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) Online Programs
http://onlinelearning.fpmt.org/
Linda comments: “I am amazed at what you missed, possibly because of your lineage preferences, though I note you have Lama Tashi. At http://www.fpmt.org/education you can see the full array of educational offerings of FPMT. http://onlinelearning.fpmt.org/ has the on line programs. They range from begiinner level classes to a masters level program that is 6 years in length that involves studying the great texts studied in the monasteries (Ornament of Clear Reasoning, Introduction to the Middle Way, Abhidharmakosha)…instead of Vinaya the last year is spent studying tantra. These classes are conducted five days a week for two hours a day, so it’s intensive. I’m currently a student in this program. THis link has an overview of all programs (not online programs at FPMT) http://www.fpmt.org/education/programs
It details the Masters Program as well as Maitripa’s program which is accredited. The link leads to http://www.maitripa.org/ .

Updated on February 13, 2020. First published on September 14, 2012.

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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Ron Fairfield says

    I am pleased that this preliminary study has been well received and hope that it may be expanded with feedback from readers and students of the Dharma.

  2. Linda says

    I am amazed at what you missed, possibly because of your lineage preferences, though I note you have Lama Tashi. At http://www.fpmt.org/education.html you can see the full array of educational offerings of FPMT. http://onlinelearning.fpmt.org/ has the on line programs. They range from begiinner level classes to a masters level program that is 6 years in length that involves studying the great texts studied in the monasteries (Ornament of Clear Reasoning, Introduction to the Middle Way, Abhidharmakosha)…instead of Vinaya the last year is spent studying tantra. These classes are conducted five days a week for two hours a day, so it’s intensive. I’m currently a student in this program. THis link has an overview of all programs (not online programs at FPMT)
    http://www.fpmt.org/education/programs.html
    It details the Masters Program as well as Maitripa’s program which is accredited. The link leads to
    http://www.maitripa.org/ .

    Very best!

  3. Bill Davis says

    I highly recommend visiting the Tibetan Buddhist web site of Alexander Berzin. It has the most extensive amount of texts and teachings in audio for free. You can also volunteer to help edit or transcribe texts that are being prepared for addition to the web site. Alexander Berzin is a close friend and works with the Dalai Lama, including preparing teaching materials and translations of esoteric texts for His Holiness when he teaches in various languages. The Berzin Archives is at:
    http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/index.html

    Including extensive introductory and other materials prepared for the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra initiations at:
    http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/x/nav/n.html_554862326.html

  4. Ron Fairfield says

    I’m confused Linda, the FPMT is included in the Jamyang link above. I have no preferences as to lineage, I am just a simple student of the Dharma and apologise for anything you feel I missed. I did say that this was a preliminary look at what was available and that it was a huge project. I just wanted to start the ball rolling…. regards Ron

  5. susan says

    I want to add the Tibetan Language Institute. Learning Classical Literary Tibetan, even just slightly, will add to one’s understanding of the Dharma greatly! Lama David Curtis, teacher at TLI, is a great teacher and scholar, and very generously offers his online or conference calls throughout the year. I’ve studied with him off and on for about years and must say that a lesson with David adds so many new dimensions to Dharma Study!

  6. Brett Miller says

    I have been practicing meditation since 1985 (I was 11 at that time) with the result that I was calmed and could almost always substitute meditation and its tranquility for anxiety medication. I had no idea of the true power of meditation for transforming negative thoughts into bodichitta until I found 14 issues of Shenpen Osel (highly recommended) online. V.V. Thrangu Khenchen Rinpoche has no idea how much of a positive impact he has had on my life (and now on all beings I come into contact with). I wish I could thank him myself. Since finding those newsletters I have been seeking out and absorbing all material I can on Tibetan buddhism and now am currently attempting to follow the path via the Vajrayana method. Also the “Wheel of Sharp Weapons”, a middle way (Mahayana) text has been of incredible help for dissolving mental obscurations. I have never been happier after nearly 40 years of life. I just found YoWangdu.com about a week ago. So much to try. Thank you!!!

  7. harriet riwland says

    Hello Yolanda and Lobsang!
    I have been receiving your newsletter for a month or two now and I must tell you how much I look forward to it and how pleased I am in the mornings on the day that it arrives! I feel quite isolated here in beautiful Andalusia and it is great to have a sensible, educational, entertaining contact with Tibetan Buddhism! Please do not stop this important work, even when you must sometimes feel tired and obliged to turn it out all the time….you are a sane lifeline for the likes of me!
    I am interested in what Ron has found out about classes as the choice is bewildering, so I am following the posts on this with interest. I had a very bad experience with the New Kadampa Tradition (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and the whole Dorje Shugden affair which I had no idea about…anyway…a long story) so I hope that some really good, safe and blessed recommendations will result! Thanks Ron! All Light to All and With Love, Hat Rowland

    • yowangdu says

      Thank you so much Harriet, you made our day! We hope you know that we have had a family medical problem for the last several weeks, which ended well, so we are now starting to get back to normal. (If you are able to follow us on Facebook, we sometimes post small announcements like that which are not on the web site.) Your previous experience sounds terrible and we hope you are able to find good classes. Please do let us know about your experiences, perhaps as a guest post sometime. All the best to you in Andalusia!

    • Phoebe/Pema says

      Tashi Delek,

      Harriet wrote – “I had a very bad experience with the New Kadampa Tradition (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and the whole Dorje Shugden affair which I had no idea about…anyway…a long story) so I hope that some really good, safe and blessed recommendations will result!”

      EVERYONE, DHARMA BROTHERS AND SISTERS, PLEASE STAY AWAY from NEW KADAMPA and anything that is involved with them.

      I know that I am not supposed to criticize my Brothers and Sisters or Teachers in Dharma but this is a case where I will offer WARNINGS!!!!!!!!

      Please Google “New Kadampa Tradition, survivors and or CULT!!!!!!

      I have never been involved with them but am familiar with survivor’s and the politics behind NKT.

      With that said, they are only a minority and we are ALL BLESSED with being able to study with legitimate Teacher’s/Rinpoche’s in all of the Lineages.

      I apologize to Lama Wangdu if he should find this Post inappropriate but there are times when “skillful means” need to be made into “skillful warnings.” (which I am not yet adept at! LOL)

      Tashi delek,

      Warmest Regards,

      Pema

      • Dean says

        I think it is generally viewed as a downfall to disparage other dharma practitioners. I have come to believe that our culture creates a critical and divisive mindset. We glimpse and then judge. Then we broadcast our judgements. NKT is for the most part a genuine path. While I heartily disagree with the whole Shugden issue, I disagree more with discord and criticism. I think that arises from the same mind that causes political fights and fights between nations. Us versus them. I used to belong to NKT, and I have felt they gave me an extraordinary introduction to sutra and tantra. Comparing the texts to others on the same topics these texts are genuine and well presented. The Shugden thing seems – to me – to be a distraction. It was never forced on me, I never practiced it and no one seemed to care much. However, some young people soon took up the Shugden banner like they were joining some radical political cult, and started to form attachment and aversion surrounding the subject. Vows were broken and bodhiccita and emptiness forgotten. I don’t blame NKT anymore than I do any religious or philosophical school that is dragged down by angry members within it. Still, I always felt NKT did me right for quite a while.

  8. Valerie Leather says

    I am 75, obviously retired and on a low income, so the lower fees for people like me for the courses from Kagyu Samye Ling, are ideal. the subject matter is well split up and comes in amounts that you can more easily deal with then some other courses. As I am Karma Kagyu Lineage, the course suits me perfectly, but it would also be very helpful for other traditions. You are not overworked either, having breaks which give you a chance to mull over what you have learned and prepare yourself for the next month’s package.
    If you need any books, etc, they have a shop, which provides many things. The whole course came into being by request from students–not surprising, as the teachers and visiting teachers, are of the very highest standard and well regarded in the world of Buddhism.

  9. Zla'od says

    Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche offers a Dharma Das program (http://dharmadas.co), apparently free of charge. It requires an average of 30 minutes per day of practice. The approach is nonsectarian (ris med) and, one gathers, rather experimental. My biggest problems with it are (a) his endorsement of controversial figures like Chogyam Trungpa and Sogyal Rinpoche, (b) the rather heavy requirements of some lessons (e.g. travel to India) that can serve as obstacles to further progress, and the lack of an effective online community life or contact with the lama (though senior students have been delegated to answer questions).

    DKR also leads several Dharma Gar programs, which are more intensive (two hours per day), and adapt the traditional three-year curriculum. No new participants are being recruited at this time. I confess to having quit two years into the program, out of frustration at being unable to keep up with the sadhana-recitation requirements, which led me to question the whole tradition of recitation as well as the spirit in which the course was organized. While regular meetings were held (yearly, more or less), DKR again remained distant and unapproachable (except through senior disciples), and if it is not a sin to say so, ran the course with a noticeable nonchalance.

    I also have some experience with the FPMT (online) Masters Program, which offers multiyear modules on several traditional geshe subjects. (Note that this is entirely different from the “Exploring Buddhism” courses, which are generally suitable for beginners.) While I ultimately quit out of anger at the organization’s Maitreya Project (a giant statue, planned to be built on land seized from poor Hindus), I recall also being frustrated with the rather stilted, traditional teaching style of the course, which would have benefitted from a greater reliance on Western scholarly resources and approaches. No doubt many will prefer the present system.

    I emphasize that both DKR and the FPMT are quite well respected, as Tibetan teachers and organizations go, so my criticisms should be taken in this context. In fact, both programs have left their mark on me, and I often regret having quit.

    • Rob Ford says

      There is nothing controversial about Chogyam Trungpa, i have been studying Tibetan Buddhism for about 25 years, have never met any Tibetan lama who was a teacher or student of his that had any negative remarks about his teaching. Without Trungpa , i am not sure Tibetan Buddhism would exist in the state thatbit is right now.

      • yowangdu says

        It’s certainly fair to say that both Chogyam Trungpa is a controversial figure. While acknowledging that he also did much good as a teacher, some students definitely have criticized his behavior. There is a long section on a number of controversies related to Chogyam Trungpa at his Wikipedia page, for example, including complaints from students.

  10. Thando says

    Hello Ron,

    I’m grateful I landed here. I’m a beginner learner and would like to start the dharma path. Were you successful and do you have anything new to share with me, please?

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