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Posts Tagged "fpmt education"
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There is an ever-expanding need for qualified teachers as interest in Buddhist study grows and the number of FPMT centers, projects, services and study groups increases. The personal benefit of completing a full course of study in any FPMT standard education program is incalculable. An enormous additional benefit comes to the graduate and their local center when he or she receives the completion certification for the program – because this fulfills one of the key prerequisites for becoming an FPMT registered teacher, itself a requirement to teach in a center or study group.
FPMT Education Services makes three certificate study programs available to students – Discovering Buddhism, Basic Program and Masters Program – each designed in accordance with the guidance, wishes and advice of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. By completing a program in full, students are directly fulfilling Rinpoche’s wishes for education within FPMT. Acknowledging the need for registered teachers and understanding the rewards and benefits of teaching itself, we encourage all FPMT students to consider taking one of the standard FPMT education programs through to certification. …
FPMT News Around the World
You may have noticed that FPMT Education Services’ has been doing a lot of great work, updating and organizing their webpages to help students find the materials and information they need to do practice and study Dharma. Now you can find the latest news from Education Services about new practices, booklets, study materials, education programs and trainings on their new “FPMT Education News” page. Even better, you can subscribe to the page and receive announcements directly in your email inbox.
With more than 160 centers, projects and services around the globe, there is always news on FPMT activities, teachers and events. Mandala hopes to share as many of these timely stories as possible. If you have news you would like to share, please let us know.
If you like what you read on Mandala, consider becoming a Friend of FPMT, which supports our work.
FPMT News Around the World
De-Tong Ling Retreat Centre director Will Abram recently shared a beautiful photo of the South Australia center’s new Enlightenment Stupa, which was completed in July 2012. The photo was taken during a week-long work session at the remote and peaceful center, located on Kangaroo Island. “[This] is one of the best images we have got to date,” Abram writes.
Holy objects have been central to FPMT since the organization’s early days when Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche first established Kopan Monastery near Bouddhanath Stupa in Nepal. Since then, under the guidance of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the creation of holy objects has become a central mission of the organization. Centers like De-Tong Ling and scores of others have helped carried forward Rinpoche’s vast vision to build hundreds of thousands of holy objects everywhere, making it possible for for sentient being to easily purify negative karma and create merit.
To help support FPMT students and centers in this practice, FPMT Education Services has created a new webpage on holy objects featuring information and advice. “Lama Zopa Rinpoche has personally inspired or commissioned the creation of hundreds of thousands of holy objects from the casting commitments of tsa-tsas he’s given students or suggestions for larger projects like statues, stupas, prayer wheels and large thangkas to be created on FPMT grounds,” says Education Services’ website.
On the new site, you can find resources for:
You can also find a collection of advice from Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the benefits of holy objects and stories on holy objects from Mandala.
With more than 160 centers, projects and services around the globe, there is always news on FPMT activities, teachers and events. Mandala hopes to share as many of these timely stories as possible. If you have news you would like to share, please let us know.
If you like what you read on Mandala, consider becoming a Friend of FPMT, which supports our work.
FPMT News Around the World
Mantras, meaning “mind protection” are Sanskrit syllables that bring benefit to all who see, touch, hear or speak them. As a resource for FPMT students, FPMT Education Services has created a new “Mantras” webpage where they have collected PDFs of many popular mantras and practices. You can also find on the page links to advice from Lama Zopa Rinpoche about the practice and benefits of reading, writing and reciting mantras.
In addition, Education Services offers resources pages for many prayers and practices as well as a page devoted specifically to sutra practice. These pages are regularly being updated and expanded, so check back regularly to find out what’s new.
FPMT Education Services is the education department of FPMT International Office and develops study programs, practice materials, translations and trainings designed to foster an integration of four broad education areas: study, practice, service and behavior. These programs and materials are available through Education Services webpages, the FPMT Foundation Store, the FPMT Online Learning Center and FPMT centers worldwide.
With 160 centers, projects and services around the globe, there is always news on FPMT activities, teachers and events. Mandala hopes to share as many of these timely stories as possible. If you have news you would like to share, please let us know.
The successes of FPMT Education have been due to the collective efforts of the many individuals who have worked on the wide array of programs and materials now available. In this section, we’ll meet some of the key contributors to FPMT Education and hear, in their words, how FPMT Education has developed, the part it plays in preserving the Mahayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and what they view as the direction it will follow in the future. They also share their thoughts on working with outgoing Education Services Director Merry Colony, whose story appears in Mandala January-March 2012.
Tubten Pende, a.k.a. Jim Dougherty, was involved in Lama Yeshe’s Geshe Study Program, which began at Manjushri Institute in England in 1979 and was historic both for FPMT and the Gelug tradition. Lama Yeshe envisioned the program as open to women and men, lay and ordained, and as leading to a true Geshe degree, one recognized commonly by other Gelugs. To that end, Lama Yeshe eventually convinced the Gelugpa Society, which consisted mainly of the abbots of the three great monasteries, to support it. Pende both helped administer the program and attended it as a student. He says, “I owe a great deal to that program as it provided me with knowledge I would never have obtained otherwise.” The program’s time requirements for students, however, made it impractical to maintain. While not entirely successful in itself, the Geshe Studies Program inspired the development of other initiatives such as the Seven-Year Program.
“When I started to work for the Education Department at International Office, I observed that the Seven-Year Program was nearly out of energy and I decided to do whatever it would take to re-energize it,” Pende recalls. This led to the development of the Masters Program (MP), FPMT’s most advanced study program based on the traditional studies at the great Gelug monastic universities. This program also required both an extensive time commitment and a good foundation in Buddhist education. To help create the latter, other educational programs were designed to introduce newcomers to Buddhism and gradually develop their knowledge, including the Basic Program (BP) and Discovering Buddhism program. Western Buddhist teachers within the FPMT, including Pende, developed Discovering Buddhism in 2003. Pende authored the program’s 12th module, “The Wisdom of Emptiness,” and, as an “elder,” continues to provide advice to those studying the program through the Online Learning Center (OLC).
Pende has had over a decade of experience working on the development and support of FPMT education programs with Merry Colony, who served as director of Education Services from 2000 to 2011. “Merry is a good communicator and organizer. She had the skill set necessary to manage people who were more technically involved with education to help ensure that the objectives of the Education Department were achieved,” he says. “This is not easy and it is very selfless work, as the administration of international education programs can go unnoticed. One of Merry’s accomplishments that I especially appreciate was that she was able to ensure compliance with FPMT education policy and procedures without a heavy hand. She was reasonable, understanding, sympathetic, helpful and still maintained the integrity of those programs.”
Concerning the future of FPMT Education, Pende says, “FPMT Education needs to develop more facilities for intensive practice, namely retreat facilities. It has done a good job of establishing academic programs to provide the education necessary to support practice. However, to take an intellectual understanding of Buddhism to the next level – direct experience – it takes a great deal of meditation. This will require people who are sufficiently mature in merit, knowledge and determination to be able to meditate effectively for the long haul. Such people can be expected to emerge from our education programs. But we can’t rely on the cultures of our countries to support yogis (not in the USA anyway), so we need to develop such supportive cultures within the FPMT and specific facilities to enable them to complete the path.”
Ven. Connie Miller participated in the Geshe Studies Program at Manjushri Institute as well as in the Masters Program at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa (ILTK) in Italy in the 1980s. She organized the first conference on Universal Education (now called Universal Wisdom Education). She then stayed at ILTK and served in the spiritual program department. Ven. Connie also worked on a magazine about Universal Education called Educaré. From 1990 to 1995, Ven. Connie was employed by Wisdom Publications. She then went to Land of Medicine Buddha (LMB) in California to staff FPMT’s International Office, serving under Tubten Pende who was then director of FPMT Education. She quickly realized the need for a standard prayer compilation for FPMT. Her prototype for a standardized prayer book was tried out at the 3-month Vajrasattva retreat led by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at LMB and resulted in what we now know as FPMT Essential Prayers, Volumes 1, 2 and 3. When International Office moved to Taos, New Mexico, Ven. Connie worked with Merry Colony. Ven. Connie focused her efforts on materials development, including prayer books and sadhanas, as well as on various other editing priorities. She also assisted in the founding of FPMT’s Thubten Norbu Ling Tibetan Buddhist Center in Santa Fe, teaching weekly there for many months.
Since then, she has worked with Universal Wisdom Education and as an FPMT Education consultant, helping with the development of Discovering Buddhism, and since 2008, she has been working full time as an editor for the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, focusing primarily on the biography of Lama Yeshe.
Ven. Connie sees the benefits of FPMT Education’s development of materials and programs. “In order to complete advanced practices, and beginner practices as well, people need to know how to complete the sadhanas and meditations,” she says. “With the materials we have prepared and made available, students have instructions right there, and if they have a teacher to fill in exactly how to meditate, then they have everything they need to be able to engage in practices. Certainly if one is doing advanced retreats with long sadhanas and fire pujas, it’s not possible to do them without the texts. All these materials are essential elements enabling people to engage in the Dharma. As far as programs are concerned, if we are a big family of brothers and sisters in the Dharma with a common collection of fathers and mothers as our gurus, it really helps to be doing the same things, using the same language and studying in consistent ways together so we’re sure we are traversing the path without getting sidelined on tangents or incorrect paths. We can now have confidence that those programs are laid out in a way we can take refuge in and trust.”
About Merry, Ven. Connie says, “Merry is an amazing combination of Tara energy with 1,000 arms. I don’t know anyone who can hang on to so many threads at one time, keep them all moving and keep track of them all. She never, ever ceased to amaze me. Plus, she has always been completely dedicated to fulfilling Rinpoche’s wishes. Everything she does is arising out of that. And then to bring those wishes into practical fulfillment which is sometimes not a small feat at all! It’s a hard job she’s done all these years. It is going to be incredibly hard to fill her shoes.
“Given all those things I said about standardized programs, I also feel that standardized programs can also bog people down, that they can become stagnant. FPMT is getting so big!” Ven. Connie reflects. About FPMT Education’s future, Ven. Connie adds, “I met the Dharma strictly from Tibetans, at least at the beginning. But the generation who had that experience is fast disappearing – and that means significant change. It’s true that much effort was made to take that into account when developing the current standardized programs. Yet our programs are, for the most part, still based on monastic study programs. I think that eventually things are going to shift hugely and that the appearance of Osel Hita is one sign of this. We have to stay open to such change. In the movement of the Dharma into contemporary 21st-century cultures, there has always been the question of what is the essence of the Dharma and what are the trappings – you know, the issue of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. That is going to continue to be at the crux of how we move forward. How can we be truly creative in spreading the Dharma and yet not dilute or even lose the purity of the Dharma’s unbroken lineage?
“[In summer 2011] I attended the Garrison Institute conference, which was attended by teachers from every single Buddhist tradition: Japanese, Zen, Theravada, Pure Land, Tibetan, etc. Much of the discussion that took place there was about being creative and communicating the Dharma in the 21st century,” Ven. Connie continues. “But one thing we hardly looked at was how we preserve our lineages, so that the Dharma remains pure. How do we avoid going down the path of losing lineage and losing purity? I don’t think that having just one American Buddhism, for example, can possibly work, because, for instance, the Zen lineage and the Gelug lineage aren’t the same. We’re still at the beginning; there’s a lot to work out. But as we move forward, the more concretized we become, the less we’ll be in harmony with the Dharma – because things are constantly changing.”
Olga Plankten was also a student of Lama Yeshe’s Geshe Studies Program at Manjushri Institute and showed an aptitude for study and meditation early on. She has been instrumental in the development of FPMT’s Basic Program and promoting it in centers. She also assisted with development of the Masters Program. These days she helps with coordination of the Basic Program and supporting BP participants with information and advice on practical issues. She recalls, “It was clear to many of us in the mid-’90s that our centers were struggling to provide quality structured Dharma programs, and despite our wealth of resources in the FPMT, we were failing to combine our efforts to offer students the best possible Dharma training. Developing the Basic Program was particularly appealing as it represents a good balance between study and practice that suits many students and centers.”
Olga has provided consistency to the programs on which she’s worked by keeping development and Rinpoche’s recommendations on track over the years, maintaining a detailed knowledge of the programs and purpose behind them as well as ongoing teacher input. She says, “It has been very satisfying to see the progress we’ve made. Apart from many individual students benefiting from improved training, I believe we have contributed to drawing the FPMT centers, staff and students together in a very positive way in a shared Dharma study and practice.”
Olga had the following to say about Merry Colony: “Over the years Merry’s good personal skills, excellent communication and extensive networking, often based on great personal friendships, her loyalty to FPMT and her vision of its aims, and her dedication to International Office, making it effectively function as ‘Rinpoche’s Office’ and actualizing that essential message – all this has made me feel rather indebted to her. She made it possible for me to do my job as Basic Program and Masters Program consultant for Education Services, and has supported me throughout while developing the Basic Program Guidelines and Basic Program materials, by commissioning translations, by helping me get coordinators for the development of the program and materials in French and Spanish, and by backing me up while guarding and supporting implementation of the BP.
“Recently, with essential support from her side, the Masters Program Guidelines were completed,” Olga continues. “Merry’s work on the development of the first MP, together with Ven. Joan Nicell and in consultation with the MP students, in order to implement Rinpoche’s wishes and input, has been one of her most successful efforts. Setting up the first FPMT Translation Office, the Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translation Team, and organizing the first, very productive, translation conference at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa last May is a huge step forward towards standardizing terminology and bringing not only practice materials, but also our translations of standard BP and MP texts and commentaries to another level. Her vision and her impressive talent to capture ideas and translate them into achievable action have shaped FPMT Education and have given it much of its current quality and reach.”
Concerning the future of FPMT Education, Olga comments, “In my area of BP and MP, we will continue to develop and refine the programs and their translations and support materials, making sure we preserve their integrity and support centers that implement them. Basic Program Online will be up and running in the near future. The Masters Program may be implemented in more centers in line with Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s wishes and encouragement. University accreditation is another interesting development, with the first accredited BP starting next year at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa – hopefully forming the basis for a university-accredited Master Program. The programs will also continue to develop in languages other than English, with Education Services’ continued support.”
Kendall Magnussen started working for FPMT Education in 2000 after serving at Land of Medicine Buddha for seven years. Her first roles were as a spiritual program coordinator support person, as organizer for the FPMT Education Conference of 2001, and following that as a developer of an FPMT introductory program (which became Discovering Buddhism) and a Spiritual Program Coordinator Training Program and Service Manual. The trainings and program were quite well received and as a result, she helped further develop a Rituals Training and the Foundation Training for Compassionate Service. Kendall has facilitated a total of seven training events globally. In 2002, she came on board to help Ven. Connie Miller with materials development (including revisions) and eventually became the main person working in this area. Kendall took time out to do retreat in 2006 and came back to work on specific projects in 2009, starting with the text for Buddhism in a Nutshell. She continues her Education Services work with developing all of the Living in the Path (LP) modules.
“The most significant advancement in FPMT Education is its relevance to the organization as a whole and to the general public. We finally have standard materials internationally, which was a huge achievement,” Kendall says. “There are a number of standard Education programs that centers are encouraged to host and all of the support materials and personnel are there to help them – whether it is a short course like Buddhism in a Nutshell or Meditation 101, the introductory course Discovering Buddhism, or more advanced programs like Masters Program and Basic Program. These have all been fully developed over the last 12 years by FPMT Education, including translations of some major texts and commentaries for the more advanced programs.
“People now know that if they need something related to education or practice in the organization, they can reliably depend on FPMT Education to provide whatever they need to the best of our ability. I think we have a good customer satisfaction rating,” Kendall adds. ”We now have reputable at-home study versions of many of our programs and courses, as well as a formidable Online Learning Center that is gaining recognition daily. People know if they do an FPMT course that it is a quality program, based on a valid lineage that they can trust.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Merry has been the primary dynamic force behind all of this productivity,” Kendall continues. “She is always making lists and re-adjusting those lists and makes it clear how excited she is to check things off her list. It is very satisfying to make Merry happy by giving her something to check off one of those lists! There are many areas that Merry was managing, cheerleading, envisioning for, etc., simultaneously. Materials and trainings were only two areas, both major ones. … She was also the interface for other Buddhist organizations and translation teams as well as artists, publishers and such for permissions. More recently, she has spearheaded the first efforts to come up with standardized terms for translation within FPMT by putting together a translation conference in Italy and supporting Ven. Joan in creating an online lexicon of terms for translation which includes a number of translator’s terms as well as Rinpoche’s personal comments and advice regarding certain words. Merry’s work ethic is incredibly admirable. She puts in very long hours.
“One of her key strengths is her steadfast encouragement and support for her team, making sure they have what they need to not only do their jobs but also that they feel emotionally supported in the midst of sometimes extremely challenging circumstances, deadlines and politics. She checks in regularly, makes sure we are OK, finds out where we are at with our projects and makes us commit to deadlines so things actually get finished. If the money isn’t in the budget for a project she feels strongly about, she fundraises for it personally. I have never worked with such an effective team leader or boss in terms of feeling appreciated and supported to be as productive as I could – and when I needed a break, that was also supported. She has an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge – not only of Dharma, but of the history of the organization, Rinpoche’s wishes, who to contact for any number of variable things, etc. She has built up a wide network of people that FPMT Education can now rely on for help or resources when needed. Merry is a very good people person and networker, which helps us a lot!
“Merry also has wisdom and amazing devotion to Rinpoche. She is an excellent thinking partner to work out the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of any project and it was always extremely clear that Rinpoche always had the final say. While I know she was under great pressure herself, she always maintained a calming steady presence at the helm of Education. It has been a great honor to work with her, for her, under her and I hope I get to do so many times again in lives to come!”
About the future of Education, Kendall says, “I imagine that FPMT Education will continue to expand as a reliable global source of Buddhist study and practice materials. We will have more and more of an online presence, a virtual FPMT community, and at-home students as well as centers that have a reputation for offering quality programs in many more languages. Living in the Path will expand to include Lama Yeshe’s teachings so that it is a hub of experiential learning from the direct teachings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Training will also expand as it will become even more important to help centers stay connected and receive the support they need and inspiration regarding the greater vision of FPMT that training provides. Maybe we will even have a residential training program for SPCs for education programs, rituals training, and familiarity with all the amazing resources at their disposal – we certainly have enough material
“Of course, what happens over the next decade in FPMT Education will depend very much on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s wishes, guidance and inspiration,” Kendall says. “Without Rinpoche, none of this would have happened thus far and we pray for Rinpoche’s long and healthy life and continued guidance and involvement with all aspects of FPMT Education.”
Eamon Walsh is the administrator for the Online Learning Center. Since late 2005, he has worked in a variety of capacities for International Office, including serving as CFO. Eamon began his close involvement with FPMT Education programs during studies at Maitripa College in Portland, Oregon, USA. Having a background and aptitude for technology, he helped develop a new multimedia online program based solely on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings called Living in the Path (LP) as well as worked on the creation of the Online Learning Center and the FPMT Media Center.
“Since I have been involved with FPMT Education, I think the greatest developments are the OLC and the new LP courses, and also the potential for adding more teachings from Rinpoche either through live streaming or on-demand videos,” Eamon says. “It is not possible to get to all of Rinpoche’s events throughout the world, but I like to think that people can watch some of them live through live webcast or after the event. I also like that we have free courses available and options for people who cannot afford courses to be able to complete them online.”
Eamon has enjoyed working with Merry. “She was always very supportive of and encouraging of the work I was doing on the OLC and I relied on her a lot to ensure that I was keeping my work on track with the bigger Education direction and vision,” he says. “She brought the qualities of support and encouragement and vision to my work on the OLC.”
In terms of the future of FPMT Education, Eamon says, “I think it is important for FPMT Education to continue to produce new materials and consolidate and expand the existing programs. I think there are some major new distribution channels which we need to be part of including having all our materials available in the latest electronic forms such as on the Kindle bookstore, as mobile apps, etc. I also think we need to work closely with having all the teachings of Rinpoche available live over the next few years as well as after the event.”
Ven. Detchen took over from Eléa Redel as coordinator of the French Translation Service in 2009.
About working with Merry, Ven. Detchen says, “She has always been very supportive of our work, always ready to offer any help and advice she could. It felt like she was a mother supporting us. We are all part of a big family speaking different languages and she did her very best to help us making the Dharma available in these languages.”
In terms of the future of translation within FPMT, Ven. Detchen says, “After our meeting last May at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, I think we now have, in the FPMT, a real wish to work together on the standardization of translation terminology – of course, from Tibetan into English, but also into all our respective languages. Another priority is to train our younger translators to make sure that our translations meet a high standard of precision combined with a high standard of readability. As Rinpoche advises, we need ‘sweet’ translation.”
Ven. Nerea Basurto has been translating since she was 18. Her work always involved oral and written translation. When she became a Buddhist (nearly 30 years ago), she was asked to translate the teachings from English into Spanish. She attended the first Masters Program in Istituto Lama Tsong Khapa. After graduation, she was asked to coordinate the Spanish Translation Services and since then, except for some months teaching, she has been managing, translating and editing for the Translation Service.
About working with Merry, Ven. Nerea says, “As the incredible education programs were being actualized in English, it became obvious the need to provide it in the different languages that are part of the worldwide organization, and Merry took on a big load to support and organize this work. In our case, we have always relied on her for the bigger picture and Rinpoche’s view, and all the help with the everyday work. We are really grateful to her. Many people have helped to make what the Spanish Translation Service is now, but without Merry’s help, it would not have been possible, we will miss her a lot. Merry has brought a broad view of the whole organization, lots of common sense, lots of patience – especially with all the problems of communication due to different cultures and languages – warmth, great humor, and the attitude of always helping, no matter how big her work load would be. I admire her and it is a delight working with her.”
About the future of translation, Ven. Nerea says, “I think that the development of the English Translation Office will be a key factor for translations into the different languages, since many of the translations are done from English, and having revised and accurate English translations with a standardized vocabulary will provide the proper base for all the texts in other languages.
“From our side in the Spanish Translation Service, we have prepared all the structure with training, investigation of terminology, working procedures and using the best technology available, so that based on the previous work, we can improve continuously and the knowledge accumulated can be available to all the collaborators of the future. We hope that the next generations can continue improving the work to preserve and make available the Mahayana tradition.”
Ven. Joan Nicell was instrumental in setting up the first seven-year Masters Program at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa along with Tubten Pende and Geshe Jampa Gyatso. The program began in 1998 with a surprising 35 students from 13 countries. In addition, the first correspondence course attracted more than 80 people. Towards the end of the Masters Program she began to work with Olga Planken to set up a two-and-a-half year residential and online Basic Program that was to begin in 2005, a year after the first Masters Program came to an end. Recently she has taken over the development of Discovering Buddhism as an online program in Italian and the coordination of teachers for the weekend program. Over the years she has also worked closely with Merry to develop criteria for the Masters Program certification. She also is a transcribing virtuoso, keying in Rinpoche’s teachings (for hours on end) so they can be projected on to a screen for students as well as saved to serve as the basis for future education materials and books. For many onlookers at teachings, she seems to be performing a miracle, but Joan says she’s able to do so due to prayer. “I soon discovered that neither my mind nor my fingers could keep up with Rinpoche unless I mentally made a strong request to Rinpoche, at the beginning of each session, to bless my mind and my fingers (I also included my computer in the blessing as it too often had difficulty keeping up!)” she explains. “That’s the main ‘secret.’ The other one is hundreds of abbreviations, making use of auto-corrections in Microsoft Word, such as ‘sbs’ for ‘sentient beings.’“
About working with Merry she says, “Merry has many qualities, but one of the most important ones is that once she takes on a project, she sees it through to the end, no matter how many the obstacles (and there was never a shortage of them!). And so it has been with her efforts to provide materials for the FPMT education programs and get these program established in the centers in accordance with the advice of Lama Zopa Rinpoche; get the FPMT prayer books out to the students and centers and create version after version of the Retreat Prayer Book for events with Lama Zopa Rinpoche; get the FPMT Media Center up and running by organizing a team of qualified audio and video technicians; get the study programs out to more and more people by means of the Online Learning Center; promote the translation of FPMT study and practice materials into as many languages as possible; and more recently put her time and energy into initiating FPMT Translation Services in order to begin the work of revising and publishing the translations commissioned over the years by the FPMT for use in the Basic Program and Masters Program. All this, with never enough money and never enough help. Merry can definitely be proud of her contribution to the FPMT.
“I see FPMT Education moving out of the centers (where it is already well established) and into the world,” Ven. Joan continues. “As the FPMT gains more and more well-trained Buddhist teachers who have graduated from the BP and MP (as well as from Buddhist study programs in universities and geshe training programs in the Tibetan monastic universities), they will go out into the world and use their training in ever-more varied fields. As a result, the FPMT will be behind the creation of education programs that can be implemented in many different environments – schools, universities, hospitals, hospices, prisons, businesses, etc. – and also suit many different types of individuals – the young, the old, teenagers, parents, teachers, the sick, the dying, etc. I think Universal Wisdom Education will flourish, but so will Buddhism and Buddhist studies, both as onsite and online programs. I think we need to take up the challenge and be at the forefront of bringing the values of Buddhism into the world through our education programs. We also need to be involved in and to even initiate research projects involving the study of the mind and the inner qualities based on compassion and wisdom that we Buddhists are striving to develop in order to benefit others. Through scientific validation, Buddhism will continue to attract more and more people to it and thereby make an ever-more important contribution to the world.”
Read online Mandala‘s January-March 2012 article on Merry Colony’s journey with FPMT.
For an in-depth look at a different aspect of FPMT education, see our July-September 2010 story on FPMT teachers, “Like Nectar on Flowers.”
In December 2011, FPMT International Office said goodbye to Director of Education Services, Merry Colony, who served in this capacity for nearly 12 years. We would like to take this opportunity to reflect on Merry’s journey with FPMT up until now and rejoice in some of the accomplishments she has helped make manifest for FPMT Education and the entire organization. When Merry found out that we were publishing a story about her, she protested, saying, “There are so many people who’ve done so much more, and for so much longer! There is really no need to mention me at all!” We disagree. Merry’s story, like those of many others who serve FPMT, is one of tremendous perseverance, unwavering dedication, and a truly admirable work ethic and resolve. It is to these qualities that we pay homage and from which we draw inspiration.
Life in an FPMT Dream
In 1979, a free-spirited 22-year-old American girl from eastern Massachusetts named Merry Colony received an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She had already decided that she had to leave friends, family and country for a spiritual path following her graduation. She spent the following summer in Alaska and took a Trans Canadian train back to the East Coast to swap tearful goodbyes with family before traveling to Santa Cruz to prepare for her next journey. While settling her affairs in California, she did a lam-rim retreat with Zazep Tulku and some students fromVajrapani Institute. During that retreat she saw a poster of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The poster was an advertisement for a nyung nä retreat in Lawudo, Nepal. She recalls, “I knew that was it. That this was where I had to be and who I had to be with.” She left for Lawudo in January 1980, attending the March meditation course at Kopan Monastery on her way. Both retreats solidified her initial feeling that she was exactly where she needed to be. She was home. Shortly after, she was ordained at Kopan as a Buddhist nun by Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Lama Yeshe, Geshe Jampa Gyatso, Geshe Doga and Lama Lhundrup. Lama Yeshe insisted that she keep her refuge name given by him, Yeshe Dechen.
In 1981 she was asked to serve as Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s attendant on a teaching tour in the United States. At the end of that trip, Lama Yeshe asked her to be his secretary. She worked under Jacie Keeley for the next seven months. In 1982 she attended the first Enlightened Experience Celebration (EEC) in India. The gathering sparked energy and enthusiasm to start a community of FPMT nuns, as each year more female students were taking robes. Following the celebration, 12 Western nuns made a home for themselves in a barn at Institut Vajra Yogini, near Toulouse in France, six miles [10 kilometers] from Nalanda Monastery, the community of Western monks. One year later the nuns voted her as director of the nunnery and she served in this role until 1984, at which time she disrobed. Shortly after, Lama Zopa Rinpoche asked her to start a center in Taiwan. She moved there in 1985 with her husband at the time, Jean Marie, accompanied by Rinpoche. She remembers, “The timing was absolutely not right and after a very tumultuous week in Taiwan, Rinpoche decided it was time to go and told me and Jean Marie we could follow him to Kopan.”
After attending the second Enlightened Experience Celebration in Nepal in 1986, she and Jean Marie went up to Lawudo, the birthplace of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s previous incarnation, looking for a suitable place to do long retreat. In years prior, Merry had visited Cherok, a small homestead very close to Lawudo in the Khumbu valley, so she suggested they also check out a cave located there which had previously belonged to Ngawang Samden, a Sherpa whose incarnation is now the ex-Kopan monk Tenzin Dorje (also known to some as “Cherok Lama” because of time spent on the land in his previous life). In July 1986 they asked Cherok Lama Kushog Mangden, a great Nyingma yogi and terton who was head of the Cherok family, permission to use the cave and he happily agreed. He told Merry, “Many people love this place and say they would like to do retreat here. But they never return. But you will. You have made prayers for many lifetimes to do retreat here.” Merry explained to Cherok Lama that she had to go to France to see her father, go to United States to see her mother, pack up things for a three-year retreat and get back. Cherok Lama told her, “No problem. You’ll be back in five weeks.” That sounded totally impossible to Merry since they had to walk to and from Kathmandu to Cherok, approximately eight days each way. However, they completed their around-the-world trip, got back to Kathmandu, packed up all of their supplies for three years, hired six porters, and walked back to Cherok, arriving exactly five weeks later! In September 1986, they began to rebuild the cave.
In 1987, Merry had a house built for Osel Hita, the recognized incarnation of Lama Yeshe. When Merry and Lama Yeshe were in Lawudo together in 1981, he showed her the spot on which to build a place for him. The building is called Osel’s House and serves as the main retreat house at Lawudo.
Cherok was Merry’s base until 1992, when Lama Zopa Rinpoche called her down and gave her the job of “helping in Bodhgaya.” She flew out of Lukla on New Year’s Day, 1992. Three weeks later her precious spiritual friend, Cherok Lama, passed away. When Merry first arrived at Cherok, Cherok Lama had promised her that he would live as long as she was at Cherok. One friend of Merry’s believes that Rinpoche called her down from Cherok because it was Cherok Lama’s time to pass, and he couldn’t pass while she was still in residence, as he had to keep his promise. According to Tsultrim Norbu of Lawudo, Cherok Lama’s last words were Merry’s name.
She started working for Root Institute in Bodhgaya in 1992, and after a year Rinpoche made her co-director of the newly developing project to build a 100-foot [30-meter] statue of the future Buddha, Maitreya. She became sole director a year later. Her main job was to secure 12 acres of land in Bodhgaya for the project. Because it was going to be a lease from the Indian government, she spent her time going between Bodhgaya, Patna and Delhi dealing with government officials. A variety of outer and inner obstacles ensued until Merry resigned from this position in 1995. However, her work obtaining permits and dealing with government officials proved incredibly useful for future developments of the project. (The Maitreya Project is now a plan to build a 500-foot [152-meter] statue, still in Bodhgaya, but on different land than the spot Merry tried to procure.)
Merry spent the next three years recovering from her Bodhgaya experience. During a particularly depressing period of six months in San Francisco, Merry received a letter from Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s sister, Ngawang Samden, saying she had found Cherok Lama’s reincarnation and Merry should come right away to meet him. She immediately made the trip to meet the young Cherok Lama in 1995. He was three years old. As she climbed over the Lawudo wall, the young tulku exclaimed, “Merry!” when he saw her. Reunited again, Cherok Lama quickly got to work arranging his future, with Merry as his ambassador. A few weeks after arriving, she left the mountain bearing letters for Lama Lhundrup, Sangay Sherpa and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, all dictated by the young Cherok Lama saying he “was Cherok Lama, wanted to go to Kopan, get a good education and then teach Westerners,” and they “had to help” him. A year later, Merry brought Cherok Lama down to Kopan for his enthronement.
In 1997, Merry installed an solar-energy system at Lawudo that provided electric light there for the first time ever. She sold jewelry from Nepal to finance the project, then bought the system in Khatmandu, portered it all up along with a solar installer and gave Lawudo 12 panels so every room could have a light bulb.
After two trips to Tibet and having reunited with Cherok Lama, Merry’s life turned a corner and she regained the strength she had lost during her time in Bodhgaya. She was ready for the next challenge.
In 1998, Rinpoche assigned her to take over directorship of the Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translator Programme (LRZTP) in Dharamsala from Claire Isitt. She served in this post until 2000 and was responsible for hiring a second teacher for the program, enabling all levels of students to receive a solid foundation in the training which had been difficult with only one teacher. She also had a new classroom built for the next LRZTP program. Her familiarity with LRZTP graduates also proved incredibly useful in her later work with FPMT Education.
Before she left LRZTP, Rinpoche asked her to take over from Tubten Pende as the director of FPMT Education. Rinpoche told her it was, “just one more ngöndro.” She had only a few weeks between jobs, just enough time to run up to Cherok to say goodbye to her precious cave and the life she had lived there, attend that year’s CPMT meeting in Australia, and start her job at International Office in June 2000, then located at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, California. A month later the office moved to Taos, New Mexico.
This was the first time she settled in the United States since she had originally left in January 1980. Merry recalls, “I spent the first three years of my new role shaking, feeling totally out of my depth.” She managed her feeling of being overwhelmed by doing what Merry does best: putting one foot in front of the other, showing up every day, getting her hands dirty and persevering.
In January 2006, the International Office moved to Portland, Oregon with Merry in tow. While the rain and sometimes dreary weather of Portland didn’t correspond with Merry’s love of sunlight and open spaces, she persevered in Portland for almost six years. Merry’s work ethic is legendary. Over the course of the last 30 years, Merry has completed 100 nyung näs, all nine of the Gelug preliminary practices – two of them twice, many approximation retreats and four FPMT directorships.
FPMT Education: How Far We’ve Come
The preservation and dissemination of Tibetan Buddhist lineage teachings is an essential part of FPMT. Education Services plays a key role in supporting this. Several dedicated people – including Tubten Pende, Ven. Connie Miller and others, whose reflections on Education Services Mandala has collected and published – helped lay the foundation for what was to come, but by all accounts, Merry’s tenacity over the last 12 years has been the driving force behind FPMT Education’s shower of productivity. In 2000, when Merry took the job of directing FPMT Education Services, the organization had two study programs – the Masters Program and the Basic Program – and one translator program, Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translator Programme (LRZTP).
FPMT Education has supported the following:
Programs and Program Materials: the development of the programs and materials for Masters Program, Basic Program, Discovering Buddhism, Meditation 101, Buddhism in a Nutshell, Heart Advice for Death and Dying, Living in the Path. Most of the programs include center-taught modules, at-home modules (available via the FPMT Foundation Store), and online versions (available on the FPMT Online Learning Center). Each program includes certificate criteria. Thousands of students have been educated through these programs.
Ed Gibson, Merry Colony, Eamon Walsh, Kendall Magnussen, Ven. Losang Drimay worked together during the 2010 Light of the Path retreat to turn Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings into modules for the online Living in the Path (LP) study program
Translations: the translations of four important Mahayana sutras (in as many as 13 languages), 32 translations for programs (including all the root and supplementary texts for Masters Program and Basic Program), and approximately 10 special request translations for Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Other FPMT Education Materials: the development and publication of FPMT Essential Prayer Book Volumes 1, 2 and 3; the FPMT Retreat Prayer Book; 172 glossy color and simple practice booklets, 42 CDs/MP3s/DVDs; 8 materials for children; and 39 cards and protections. In addition, the Foundation Store was created to function as a distribution arm for FPMT Education materials and study programs. Before 2000, FPMT Education did not publish or distribute its own materials. (You may download an entire list of FPMT Education materials from the Foundation Store.)
Training: the organization of 15 major training events for Foundation Training in Compassionate Service, Spiritual Program Coordinator Training, and Rituals Trainings (all of which were accompanied by manuals and supporting publications).
FPMT Online Learning Center: the creation of 34 English-language, 2 Spanish-language and 4 French-language courses (all online adaptations of FPMT’s various education programs). Approximately 6,700 students have registered for at least one of these courses. New courses are added regularly.
FPMT Media Center: for the first time ever, FPMT’s was able to live web-cast and archive Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings from the Light of the Path retreat in 2009 and 2010.
In September 2011, Merry announced her plans to embark on a new chapter. After years of serving FPMT Education in the International Office, she plans to pick up where she started: retreat. She reflects on this decision in the following way: “I came into Dharma with a strong wish to have actualizations in meditation retreat. Then I found out that this was harder than I thought! I have now done service retreat for a long time. It is time I learn how to integrate the two, to serve the inner and outer needs.”
About her work in FPMT Education, Merry says, “I have loved being a conduit for people to connect with the vast vision and wisdom of the lamas, particularly when bringing some history and stories alive for people in Foundation Training, or making FPMT heart practices like Lama Chöpa Jorchö, available just as Rinpoche advises it be done. I’m also now pretty excited about the Living in the Path program, the real-deal-change-your-mind-change-your-perception program. We all need that! Also, the Discovering Buddhism forum on the Online Learning Center! For years I have gotten so much pleasure reading first-hand accounts of how this program is changing people’s lives. It is very cool! And of course … most of all, trying to follow the advice of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, without whom my life would be utterly empty and meaningless.”
In November 2011, Tom Truty stepped into the position of Education Services Coordinator, where he oversees all Education projects and services. Tom had already been working in the department as an administrator for six months before taking on his new role. In addition, Education Services currently has a skilled team of collaborators involved in preserving the lineage teachings and making them available to all. Olga Planken continues her work coordinating the Masters Program and Basic Program. Kendall Magnussen prepares Living in the Path modules for the Online Learning Center (OLC) as well as other practice materials. Eamon Walsh administers the growing number of OLC courses and content. Sarah Shifferd edits materials. Plus the people who work as teachers, trainers, translators and on the Media Team, and the many dedicated volunteers all contribute to the work of Education Services. And of course, there are the countless shoulders of all the people who have contributed to the development of FPMT Education upon which the current and future Education teams stand.
Regarding what Merry has “learned” by doing this work, she had the following to say: “Consistency. Twelve years isn’t really that long but it has been long enough to teach me some discipline. Being inherently very lazy an office job has helped me develop the discipline of consistency: showing up every day regardless of how I feel. Hopefully an imprint has been made so I can take some of that into retreat one day.”
Read more about the development of FPMT Education Services in our exclusive online story: “Collaborators in Preservation: Key Education Services Contributors Reflect on the Future of FPMT Education and Their Work with Merry Colony.”
For an in-depth look at a different aspect of FPMT education, see our July-September 2010 story on FPMT teachers, “Like Nectar on Flowers.”
From Mandala October 1990:
By Ven. Connie Miller
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
In February of this year, a proposal for an overall curricular structure for the teaching programs in the FPMT centers was distributed. For those of you who have not seen or read this proposal I describe it for you here. If you are interested in being educated in the Dharma or in educating others, then you might just want to take a look. To see a complete copy you should ask your nearest center director, spiritual program coordinator or FPMT Board member.
The purposes of the proposal are firstly to clarify a coherent structure for the presentation of the teachings in the FPMT and secondly to make the education programs in the centers more homogeneous. This is also a way to incorporate the special FPMT characteristics across the whole of the FPMT.
The curriculum proposal was created from materials I found in my research of the archives of the Foundation. I found transcripts of advice given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Geshe Jampa Gyatso. I also attended the biannual European Regional Director’s meeting and the “Educators’ Meeting” which preceded it in November of last year. I consulted with many of our teachers, spiritual program coordinators, directors, board members and students.
The result was a 107-page document which shares information, makes proposals, presents bibliographies and suggestions for spiritual education programming, explores alternatives and poses questions, all in the light of Lama Yeshe’s extraordinary vast vision of offering the wisdom of the Dharma to mankind.
A far reaching vision
Lama Thubten Yeshe dedicated his life to founding an organization whose purpose is to preserve the Mahayana tradition. When asked how long our FPMT centers should last, Lama Yeshe replied: “Until Maitreya Buddha comes, dear!” To do this we shall need to provide education and experience in Buddhism to the masses according to their needs. We also need to offer that very deep specialized training to ensure that there will be lineage holders in the years to come who will be able to continue to pass down the Buddha’s teaching and experience. All this depends on a clear and well organized education structure. We must make sure that our purpose is clearly reflected in our education programming.
A special FPMT approach to education
One of the key elements in Lama Yeshe’s special style of Dharma teaching was his ability to unite the profound philosophical truths of Buddhism with the immediate relevance of daily practice. This has been the hallmark of FPMT and which has attracted many individuals to become part of FPMT centers and we must see how we can cultivate this quality through techniques and programming.
“The point of studying the philosophy of Buddhism is to use this knowledge to root out the false notion of concrete I or ego. If knowledge is not digested, only intellectual, this is not possible. It is beneficial to study the philosophies of Buddhism. Some, like Madhyamika, are very difficult to grasp, even intellectually, but if you don’t then use the information to change, to touch your heart, then it is a waste of time. If one has the knowledge of various religions, philosophies, etc. but does not let this soak into one’s consciousness, if one’s heart is untouched by wisdom, then one is just like an empty biscuit tin: dry and noisy.” Lama Yeshe 1981
As of this date there are 58 FPMT centers worldwide. City centers and rural centers, communities and institutes of higher studies, monasteries, retreat centers, healing centers – an incredible array of resources and facilities supporting the complete practice of the graduated path to enlightenment. There are many advantages to such an international organization and it is our responsibility to maximize them. For example, as we embark on the large task of creating the supporting materials for our curriculum, as soon as new material is produced it immediately fits into the resource of all the centers.
A gradual path of Dharma education
This overall curricular plan consists of 5 stages of study:
- The Introductory Program
- The General Studies Program
- The Masters Program
- The Geshe Training Program
- The Tantric Studies Program
(Because of the limited space available in these pages we have shown only the next level of detail in the Masters Program; see box [below].)
A proposal for the future
This curriculum proposal outlines our approach to teaching the Dharma from the moment an interested individual first walks in the door of an FPMT center, knowing nothing about Mahayana Buddhism, until that same individual wishes to progress to more advanced teachings in logic, meditation and tantric practices.
The proposal was compiled for the entire Foundation, a possible basis for a worldwide, coordinated approach to Dharma education and thereby to the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist lineages to future generations. The most recent development is that the FMPT Board agreed in March of this year that an educational development center should be set up, a director appointed, a location found and monies raised for this work.
MASTER’S DEGREE IN BUDDHIST STUDIES AT ISTITUTO LAMA TSONG KHAPA
Lama Tzong Khapa Institute, founded officially in 1977 is the earliest and largest of the Italian Tibetan Buddhist centers in the Tibetan tradition. Situated in the village of Pomaia among the rolling hills of Tuscany and overlooking the blue Tyrrhenian Sea, it is half an hour from the ancient city of Pisa, which has the closest international airport.
A large country villa is home for an international community of 30, with a number of monks and nuns. Many of the institute staff and students reside in the surrounding villages, with the institute becoming an increasingly accepted and respected part of the local scene.
A rich program of events draws thousands of visitors every year, with courses held during most weekends, on a variety of disciplines, beside Buddhism, which include educations, psychology and yoga. There are guided study and meditation retreats and facilities for individuals to engage in their own personal retreats.
In autumn 1983, the institute embarked on a major new education program allowing intensive study over a period of years. The program gives Westerners access to oral teachings on several major texts which were traditionally used in Tibetan monastic universities. These are taught by Ven. Geshe Jampa Gyatso, who has been the resident teacher since 1981.
This is a rare opportunity as only a fraction of the Buddhist literature is available in Western languages and sound understanding requires an oral commentary and instructions from qualified teachers. ILTK is one of the few centers in the West that offers a suitable level of instruction equipping students to gain meditational realizations and teach to others. Many students attend lectures and many also are following correspondence courses.
In Lama Yeshe’s design for the program, a core curriculum of seven subjects, encompassing both sutra and tantra, culminates in the degree of Master of Buddhist philosophy and meditation. Based on the great Indian and Tibetan Mahayana texts, each course involves as many as 200 lectures over a period of 12 to 18 months at the institute. Students are awarded certificates for successful examinations in each subject and will be entitled to the Master degree upon completing the whole program.
Certification will be given upon successful completion of examination. One can freely choose individual subjects or complete the entire program for the Master degree. Invigilation for examination can be arranged at the ILTK or with an FPMT geshe as close as possible to the student location. It is hoped the institute’s courses will eventually be formally recognized by the Western academic community.
1990/91 Study Program
In October 1990, after the comeback of the diaspora caused by the EEC3 and by the usual summer break, the studies program will start once again, taught by Geshe Jampa Gyatso, with the assistance of Acharya Ngawang Lodro and of Gelong George Churinoff. The Master’s Degree program which started in 1983 is now entering the study of the Abhidharmakosa, by Vasubandhu, integrated with that of the first chapter of the Great Exposition of Secret Mantra by Je Tsong Khapa. This section of the program will last for about one and a half years.
The first month of the program will be spent teaching the last pages of Madhyamakavatara, by Chandrakirti, interrupted earlier this year by the absence of both George and the translator. The section is an explanation of the benefits of the ten bodhisattva grounds, plus a very detailed exposition of an enlightened being’s qualities. This subject is a unit which can also be studied by itself.
The study of Abhidharmakosa will commence straight after the completion of the Madhyamakavatara, and will be taught following three commentaries, the self-commentary, the Chimzu commentary, and the commentary of the First Dalai Lama.
Structure of the course
Classes are integrated with debate sessions and are held five times a week for one and a half hours each. There will be an examination on all subjects studied.
Simultaneously, Geshe Jampa Gyatso will teach twice a week, on the first chapter of Lama Tsong Khapa’s text, which offers a general yet quite deep exposition of the tantric path.
For the benefit of new students it will be possible to hold introductory classes on the meditations of the graded path and on the basic texts of dura and lorig although most of the latter is also presented within the Abhidharmakosa itself.
To follow the program, you have various options:
1) Resident for the full duration of the text. For these students there will be a special fee agreement, especially for members of any other FPMT center.
2) Resident for a specific chapter of the text. Here the agreement will vary depending on the length of period of stay.
3) Non-resident student (not receiving full board but coming only for the classes, and maybe meals.)
4) Correspondence student. You will receive tapes and written material (outlines, translations, sets of questions to prepare for exams, bibliographies, etc.), and will participate in specially-organized debate sessions and examinations.
This system has been devised to give to the largest number of people, in Italy and abroad, the opportunity to follow a very rare complete course of study which, in Europe, is offered only at Nalanda Monastery in France.
So far among the FPMT centers, ILTK is the only center to offer lay students such scholarly training, similar to that taught at the major Tibetan monastic universities.
The oral teaching and all recorded and written material is in three languages: Tibetan, English, and Italian
EDUCATION RESOUCRE CENTER
When Lama Yeshe met with some of his students in Santa Cruz in June of 1983 he said the following:
“We should try to buy a place to locate Universal Education so the project can start: a working office, organizing, planning, generating, conferences and producing materials. At the same time, in order to make money, we can make a convention center where business people can come for retreat. That money we need for education purposes. We are not reaching immediately to start a school because actually universal education is not existing yet. In the future we can make a teacher training center and also start a school.
We should choose something practical with the possibility of making money. By implementing, we will see if it is the right place and if not, we can sell it and buy another place.
But now we have to be settled someplace. It is very important. We cannot be like yo-yo. Since we have a worthwhile project, we need a place where people can recognize what we are. We have to show people that we know clean clear what we are doing. By having the place, we are functioning and people develop confidence.
When we have a place, we vibrate. If we don’t have a place, we do not attract universal vibration.
The place would be the main universal education office. All the material would be there, and writing and designing books would happen there. Also, when we aren’t using the place to make money, we could hold meditation courses.
“What brings ice into the boiling water of the disturbed mind is lam-rim.” – Lama Yeshe
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About Mandala Publications
Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
Mandala print magazine is published in January, April, July and October. Mandala is available via the Friends of FPMT program.