Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies
Even before leaving his main seat at Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet in 1959 as a result of the Communist occupation, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa had begun preparations to establish an institute for higher Buddhist studies to be attended by tulkus and monks. He knew that full spiritual potential is only realized through integrating intellectual understanding of the teachings with the direct experience of practice and meditation.
After settling in Sikkim, he decided to first establish a monastery. At last he found it possible to begin construction of Karma Shri Nalanda Institute (KSNI) in 1980 as a branch of his main seat-in-exile, Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, and the institute was inaugurated on November 18, 1981. Monasteries in the Himalayan region of Sikkim, India, Nepal, and Bhutan were asked to send two monks each to study at the institute. When they completed their studies, they would return to their monasteries to teach, or stay to assist in the work at KSNI.
Among the first graduating class were seven Rinpoches, including Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Drupon Rinpoche, and Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche; and Khenpo Ugyen Tenzin, who served as resident abbot of the institute from 1997 to 2002.
historical photo of KSNI students
Some of the first students at KSNI in the 1980s
Karma Shri Nalanda Institute was founded to preserve and propagate the noble teachings of Lord Buddha and, in particular, the Kagyu tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, to help spread the nectar of dharma throughout the world. Here, serious students are afforded the opportunity to train under the most experienced teachers in the living Buddhist tradition of Tibet: the sutras, tantras, and meditation. In this way, the continuation of the accumulated wealth of knowledge transmitted from ancient times to the present will be insured, and its benefits made available to all. It was His Holiness' wish that graduates of this international Buddhist institute would provide teaching, guidance, and inspiration to students from all over the world, and especially in the centers he had founded.
Nalanda Institute was officially recognized in 1984 by the cabinet of the government of Sikkim and its Department of Ecclesiastical Affairs. Since 1987, while maintaining its independent administration, the institute has been formally affiliated with Sampurnanand Sanskrit University of Varanasi, India, becoming an officially accredited institution. This enables Nalanda students to have certified qualifications acceptable to other universities and programs. The university governs the annual examinations, and, with KSNI, jointly awards the acharya (masters-level) degree.
Administration and the Directorship
During the summer retreat in 1981, the Sixteenth Karmapa wrote "The Constitution, Code of Conduct, and Curriculum of Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies," a document that governs the administration and curriculum of KSNI. Under the constitution, directorship of the institute is shared among the regents of the Kagyu order, who, in conjunction with the appointed and qualified abbot, are responsible for overseeing the institute.
An extensive collection of dharma texts from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism fill the KSNI library
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche are the principal teachers at Nalanda Institute. Both senior abbots have written textbooks and commentaries that are used at KSNI, and under their guidance, fundamental curricular and teaching methodologies have been established. In 1997, Khenpo Ugyen Tenzin was appointed resident khenpo, and served in that capacity until 2002.
In accordance with the wishes of the Sixteenth Karmapa, the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche Memorial Library preserves the Karma Kagyu philosophy texts that form the basis of study at the shedra. The shedra library purchases and publishes textbooks, sponsors the creation of woodblock editions, and obtains thangka paintings for the institute. Texts from the Gelug, Sakya, and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism are also housed here.