[ CORRESPONDENCE COURSES : Formal Study Courses ]|
The Formal Study Courses are designed as a teacher-training program, and cover the same basic core of information that a Geshe (Doctor of Theology) learns at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Obtaining a Geshe degree from a Tibetan Buddhist monastery requires approximately 20 years studying The Six Great Books of Buddhism: The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita), Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika), Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma), Buddhist Discipline (Vinaya), Logic and Perception (Pramana), and The Steps to Buddhahood (Lam Rim).
The following Courses are available for home study.
COURSE 1: The Principal Teachings of Buddhism, Level 1 of The Steps to Buddhahood (Lam Rim).
This Course is an excellent overview of the entire Buddhist path; all subsequent Courses elaborate upon the ideas presented here. This Course is based upon The Three Principal Paths (Lamtso Namsum) by Je Tsongkapa (1357-1419), with the commentary of Pabongka Rinpoche (1878-1941). Topics include: what is a qualified teacher, how to evaluate and select a teacher, what is Buddha nature, what is authentic Dharma, what are samsara and renunciation, the principles of karma, the problems of human life, bodhichitta and its benefits, how to generate bodhichitta, the two levels of reality, ultimate reality (emptiness) according to each of the four schools of thought, and the relationship between karma and emptiness.
COURSE 2: Buddhist Refuge, Level 1 of The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita).
This Course is based upon The Ornament of Realizations (Abhisamayalamkara) of Maitreya and Master Asanga (350 AD), with a commentary by Master Kedrup Tenpa Dargye (1493-1568). Topics include: what is the perfection of wisdom, what is refuge, the objects of refuge, the reasons for taking Buddhist refuge, the qualities of a Buddha, the different types of bodhichitta, descriptions of nirvana, the divisions of nirvana, descriptions of emptiness, five different proofs that emptiness is the ultimate nature of reality, and the five paths which lead to full enlightenment.
COURSE 3: Applied Meditation, Level 2 of The Steps to Buddhahood (Lam Rim).
This Course is a must for anyone who wishes to practice meditation effectively. It is based upon The Stages of Meditation (Bhavanakrama) by Master Kamalashila (750 AD), and presentations by Je Tsongkapa and Pabongka Rinpoche. Topics include: a description of the different types of meditation, the purpose and goals of meditation, how to select the best environment for meditation, the preliminaries to undertake prior to meditating, the parts of a meditation practice, the eight-point meditation posture, the objects of focus during meditation, the five standard problems that occur within meditation, the eight corrections to those problems, and the attainment of meditative realizations.
COURSE 4: The Proof of Future Lives, Level 1 of Buddhist Logic and Perception (Pramana).
This Course is based upon the Compendium on Valid Perception (Pramanasamuchaya) by Master Dignaga (440 AD), the Commentary on Valid Perception (Pramanavarttika) by Master Dharmakirti (630 AD), Light on the Path to Freedom (Tarlam Selje) by Gyaltsab Je (1362-1432), and Jewel of the True Thought (Tsema Gong-gyen) by Geshe Yeshe Wangchuk (1928-present). Topics include: the definition of valid perception, the three levels of perception, who has valid perceptions and how, evaluating things beyond our direct perception, how great compassion is developed, the nature of omniscience, the material cause of the mind, proofs of the mind's source, proofs for the existence of past and future lives, and how desire leads to rebirth - an explanation of crucial links in the chain of dependent origination.
COURSE 5: How Karma Works, Level 1 of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma).
All Buddhist practices are based upon the laws of karma, and so it is crucial to understand how karma works to succeed in any and every Buddhist path. This Course is based upon the Treasure House of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharmakosha) by Master Vasubandhu (350 AD), along with its commentary by the First Dalai Lama. Topics include: an Abhidharma overview; what is karma; good, bad and neutral karma; karma of body, speech, and mind; virtue and non-virtue; black and white deeds; how karma causes rebirth; karmic outcomes; how karma is carried; how emptiness allows karma to work; karmic paths; the five immediate karmic misdeeds; how to make a karma more powerful; the purification of negative karma; and how karma causes your every experience.
COURSE 6: The Diamond-Cutter Sutra, Level 1 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika).
This Course is based upon the Diamond Cutter Sutra (Vajrachedika) by Shakyamuni Buddha, along with the only known native Tibetan commentary, by Chone Drakpa Shedrup (1675-1748). Topics include: how to have a direct perception of ultimate reality (emptiness), what happens after the direct perception of emptiness, emptiness and the two extremes, how empty things function, the relationship between emptiness and karma, the relationship between emptiness and a Buddha, what is non-duality, how a bodhisattva should live, the future of Buddha's teachings, the perfection of wisdom, how understanding emptiness leads to the destruction of mental afflictions, and how the direct perception of emptiness leads to enlightenment and paradise.
COURSE 7: The Bodhisattva Vows, Level 2 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika).
It is not possible to become fully enlightened without diligently keeping each bodhisattva vow, and to keep those vows you must understand them clearly. This Course teaches each of the vows, and is based upon Master Asanga's root text and its commentary called the Highway for Bodhisattvas (Jangchub Shunglam) by Je Tsongkapa. Topics include: a description of the various types of vows, bodhichitta, types of morality, the four black deeds and the four white deeds, how to purify negative karma, the sufferings of the world, the six perfections, the vows that correspond to each of the six perfections, how bodhisattva vows are taken, an explanation of the eighteen root bodhisattva vows and the forty-six secondary bodhisattva vows, exceptions to each vow, the four factors needed to break bodhisattva vows, how bodhisattva vows are broken, how bodhisattva vows are lost, how to keep your bodhisattva vows, how to restore your bodhisattva vows, and the benefits of keeping bodhisattva vows.
COURSE 8: Death and the Realms of Existence, Level 2 of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma).
This Course offers an explanation of the unseen realms around us. It is based upon the Treasure House of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharmakosha) by Master Vasubandhu (350 AD), along with its commentary by the First Dalai Lama. Topics include: The three main categories of beings; the 17 levels of the form realm; the six types of beings of the desire realm; the four levels of the formless realm; ways of taking birth; all of the different realms of existence and the beings inhabiting them - an explanation of: the intermediate state (bardo), the hells, craving spirits, animals, humans, pleasure beings, and formless beings; the causes to be reborn in each realm; ways of taking rebirth; how and why rebirth occurs; the conditions needed for human birth; how world systems form, evolve and are destroyed; a description of different types of eons; the four principles of karma; the five degenerations of our age; the problems which result from not being aware of death; the advantages of cultivating an awareness of death; and how to meditate on death to make your life more meaningful.
COURSE 9: The Ethical Life, Level 1 of Buddhist Discipline (Vinaya).
The Ethical Life covers the Buddhist code of ethics and the relationship between an ethical way of life, meditating deeply, and experiencing ultimate reality. This Course is based upon the Sutra on Vowed Morality (Vinaya Sutra) by Master Gunaprabha (500 AD), with commentaries from The Essence of the Ocean of Vinaya (Dulwa Gyatsoy Nyingpo) by Je Tsongkapa (1357-1419), The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel (Yishin Norbu) by Choney Drakpa Shedrup (1675-1748), and Day Maker (Nyin Je) by Master Ngulchu Dharma Bhadra (1772-1851). Topics include: the three trainings; one day vows; the five lifetime lay vows; the individual freedom vows; an outline of novice, intermediate, and fully ordained monastic vows; the essence of vows; the basic nature of vows; reasons to live an ethical life; reasons to take vows; why morality is the key to meditation and seeing emptiness directly; how to keep vows from being damaged; how vows are lost; the specific karma resulting from each of the ten non-virtues; how to find a teacher; the characteristics of a qualified teacher; taking refuge; the four forces of karmic purification; the four truths; and the six perfections.
COURSE 10: A Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life, Part I, Level 3 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika).
This Course is the first in a three part series based upon A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life (Bodhisattvacharya Avatara) by Master Shantideva (700 AD), and the commentary Entry Point for Children of the Victorious Buddhas (Gyalse Juk-ngok) by Gyaltsab Je (1364-1432). Master Shantideva's work is considered the best book ever written to learn how to live as a bodhisattva, and this is one of the most famous commentaries ever written; it has been translated into English for the first time for this Course. Topics include: the benefits of being a bodhisattva, the preliminaries you must undertake to become a bodhisattva, how to remove existing obstacles which prevent realization of true bodhichitta, how to collect the causes to develop true bodhichitta, the recollection and watchfulness required to think and act like a bodhisattva, The Guide as a description of the six perfections, the order in which to undertake practice of the six perfections, how to treat your mental afflictions, and an explanation of the perfection of giving and the perfection of an ethical way of life.
COURSE 11: A Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life, Part II, Level 4 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika).
This Course is the second in a three part series based upon A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life (Bodhisattvacharya Avatara) by Master Shantideva (700 AD), and the commentary Entry Point for Children of the Victorious Buddhas (Gyalse Juk-ngok) by Gyaltsab Je (1364-1432). Topics include: an explanation of the perfection of patience, the perfection of joyful effort, and the perfection of meditative concentration; the results of anger; how to make a habit of not getting angry; how joyous effort supports the other five perfections; obstacles to joyous effort; obstacles to meditation; how selfishness produces pain; reasons to treat others as well as yourself; the source of all the world's pain; compassion as a prerequisite for successful meditative concentration; meditation as a prerequisite for wisdom; where you, your world, and all of your experiences come from; and Buddha nature. It is recommended that you study Part I prior to studying Part II.
COURSE 12: A Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life, Part III, Level 5 of Middle-Way Philosophy (Madhyamika).
This Course is the third in a three part series based upon A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life (Bodhisattvacharya Avatara) by Master Shantideva (700 AD), and the commentary Entry Point for Children of the Victorious Buddhas (Gyalse Juk-ngok) by Gyaltsab Je (1364-1432). Topics include: an explanation of the perfection of wisdom; the purpose and benefit of realizing emptiness; how to perceive emptiness directly; proofs of emptiness; the two types of emptiness; the emptiness of the body; the emptiness of the mind; the emptiness of feelings; the emptiness of functioning things; the emptiness of the three elements; wrong ideas about emptiness; the meaning of illusion; dependent origination; the two truths; the nature of ultimate reality; wrong ideas we have about existence; kinds of mental afflictions; the six steps which produce all the pain in the world; the five heaps; the three types of compassion; the importance of requesting blessings; the importance of dedicating good deeds; and how to reach nirvana and enlightenment. It is recommended that you study Parts I & II prior to studying Part III.
COURSE 13: The Art of Reasoning, Level 2 of Buddhist Logic and Perception (Pramana).
This Course is based upon the Commentary on Valid Perception (Pramanavarttika) by Master Dharmakirti (630 AD) with a commentary from The Key for Starting the Logic Machine (Rik-lam Trul-gyi Deamik) by Purbuchok Jampa Tsultrim Gyatso (1825-1901). The Course presents the structure of Buddhist logic and the forms of Buddhist debate. Topics include: the correct motivation for debate; debating tactics and the flow of a debate; the subject, quality, and reason of the debate; why logic is more valuable than faith; how studying logic leads to perceiving emptiness; what makes a reason correct; contradictions and relationships; relationships of identity, and relationships of cause and effect; proving the absence of something; material causes and contributing factors; valid perception; changing and unchanging things; an outline of all existing things; the concept of time according to each of the four schools of thought; and the reason why suffering has an end.
COURSE 14: Lojong, Developing the Good Heart, Level 3 of the Steps to Buddhahood (Lam Rim).
This Course presents classical advices on how to be a good person, and is based upon A Compendium of Texts on Developing the Good Heart (Lojong Gyatsa) by Muchen Konchok Gyeltsen (1300 AD). Lojong texts from the Compendium include: The Eight Verses (Tsik-gye Mar) by Dorje Seng-ge (1044-1123), the Wheel of Knives (Tsoncha Korlo) by Master Dharma Rakshita (1000 AD), Seven-Step Practice for Developing the Good Heart (Lojong Dun Dunma) by Geshe Chekawa (1101-1175), The Advices of the Victorious One (Danlak) by Gyalwa Yang Gunpa (1213-1258), and Freedom from the Four Attachments (Shenpa Shi-drel) by Sachen Kunga Nyinpo (1092-1158). Topics include: How to develop a good heart, how to practice throughout the day, how to develop the wish for enlightenment, the eight verses of mind training, 18 pledges for developing a good heart, the six keys to successful practice, the five powers, the five mental poisons, seven steps to developing a good heart, the three virtues, how to respond to the eight worldly thoughts, the real meaning of freedom from attachment, how to behave in difficult situations, the difference between how things happen and why things happen, how to send your mind into death (powa), and seeing angels.
COURSE 15: What the Buddha Really Meant, Level 2 of The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita).
This Course is based upon The Commentary on the True Intention of the Sutras (Dode Gong Drel) and The Sutra Requested by the Arya Named Never-Ending Wisdom (Pakpa Lodru Misepe Shupay Do) by Shakyamuni Buddha, with a commentary from The Essence of Eloquence on the Art of Interpretation (Drange Lekshe Nyingpo) by Je Tsongkapa (1357-1419). Topics include: the importance of evaluating spiritual teachings, how to interpret when spiritual teachings are literal or figurative, how to evaluate apparently conflicting teachings, a summary of the teachings Lord Buddha gave in each of the three Turnings of the Wheel of the Dharma, the goal of each of the three Turnings of the Wheel, an explanation of the ideas held by each of the main schools of Buddhism, ultimate reality (emptiness) according to each of the schools, the three progressively higher understandings of emptiness, the three attributes of reality, a comparison of the Mind-Only School and the Middle-Way School explanations of emptiness and dependent origination, how to use an understanding of emptiness to stop all your suffering, and how to stop your aging and death by stopping your ignorance.
COURSE 16: The Great Ideas of Buddhism, Part I.
The fifteen Formal Study Courses cover the main ideas of the entire course of study followed by a Tibetan monk-scholar (or geshe) at one of the great monasteries of Tibet. The three-part Great Ideas series summarizes all fifteen ACI Courses, along with the teachings of the traditional training of a Tibetan Buddhist Master. In part one, we cover the first five ACI Courses: The Principal Teachings of Buddhism, Buddhist Refuge, Applied Meditation, Proof of Future Lives, and How Karma Works.
COURSE 17: The Great Ideas of Buddhism, Part II.
The fifteen Formal Study Courses cover the main ideas of the entire course of study followed by a Tibetan monk-scholar (or geshe) at one of the great monasteries of Tibet. The three-part Great Ideas series summarizes all fifteen ACI Courses, along with the teachings of the traditional training of a Tibetan Buddhist Master. In part two, we cover ACI Courses six through ten: The Diamond Cutter Sutra, The Bodhisattva Vows, Death and the Realms of Existence, The Ethical Way of Life (Vinaya), and A Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life.
COURSE 18: The Great Ideas of Buddhism, Part III.
This is the last part of a review of the great ideas of Buddhism over the last two millenia-including some exciting explorations into emptiness and compassion, all from the original ancient sources. In part three of the series, we cover ACI Courses eleven through fifteen: A Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life, parts two and three; The Art of Reasoning;Lojong, Developing the Good Heart; and What the Buddha Really Meant.
A Correspondence Course brochure that includes the Meditation practices is available for download in PDF format (300 KB), which will allow for better printing and ordering or you may print the online order form. If you need the free Acrobat Reader plug in to view the PDF document, it is available here.