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Vajrayana Training

Ongoing Monthly Study & Practice with Pema Khandro

For students on the path of Vajrayana and Great Perfection (Dzogchen)

  • Leave behind the maze of information and have a direct encounter with the heart of Vajrayana Buddhism
  • Study and practice in a safe, supportive community
  • Immerse yourself in dharma
  • Cut through fictions to see yourself as you really are
  • Train directly with scholar, lama and teacher, Pema Khandro, and her team of teaching assistants
  • Explore Buddhist Philosophy of mind, body, emotions and world
  • Gain support for ongoing practice and study
  • Clarify the meaning of esoteric Buddhist philosophy, terms and rituals
  • Engage Buddhist philosophy and history to grapple with current issues including the teacher-student relationship, women and gender in Buddhism, Trauma, Buddhist ethics and #metoo

What is Vajrayana?

Vajrayana is a Buddhist path for utilizing our life experiences as the fuel for the path. Vajrayana is a system of practices to cultivate a wakeful clear presence and connect with goodness in ourselves and others.

In Vajrayana ordinary life experiences become the focal point for our training. Vajrayana refers to a path of “transformation” of these experiences. It is the transformation of thinking, experiencing emotions, embodied experience, visualization, identity, moments of crisis, dreaming and dying into opportunities for connecting with intrinsic wisdom.

The view of the world in Vajrayana is that innate wisdom and potential for awakening is always present. Through Vajrayana meditation practices and Buddhist philosophy, we train to see the world with a “pure view,” an openness to connect with what is good, uplifted, the positive potential. Simultaneously, it is a training to wakefully address subconscious material, habitual neurosis and conditioned scripts within the framework of Buddhist resources for training the mind.

The term “Vajrayana” is used in the Nyingma lineage to refer to Buddhist Tantra and Great Perfection teachings (Dzogchen). The latter refers to a class of Buddhist teachings that have been practiced by non-monastic, non-celibate practitioners, yogis, tantrics and lay people who lived dynamic lives. Vajrayana includes philosophy, visualization, mind training, body-mind yogas, meditation practices and rituals.

Vajrayana, like all of Tibetan Buddhism, emphasizes the importance of relationships. The relationship between the teacher and student, between the student and the lineage history, between the community of people who practice and between the student and their world. These relationships present a complex and dynamic landscape through which the lived meaning of the teachings can be explored. Therefore a personal connection with others who teach and practice Vajrayana is an important ingredient. No book or class can substitute for that. However those experiences can be supported by a strong foundation in Vajrayana views, history and the context of the practices. The Vajrayana Training is offered to provide a foundation and a ground to encounter Vajrayana with understanding, to meet its teachers, adherents, rituals and practices with a sense of their purpose and context.

For advanced trainings in Vajrayana – Tibetan Yoga and Dzogchen, learn about Ngakpa Training.

Our Unique Approach

The Buddhist Studies Institute emphasis the rigor of a scholarly perspective on the study of Buddhism along with an emphasis in deep engagement with the tradition and practice as taught by Pema Khandro and our international array of guest teachers. Pema Khandro instructs the Vajrayana training from the complex and dynamic perspective of a scholar of Buddhist studies as well as a Lama, lineage holder and tulku. As such, she introduces the tradition in conversation with contemporary concerns and a meta-perspective, that sees these issues in their context. Furthermore, Khandro-la presents Vajrayana from a feminist stand point, as a woman of color, showcasing Buddhism from a post-colonialist perspective with an expansive commitment to the special ethics required for cross-cultural engagement.

The Need for In-Depth Training Online

As Buddhism has come to North America, ritual initiations (empowerments) have been widely available, but education in Vajrayana has not. Likewise, exposure to Lamas has been available, but in-depth personal training has not been accessible to all but a few people. The Vajrayana training offers an opportunity to bridge these gaps, offering an orientation to the views, rituals, symbols, practices and core principles of Vajrayana Buddhism in an accessible on-line learning format.

Approaches to the Vajrayana teachings of Buddhism vary widely, with vigorous debates on the topic throughout the history of Tibetan Buddhism. While some schools reserve Vajrayana for advanced stages of the path, the Ngakpas (Buddhist Yogis) of the Nyingma lineage practiced Vajrayana as the core of the path from start to finish, approaching the entire spectrum of Buddhist vehicles from the view of Dzogchen and the methods of Vajrayana. The Vajrayana Training continues this tradition, offering education in a non-sectarian environment that may benefit students of any school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The course is taught by Pema Khandro whose background of growing up in North America has provided her with an understanding of Western culture and learning styles. Thus the Vajrayana Training offers advanced esoteric teachings in a modern format. She engages straightforward language with a supportive teaching methodology that offers lecture, question and answer, slide shows with outlines of the material, recordings of the class for viewing and reference and the support of an assisting instructor who will follow up with one on one conversations after each class. The training is given in the accessible format of live web-cast teachings to keep Vajrayana accessible despite the demands of modern life.

Vajrayana Training classes are offered twice a month on the 1st and 2nd Wednesdays of the month. The Classes generally includes a 30-minute introduction and meditation practice, a 30-minute lecture by Pema Khandro, followed by a 30-minute group discussion. On occasion, due to retreats or special events, the classes may be scheduled on other Wednesdays, but this will be announced in advance.

Dynamic Format

1st & 2nd Wednesdays of Each Month

  • 3pm Honolulu (HST)

  • 5pm San Francisco (PST)

  • 8pm New York (EST)

  • 6:45am Kathmandu (NPT) Thursdays

  • 10am Tokyo (JST) Thursdays

  • 12pm Sydney (AEDT) Thursdays

Bi-Monthly Webinar

Focus on major texts of the Nyingma tradition in the shedra-style format of reading the texts line by line and reviewing the meaning and principles.

Supportive Materials

Supportive materials such as easily accessible course content, slides, study guides, texts, and video recordings.

Self-Paced Modules

Self-paced modules offer focused topics in lecture-style formats to provide an overview of Vajrayana culture and other themes.

Vajrayana Retreats

Vajrayana Retreats are offered as optional support for receiving practices, engaging in the methods with support, and making community connections.

The tone of the class is geared towards study, meditation practice, and community connections.

Vajrayana tradition maintains the crucial importance of the student’s encounter with a teacher in the context of ritual “empowerments,” initiations where a kind of inspired transmission and inspiration is conveyed. For this reason, it is considered impossible to ever fully encounter Vajrayana in books or on one’s own, it is a path that emphasizes the relationship between the student and teacher, the experience of ritual and connection with other practitioners. The Vajrayana Training course does not necessarily replace those elements but it can support it.

Whether or not transmission of Vajrayana practices can or cannot be given over the internet is a matter of debate. Some Lama’s give empowerments over the internet these days, while others do not. However, what is clear after the last four years of this course, and courses like it, is that high-quality education and learning can take place through internet courses. Likewise, so can support for ongoing inspiration, commitment, and training.

Vajrayana Training is not a series of “empowerments.” Empowerments are ritual initiations into specific Vajrayana meditation practices where one trains to visualize oneself as a particular Buddha and experience oneself as integrated with one’s buddha nature through the mantra and imagery of a specific buddha from the tradition. These practices are called deity yoga or yidam practice.

The only initiation connected with Vajrayana Training is connected to Ngondro, the foundational practice that everyone begins within Vajrayana – and the practice that is the core of the meditative tools that one trains by.

In modern Buddhism, access to empowerment is generally more available than in-depth Vajrayana education. So the Vajrayana Training offers that education. Both Vajrayana and Great Perfection (Dzogchen) views are taught in the course. It trains students to recognize the context, philosophy, perspectives, questions and details of how to make use of and make sense of Tibetan Buddhism as a whole. This material is equally important to the Vajrayana path. Vajrayana has always been more than just empowerment and other rituals. It has a philosophical view, an understanding of conduct in terms of Buddhist tantra and it has a rich history and lineage.

Furthermore, ritual itself can only be fully accessed through some training in Tibetan Buddhism as a symbolic language, a kind of poetry of being where we learn to see the world in terms of wisdom, compassion, sanity and presence. Therefore Vajrayana Training offers education above all else. Students are encouraged to seek empowerments and develop personal relationships with Lamas or enter Ngakpa Training with Pema Khandro for going further in the Vajrayana Buddhist path.

Vajrayana Training is offered in modules 2 classes per month. The final two classes of the year may be special themed classes where other topics outside the modules are taught.

The topics of Vajrayana Training cover a range of essential themes and texts of Vajrayana Buddhism.

One module of study explores the key aspects of Tantric Buddhism, and makes sense of its vast array of ritual, art, philosophy, and esoteric yoga.

One module focuses on key elements of Buddhist Philosophy and the world according to Vajrayana, defining key terms such as emptiness, from the vast view of Dzogchen and the Nyingma Inner Tantra.

A self-paced module explores the controversial and essential topic of the teacher-student relationship in Tibetan Buddhism, in Vajrayana and in modern contexts.

One module unfolds the history, stories and lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and the ancient lineage of Buddhist tantra and Buddhist Yogis, known as the Nyingma tradition. The current module explores esoteric Buddhist philosophy and practice through direct study of a nineteenth-century Vajrayana and Dzogchen text. Each class is unique and varied. This is due to the living and intimate atmosphere generated between the teacher and students.

After attending for two years, students who are Vajra Sangha are encouraged to continue with more advanced study in Ngakpa Training and after three more years, they attend the course as teaching assistants. Students who repeat the course are encouraged to serve as mentors to new students in order to facilitate learning through verbal expression of these principles and sharing them for the benefit of others. The coursescan be taken in any order. In web-classes, meeting once a month, students will discover how to understand the pivotal principles of Tibetan Buddhism, make sense of empowerments, and go deep into understanding oneself, one’s own world, and how to make better sense of one’s own mind.


  • Vajrayana Training Application
  • Completion of the 2 Self-Paced Courses: Buddhist Ethics and Sutra Tantra Dzogchen. These courses may be taken separately or are included when you join the Buddhist Studies Institute as a Supporter Member.
  • *Students who have completed Ngondro Training, or ngondro in another tradition, do not need to complete these prerequisites, but they are recommended as self-paced learning to help understand how the Vajrayana is approached in this school.
  • Tuition: $150/month* or enrollment in Snow Lion Membership
  • Students may enter the training at any point, with a six-month commitment. This time period is set to foster an in-depth training atmosphere. Classes are ongoing with rotating Modules
  • Vajrayana Training participants are automatically given Member status for as long as their enrollment is current, making them eligible for other member benefits.

For more information about Vajrayana Training or the Buddhist Studies Institute Membership program, please contact

*Due to the generosity of participants and the regular contributions of patrons, friends, and members, all classes have been able to be offered while maintaining Pema Khandro’s wish that no one would be turned away for lack of funds. To learn about the financial aid program and scholarships – inquire at

Is Vajrayana Secret?

The approach to Vajrayana study varies within the different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. For example, among the Gelukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayana materials are regarded as secret and reserved for advanced students who have accomplished many decades of other practices. In the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayana is considered the main heart of the path, beginning with ngondro and going onto to practices of Deity Yoga. Vajrayana empowerments are given in public, though the general standard is to complete ngondro, the preliminary meditation practices first.

Today, with the widespread publishing of Buddhist books, and proliferation of Buddhist materials online,  there are so many aspects of Vajrayana that are not secret. In some sense, the secret is out. However because this information is presented in overwhelming quantities from contradicting view points, it often leaves students confused in terms of how to sort through such material. Particulars are taken as universals. Local realities are interpreted as ‘truths.’ Areas of important philosophical questioning are lost in a sea of nuances. This adds obstacles to the practice of sincere individuals. This Vajrayana Training is aimed at removing those obstacles – by providing a step by step study, by making sense of the relationships between the variety of perspectives, and their historical background, by highlighting which tenets must be understood immediately and by providing frameworks for organizing Vajrayana paradigms.

Despite the proliferation of Buddhist materials, there is an element of Vajrayana which has remained secret – in terms of transmitting the practices in the context of a teacher student relationship rather than broadcasting them to the public. The secret is the practice liturgies, the maps to Vajrayana contemplative practice. These are similar to recipes passed down in families, everyone knows what spaghetti sauce is, but to produce grandma’s special spaghetti sauce requires knowledge of the family recipe and family secret. Of course, Buddhist contemplative practice is far more consequential than spaghetti sauce, but it is a helpful analogy to understand what is meant by ‘secret’ in Vajrayana. It refers to practices which are cared for, regarded as precious and shared with serious practitioners only. Similar to the example of spaghetti sauce, even though deity yoga practices follow similar structures which are knowable and recognizable, the important part of the practice, which is the particularities of that practice in the lineage, such as the mantra, liturgy, and lived experience of the practice – are passed on only directly from teacher to student. Vajrayana Training does not replace that transmission. However, it does aim to provide the knowledge students need to attend empowerments and understand what is going on.

Vajrayana Training does include ngondro meditation instruction and guidance, so that students are prepared to go deeper into Vajrayana Training with the Lamas they will student with in the future.

  • Two Monthly 1.5hour LIVE training class with Pema Khandro via webcast, You also receive the recording. The classes are 60 minutes of teachings with Pema Khandro and 30 minutes of group discussion – led by her senior students. Time for questions and answers.
  • Membership in N.I. with the privilege of discounts, newsletters, and access to private meetings with Pema Khandro during public retreats.
  • Member Events and opportunity to join Sacred Service.
  • Teaching Assistant Support:
    • Optional monthly conversations with a Teaching Assistant via phone or Skype. The supportive group environment allows for engaging with practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, which fosters the experience of genuine and long-lasting change. Working monthly with the teaching assistants will help answer your questions and support your integration of this life-changing information that is rarely explained in depth.

Just like there is no one right path for everyone, no one teacher or learning format is right for everyone either. Before enrolling in Vajrayana Training you may wish to:

**Students who have completed ngondro or sustainted Vajrayana practice in another tradition do not need to complete these pre-requisites, however, they are recommended as self-paced learning to help understand how the Vajrayana is approached in this school.

Pema Khandro offers a straightforward, warm, light-hearted, down to earth educational approach to Buddhist training.

If you are looking for special transmissions, special powers, psychic abilities and so forth, this training (and all her courses) would be incompatible with your goals. No “transmissions” are given in this course. It is simply educational in nature.

If your goal is to become enlightened in terms of supernatural abilities, magic powers and specialness, this course would be incompatible with your goals. Pema Khandro’s teaching emphasizes Dzogchen views of human life which emphasize ‘naturalness,’ ‘authenticity,’ and a general ambiance of basic sanity. The goal is to study Buddhism for the purpose of being a good human being, leading a dignified, satisfying life and acting altruistically to help our world.

Pema Khandro’s teachings emphasize mainstream Buddhist ethics. Therefore if you are looking for neo-tantric teachings which are western originated teachings focused on sexual techniques, then this training and our courses are also incompatible with your goals.

If you are interested in learning about topics such as Buddhist philosophy, the nature of mind, the source and workings of thoughts and emotions, Buddhist perspectives on karma, transforming one’s state of being through contemplative practices, perspectives on the purpose of life, questions about birth/death, meditation methods, pragmatic approaches to health, Buddhist history, Buddhist stories and culture, the meaning behind Vajrayana practices and rituals, the relationship between Vajrayana and Dzogchen… then yes, Pema Khandro’s courses are compatible with these goals!

Our community does not discriminate against individuals based on sexual-orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, ability, gender or religious background. We believe everyone has equal amounts of Buddha-nature and that diversity is beautiful!

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