Our Heart Curriculum, which covers the entire range of the Buddhist worldview, includes five courses, the last four of which are taught at increasingly advanced levels. All four have several modules.
All our courses are rooted in the experiential lamrim tradition of Je Tsongkhapa and the Gelug Tibetan Monastic University system, which is a continuation of the great Nalanda tradition of India.
The courses HC2 Buddhism Made Simple through HC5 Basic Program: Advanced Buddhist Studies have been created by the FPMT Education Office based on the advice of our Spiritual Director Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Starting with the entry-level HC1 Being Your Own Therapist, an open-ended series of 60-minute discussions that enable us to recognize the central role of our attitudes and feelings in day-to-day life and to know how to change them, the student can then study the two modules of HC2 Buddhism Made Simple.
They can deepen their knowledge by participating in the fourteen modules of HC3 Discovering Buddhism, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s HC4 Living in the Path, and finally the series of in-depth six-month modules of the Advanced Buddhist Studies of the HC5 Basic Program.
HC1 | Be Your Own Therapist
These open-ended 60-minute discussions are an easy-going introduction to the Buddhist approach to the mind. Participants learn how to pay attention to, identify and then unpack the thoughts that inform our emotions in day-to-day life and learn how to reconfigure them, rather than focusing on the event or person that triggered them. This is the key to success in Buddhist practice. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “We can mold our mind into any shape we like.”
Duration: 60 minutes
HC2 | Buddhism Made Simple
The verb we translate as “to meditate” in Tibetan, gom, literarally means “to familiarize.” First we listen to the teachings, then think about their meaning, and, finally thoroughly familiarize our mind with them in meditation, gaining direct experiential knowledge of their reality.
This module introduces the student to various simple techniques, including concentration, analytical meditation, and visualization, which is a speciality of Tibetan Buddhism.
Duration: Four classes of 90 minutes each
Buddhism in a Nutshell
This module covers a brief history of the Buddha and how his teachings spread throughout the world; the various traditions of Buddhism; as well as the basic principles expressed in such teachings as the Four Noble Truths, the first teaching given by the Buddha, and in the lamrim, a presentation of the path to enlightenment unique to Tibetan Buddhism, in particular our Gelug tradition.
Duration: Four classes of 90 minutes each
HC3 | Discovering Buddhism
Over 2,500 years ago, the Indian prince Shakyamuni, the Great Shakya, achieved buddhahood – rid his mind of all delusions and perfected all goodness – then during the next fifty years revealed his methods to his disciples. Everyone, he said, possesses the potential to achieve what he did.
In the eleventh century, the Indian master Atisha Dipamkara, a product of the great Nalanda Monastic University who spent the last years of his life in Tibet, took the essence of the vast body of the Buddhist worldview and organized it experientially, in the form of a graduated path to enlightenment.
This lamrim tradition was further systematized and elaborated upon by many holy beings of Tibet, including our Gelug lineage lama, Je Tsongkhapa, and these teachings have continued to be passed from teacher to student up to this present day.
Thus, when Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche began to transmit these teachings to their first Western disciples in the 1970s, they came from a deeply experiential tradition of study and practice.
This tradition is the core of Discovering Buddhism, a fourteen-module course that gives students a solid foundation in the teachings and practice of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism.
Popular in many FPMT centers worldwide, the first thirteen modules are usually studied over a period of two years. When the course is taught in its entirety, each module consists of several talks by an FPMT registered teacher, guided meditations and practice days, required and suggested readings, several quizzes to review the material, a final exam, and two days of practice.
Students may do some or all of these components, as they wish. Those who complete all the components receive a completion card for that module.
Module 14, Special Integration Experiences, can be started at any time in the program but is best started early on, such as after the module All About Karma, as it takes some time to complete. When all fourteen modules have been completed, students receive a certificate of completion issued by FPMT Education Services and are now qualified to teach Discovering Buddhism.
Duration: two-hour sessions, four to six classes each module.
DB1 Mind and Its Potential
In order to understand the Buddhist world view, it is necessary to understand the central role of mind, or consciousness. According to Buddha, mind is not physical, not the handiwork of a creator or our parents, is beginningless and endless and possesses buddha nature.
Students learn the basic facts about the epistemological model of the mind, as well as the psychological model that explains the various positive, negative and neutral states of mind, the three categories that all our thousands of thoughts and emotions fall within.
DB2 How to Meditate
Students will expand on their knowledge of the various meditation techniques already studied in Meditation 101.
In Buddhism, all techniques can be divided into two. The first is Calm Abiding (in Sanskrit, samatha), a technique for cultivating single-pointed concentration, first developed by the great Indian masters Buddha himself studied with. Success at this enables the practitioner to access the subtler levels of mind – not even posited in modern psychology and neuroscience – that are necessary in order to achieve spiritual realizations.
The practitioner uses this more refined and focused level of mind in the second mode of meditation called Insight (in Sanskrit, vipasana) to familiarize the mind with the various points of the path to enlightenment by using analysis, a process that eventually triggers experiential insight into their reality.
DB3 Presenting the Path
This module presents the entire path to enlightenment in stages, according to the levels of capability of the student, as described in the lamrim.
The first two levels are the teachings and practices shared by Hinayana practitioners that enable one to achieve renunciation of suffering and its causes.
The third is the Mahayana component of the path, the development of bodhichitta, followed by the six perfections of the bodhisattva that culminate in the realization of the ultimate nature of the self and phenomena.
And finally, the more advanced stages of the Mahayana path, the Vajrayana, are described briefly.
DB4 The Spiritual Teacher
As in the study and practice of any body of knowledge, the role of a teacher, a mentor, is crucial to the success of the student.
This module goes into detail about how to find a qualified spiritual teacher (in Sanskrit, guru; in Tibetan, lama); how to gain confidence in their qualities; and how to devote oneself to them and emulate their qualities: those of a buddha.
DB5 Death and Rebirth
Impermanence, the evident truth that everything is constantly changing, is one of Buddha’s first teachings.
We need to become familiar, in particular, with the more radical change – the end of this life and the beginning of another – and ensure that, at the very least, we get another human rebirth after this one in order to continue on our spiritual path.
The process of death is described both from the point of view of the twelve links of dependent arising, laid out in the sutras, and the eight stages described in the Vajrayana.
DB6 All About Karma
According to Buddha’s own experiential findings, the minds and lives of all beings play out within the natural law of karma, cause and effect, specifically in terms of happiness and suffering.
Everything that a being thinks and says and does sows seeds in their mind that, just naturally, will ripen in the future as their own experiences – His Holiness the Dalai Lama sometimes refers to the law of karma as “self-creation.”
Given that we create our own reality, we need to learn the basic principles of this law – how we create karma and how to purify it – so that we can ensure our own future happiness.
DB7 Refuge in the Three Jewels
The formal entry point for becoming a Buddhist is to participate in a ceremony in which one takes refuge in – commits to rely upon – the Three Jewels or, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, the Three Rare Sublime Ones: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
Students will learn about absolute Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – the enlightened mind, the experiential knowledge in that mind, and the superior beings who’ve realized emptiness; and relative Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – the buddha of our time, Shakyamuni, the texts that present his teachings, and the ordained monks and nuns.
Students also learn about the power of living in vows. Of the three levels of vows – those of individual liberation, the bodhisattva, and tantra – the first are taken after having taken refuge.
DB8 Establishing a Daily Practice
Based on the understanding gained from studying How to Meditate and the previous modules, students learn how to choose the meditation techniques and other practices necessary to purify the mind, train the mind in virtue, and develop a close relationship with the guru buddha. They also learn how to bring their Dharma into every action of daily life, making every moment practice.
DB9 Samsara and Nirvana
Buddha’s unique finding is that deluded states of mind are not at the core of our being and thus can be removed. Being in samsara means being caught up in these delusions and thus helplessly causing ourselves to suffer, being reborn again and again. Eliminating them from our mind is the achievement of nirvana.
Students will learn the fundamentals of the Buddhist model of the mind, learning to distinguish between delusions and virtues, and therefore how to stop suffering and its causes.
DB10 How to Develop Bodhichitta
The more we realize we are the cause of our own suffering, the more we can see that everyone else is in the same boat. Here students study the unique components of the bodhisattva path: how to develop unparalled levels of love, compassion and the other virtues that Buddha has found are at the core of our being.
This leads to a paradigm shift in the mind, away from self-centeredness to only ever thinking of others, known as bodhichitta: the aspiration to be of benefit and to never give up perfecting oneself as a buddha in order to accomplish this perfectly.
DB11 Transforming Problems
A radical approach to the achievement of bodhichitta is to learn to greet problems with a happy mind. For the brave practitioner, this is the quickest method to eliminate the obstacles to our development: our delusions. The various practices known in Tibetan as lojong, mind transformation, are studied.
DB12 Wisdom of Emptiness
Finally, the practitioner learns how to cut the delusion that is at the root of all suffering, the primordial misconecption that there is an intrinsic self. Buddha has found that no such self exists. Students will learn in particular the Middle Way interpretation of this emptiness.
Insight, vipassana, into this truth needs to be realized in meditation, so the practitioner learns how to access the subtler more capable levels of mind by achieving single-pointed concentration, samatha.
DB13 Introduction to Tantra
The most advanced level of practice is taught in the Vajrayana system of Mahayana Buddhism, the expertise of all great Tibetan masters. These techniques are said to hasten immeasurably the goal of buddhahood. What drives the bodhisattva to enter into the practice of tantra is their immense compassion for the suffering of all beings.
DB14 Special Integration Experiences
Undertaking intensive practices of purification, a ten-day lamrim course/retreat, and three Nyung Nä retreats creates the inner conditions needed to gain the realizations of the path to enlightenment.
The purification practices entail 100,000 prostrations to the Thirty-Five Buddhas and 100,000 long Vajrasattva mantras (two of the nine traditional preliminary practices among Gelugpas).
The ten-day lamrim course/retreat can be done on one’s own or at FPMT centers, including Kopan Monastery in Nepal.
A Nyung Nä is a two-day fasting practice related to the buddha of compassion. It can be done at many FPMT centers, especially during the month of Saka Dawa, which falls in May-June.
This module can be started at any time in the program but is best started early on, such as after the module DB6 All About Karma, as it takes some time to complete. For more information see.
HC4 | Living in the Path
This FPMT education program is taught by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, our Spiritual Director. However, the long-term goal is to also draw from the teachings of Lama Yeshe so as to offer a program that preserves the entire FPMT lineage.
This program is ideal for anyone who wishes to deepen their personal practice and develop the realizations of the path to enlightenment by relying on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s heart advice and teachings.
However, as the teachings often assume familiarity with the lamrim, participants are recommended to have previously studied some of our other courses.
Living in the Path features stand-alone modules organized within the following topics.
Taking the Essence
Essential advice for making a perfect human life meaningful in every moment.
- The Method to Transform a Suffering Life into Happiness
- Bodhichitta Mindfulness
- Taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts
- Making Offerings
- Offering Food and Drink
Why and how to do certain prayers and practices.
- The Refuge and Bodhichitta Verse
- The Seven-Limb Prayer
Realizing the Lamrim
Teachings on the lamrim topics and explanations of lamrim texts.
- All Topics: Advice for Realizing the Lamrim
- All Topics: Atisha’s Light of the Path to Enlightenment
- Guru Devotion: Guru is Buddha
- Perfect Human Rebirth: The Happiness of Dharma
- Death-Impermanence: Cutting the Concept of Permanence
- Death-Impermanence: This is Going to Happen to You
- Karma: Everything Comes from the Mind
- Karma: The Secret of the Mind
- Nature of Samsara: Abandon Stretching the Legs
- Emptiness: Bringing Emptiness to Life
- Emptiness: Are You Sitting on Your I?
- Emptiness: Smashing the Delusions
All modules consist of video excerpts and lightly edited transcripts of teachings by Lama Zopa Rinpoche together with many additional resources.
Modules included in Realizing the Lamrim and some modules of Practice Instructions also provide points for reflection and guidelines for meditations, mindfulness practices, and a service practice, to help students gain a deeper understanding of and insight into the topics.
Having completed the requirements for these modules, students qualify to receive a Certificate of Achievement.
HC5 | Exploring Buddhism
This is a new program currently being developed by FPMT to serve as a bridge between Discovering Buddhism and The Basic Program. It is comprised of five modules and is designed to help students of Buddhism delve more deeply into a broad array of topics that form a solid foundation for furthering one’s study and practice. The program will initially be run as a pilot program in FPMT centers to further test and refine the curriculum.
The Buddha said that the source of all happiness and suffering is the mind. In light of this fundamental teaching, it is essential that we develop an extensive understanding of the mind, and then utilize that knowledge to create the causes for our own and other’s well-being.
In the first module, we will look at what the mind is and how it works, presented in both Buddhism and science. We will explore the different ways to distinguish and classify various kinds of consciousness; and investigate how to reduce destructive states of mind, and generate the constructive ones which can lead us on the path to enlightenment
HC6 | Basic Program:
Advanced Buddhist Studies
Designed by our Spiritual Director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, as a five-year, twelve-subject course, studied in our FPMT centers worldwide as well as online, the Basic Program provides a practice-oriented transmission of the Buddhadharma to committed students ready to progress to in-depth study and practice.
Some of Tibetan Buddhism’s most treasured texts form the heart of this course of study: Je Tsongkhapa’s Middle Length Lamrim; Shantideva’s Engaing in the Bodhisattva’s Deed; Lord Buddha’s Heart Sutra; Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen’s Tenets; Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realization and Tathagata Essence; the Dharmarakshita’s Wheel of Sharp Weapons, and other texts guide the practitioner through a comprehensive study of sutra and tantra that establishes a sound basis for ongoing study, practice, retreat, and service.
Stages of the Path: Middle Length Lamrim
This version of Je Tsongkhapa’s celebrated lamrim literature is easy to understand and apply in meditation. Starting with preliminary practices, the instructions continue through the three levels of practice that enable the student to achieve buddhahood.
Among the most famous of all the Buddhist scriptures, the Heart Sutra reveals the reality that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic nature through a short exchange between two of the Buddha’s most illustrious disciples, Avalokiteshvara and Shariputra. It is beloved by all Buddhists worldwide.
Mahayana Mind Training: Wheel of Sharp Weapons
The Mahayana path is characterized by the bodhisattva’s aspiration to become a buddha for the sake of all beings. The most radical methods for achieving this are known as lojong – mind training or thought transformation.
The hundred-plus verses of ninth century Dharmarakshita’s Wheel of Sharp Weapons: Effectively Srtiking the Heart of the Enemy are blunt and clear in showing us how to counteract our real enemies: the self-centeredness that comes from grasping at an independent self.
Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds
The extraordinary attitude of the bodhisattva, who thinks only of others, is at the heart of Shantideva’s eighth century poetic masterpiece. The advice ranges in scope from simple, practical techniques for developing generosity and dealing with destructive emotions, up to the most refined discussion of ultimate truth.
Mind and Cognition
If the job of a Buddhist is to eventually get rid of all delusions and develop to perfection all goodness, it is necessary to distinguish betweeen them. Therefore we need to learn the various states of mind posited in Buddhist psychology and their categorization. This is covered in the latter part of Mind and Cognition.
It begins with the study of how mind functions: the distinction beween sensory and mental consciousness, for example, and the various levels of subtlety of mental consciousness – levels of mind not posited in neuroscience or modern psychology – that need to be accessed in order to achieve enlightenment.
Based on the idea that the Buddha taught different things to different people in line with their capacities, Tibetan scholars systemized the numerous trends in Indian Buddhist thought developed over the centuries and presented them as four schools of tenets: two of the Hinayana and two Mahayana.
The text that is the basis for study of this subject gives an overview of the various assertions on minds, objects, selflessness and the nature of attainment within each of the schools, culminating in the tenets of the most highly esteemed school, the Madhyamaka.
Ornament for Clear Realization
Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realization is the root text for the study of the levels of realization related to enlightenment according to the Madhyamaka school. Traditionally the basis for extensive study in the monastic curriculum, it makes explicit these levels that were otherwise presented in only a hidden manner in the Buddha’s Perfection of Wisdom teachings.
From among the seventy topics covered by the Ornament, the eleven topics of chapter four have been selected for commentary in the Basic Program curriculum.
The Tathagata Essence
One of the major texts studied in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Maitreya’s Sublime Continuum of the Mahayana, clarifies the meaning of our natural potential for buddhahood, the tathagata essence, specifically the emptiness of the mind, which is why we can achieve buddhood.
The first chapter of this work, which explains four related “vajra” subjects – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and tathagate essence – is the focus of this teaching.
Grounds and Paths of Secret Mantra
Grounds and Paths of Secret Mantra gives an overview of the structure of the tantric path, said to be the swiftest and most sublime means to realize buddhahood.
Presenting the paths of all four classes of tantra, while not being a guide to the fourth, Highest Yoga Tantra, this subject provides a clear overview of its complex path structure.
Seventy Topics is an important study of the entire sutra path to enlightenment as presented in the Ornament for Clear Realization, including all the fundamental features of the basis, path and goal in the Mahayana. The topics are listed and each is defined and explained in turn.
The Three Basic Bodies: Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth
Death, intermediate state, and rebirth underpin samsara, the condition of repeated rebirth impelled by previous karma and delusions.
But they are also the three basic “bodies” or “kayas” of Highest Yoga Tantra practice: death can be transformed into the dharmakaya, the truth body; the intermediate state can be transformed into the sambogakaya, the enjoyment body; and rebirth can be transformed into the nirmanakaya, the emanation body.
This teaching explains in detail both the process of death, intermediate state and rebirth and the way they can be brought into the path to enlightenment.
Highest Yoga Tantra Commentary on an actual Highest Yoga Tantra deity-practice, in particular the two stages of generation and completion.
Generation stage practice utilizes the imagination as a means to cultivate the pure form and environment of a buddha.
Completion stage follows, during which the practitioner gains increased mastery of the subtle vital energies, culminating in the ability to manifest the clear light mind – the subtlest and most capable level of mind for realization of emptiness – and ultimately the union of the clear light mind and the illusory body.
The precise details of the associated visualizations and meditation rituals are also clarified, and the complex symbolism explained.
Ven. George Churinoff
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