First Vajradhatu Seminary, 1973, Teton Village, Wyoming
As we celebrate Naropa’s 40th anniversary, let’s remember the founding energy of our first summer in 1974. In a huge creative explosion, more than two thousand students attended one hundred courses and workshops, as well as a rich assortment of poetry, music, and dance performances; art exhibits; plays; lectures; films; and panel discussions.
The energetic center of our birth year was the talks on alternate nights offered by Naropa’s founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and Ram Dass in the old Boulder Bus Barn, now Alfalfa’s Market. In a dance similar to Indonesian shadow puppetry where energetic opposition is manifested by the characters, a playful and important competition of approaches to spirituality and working with the mind and heart arose between Trungpa Rinpoche and Ram Dass. They had a deep personal affection and respect for one another but at the same time were approaching their expression of how Naropa could establish and grow as a University from seemingly different perspectives. And yet with the luxury of hindsight, we see that their offerings arose from the same ground of human struggle and motivation for compassionate action toward oneself and others.
Trungpa Rinpoche was classically trained in Eastern traditions, obviously centered on the practice and study of Buddhist meditation and psychology, but also calligraphy, painting and poetry. He also was steeped in the Western academic and intellectual traditions. After leaving Tibet under most difficult circumstances, Trungpa Rinpoche was fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend several years at Oxford University studying at the heart of the classical Western academic tradition. He believed that there was real value in creating a higher education institution that would blend the intellectual academic study that the West had been perfecting for several hundred years, with mindfulness, contemplative practice and skilful and compassionate action, in order to train the whole person.
Our 40th anniversary celebrations strike a balance between looking back and envisioning the future. There’s tremendous value in looking at, and learning from, our vibrant history and founding vision and in showing great respect and gratitude for the people who had the courage to commit to Naropa when they had many other opportunities to find professional and artistic homes. Amazingly, many of the early faculty leaders are still here, some forty years later. Considering the past is more than a nostalgic journey, however. It is a way to dip into the well of energy and inspiration that continues to nourish our community and which will be the source of great work by students, faculty and staff for decades to come.
As Naropa evolves, we are committed to educating students who will make a meaningful and transformative difference to the world through the many doors first opened to them by a dedicated and excellent faculty. Naropa alumni continue to do impactful work in the world, with skill and deep contemplative understanding, and capturing their stories is affirming and a delight.
In the next several months, we invite you to find ways to participate in Naropa’s celebration as fully as you possibly can. There will be many opportunities for community engagement, which is a crucial expression of who we are. We welcome you to attend a workshop or performance or make a gift to Naropa and look forward to seeing you as we shape Naropa’s future together.
Charles G. Lief