Dharma Teacher Training for the Modern Era

Milinda Program First Cycle Enters Year 8

“These last 6 weeks have helped bring together the studies we have done in the past 7 years. I’m so grateful for the teachings and for the contemplation and meditation sessions. It is really bringing alive in an experiential way the meaning of these traditional texts.” — Jane, Australia

In 2023, the Milinda program saw 12 of its 22 participants gather in person at Rangjung Yeshe Institute (RYI) in Kathmandu, Nepal, with the others joining online. This was the first time since 2020 that the dharma teachers in training had been able to meet face-to-face for the 3-month teaching period, which was the original intention for the program. Students spend the rest of the year studying individually, with online support. Two traditional Madhyamaka texts were taught in 2023: Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika, taught by Dr. Thomas Doctor, principal of RYI; and Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara (9th chapter), by Prof. Phil Stanley, dean of academic affairs at Nitartha Institute and core professor, co-chair of the Wisdom Traditions Department at Naropa University.

This year, the first cycle of the program moved into Year 8, which will see the conclusion of the study of sutrayana and the start of the teachings on tantrayana. The teachings are taking place from February 1 to April 26 at Buddha Pada Institute in Kalimpong, India, with almost all Milindians fully participating in person for the first 6 weeks. For this year’s program Milinda has engaged two teachers from Nitartha Institute: Karl Brunnhölzl, a respected translator and awardee of the 2019 Khyentse Foundation Prize for Outstanding Translation; and Stephanie Johnston, a senior teacher and teacher trainer with Nitartha. Participants began by reviewing texts from the first 7 years of the program, and are spending the next 2 months on the Uttaratantrashastra.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche with Milinda program participants, Boudhanath, Nepal, March 2023.

The program is named for the Bactrian Greek king Milinda (Menander I; c. 165–130 BCE), whose philosophical exchange with the Buddhist monk Nagasena is recorded in the Pali text “The Questions of Milinda”—the first record of dialog between Eastern and Western thought. Similarly, the 10-year program seeks to bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary thought and methodology by training Western and non-Tibetan Asian dharma teachers to transmit and communicate the Tibetan Buddhist path to modern minds.

“It has been a very beneficial experience this year. It has been very enriching to have had a review of everything we have studied so far in the Milinda program, and it has given me an idea of what Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has repeatedly told us about the importance of knowing how to synthesize the teachings without losing their essence and authenticity. ‘Thank you,’ Rinpoche and Khyentse Foundation, for making it possible for us to study the dharma in depth so that we can pass on the Buddha’s teachings to future generations—I hope that we can cultivate the compassion to be able to pass on the dharma in an authentic and inspiring way.” — Lama Sherab, Brazil

Based on the traditional Tibetan shedra model, the training was launched initially as a collaboration between three sanghas in the Tibetan tradition—those of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, and Sogyal Rinpoche—and later opened to a wider Buddhist community. Current students are already teaching and leading programs within their own respective sanghas and communities.

HH the Sakya Trichen Rinpoche with Milinda program participants, Kalimpong, India, March 2024.

With the success of this first cycle of teachings, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche now envisions starting a second 10-year cycle of Milinda. This time Rinpoche is thinking of opening applications to a wider audience, beyond the current nomination process from within sanghas.* Redesigning Milinda for the second cycle may also include considerations of a tuition-based program. Training dharma teachers is one of Khyentse Foundation’s Eight Core Activities, and the Milinda program is presently fully funded by a Khyentse Foundation Ashoka Grant.

* NOTE: Please wait for further announcements before submitting an application.

Featured image:  Tsoknyi Rinpoche with Milinda program participants, Kathmandu, Nepal, March 2023.