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Study and Practice at Columbus Karma Thegsum Chöling


We appreciate your interest in the Columbus Karma Thegsum Chöling. This publication is intended to introduce you to our work, and invite you to join us in the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

Who We Are

Karma Thegsum Chöling is a meditation center of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Our name describes our activity and our approach to the study and practice of Buddhism.

Here, “Karma” refers to “the activity of a Buddha,” and reflects both the name of our lineage (Karma Kagyu) and its spiritual head, His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje. The Karmapas have led the Kagyu (or, “Lineage of the Spoken Word (of Buddha”) since the 11th century.

“Theg” means “vehicle, or path,” and “Sum” means, “three.” This refers to the three paths taught by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni 2,600 years ago: The Path of Individual Liberation from Suffering (also called Hinayana); The Path of Liberation for All (Mahayana), and the Path of Indestructible Practice toward Liberation (Vajrayana).

“Chö” means “dharma,” or teaching of the Buddha; and “Ling” means  “Place.

Thus, our name means “Place of the Buddha’s Teachings of the Three Vehicles in the Karma Kagyu Tradition.”

What We Practice

As our name implies, we study teachings and practice meditation from all three vehicles of the Buddhist dharma. Our three main practices are Quiet Sitting Meditation (called “Shinay” in Tibetan); Compassion Meditation (called “Tong-len” in Tibetan) and Mantra and Visualization Meditation (also called Sadhana Practice, of which our main practice is Chenrezig, the Compassion Bodhisattva). Other practices also are taught, and are summarized under the “Individual Practice Curriculum” section of this publication.

How to Get Started in Tibetan Buddhism at KTC

1. We recommend beginning with Quiet Sitting Meditation, or Shinay. Quiet Sitting calms and helps “get hold of” the racing mind, which can help you pacify afflictive states of mind and change thought patterns. You can learn Shinay technique through our Sunday morning Learning Meditation Session at 10 a.m. on most Sundays in the KTC’s library.

Instruction also is available by appointment – please e-mail us at info@columbusktc.org

2. Next, we recommend starting the habit of daily meditation at home. Even a 5- or 10-minute practice of meditation can be helpful in forming this habit. Questions about your daily practice can be directed any Sunday to the Meditation Instructor teaching Orientation, or by leaving a message on KTC’s voice-mail.

3. To provide context for your meditation practice, we recommend that you learn about the qualities of your inner Buddha Nature (and the basic teachings of the Buddha) through dharma study. Our eight-week “Introduction to Buddhism” course meets most Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the KTC library. Like meditation instruction, the course is free.

4. Compassion Meditation, or Tong-len, can be integrated into your practice at any time, after you receive instruction for it. Tong-len is taught as part of our “Introduction to Buddhism” course on the Fifth Sundays during the year. Instruction also is available by appointment. Daily practice of Tong-len helps develop the altruistic motivation of the “bodhisattva,” or Buddha-in-training. This helps uproot negative habits of mind.

5. The Mantra and Visualization Practice of Chenrezig is open to all, even  to beginning meditators. Chenrezig practice helps us cultivate the energy of compassion that is part of our inherent wisdom, or Buddha Nature. At KTC, we practice Chenrezig several times a week; those sessions are always open to newcomers.

What Comes after That?

After being introduced to the three basic practices, some people wish to formally become Buddhist, which is done through a ceremony called Refuge, in which you formally take the Buddha as your teacher, the Dharma as your path, and the Sangha (or dharma community) as your guides and companions. This ceremony is offered publicly at various intervals through the year, and also can be done privately by appointment.

Refuge is the first formal step on the Buddhist Path. After this, you can undertake the Individual Practice Curriculum of American Karma Kagyu Students.

The Individual Practice Curriculum

After taking Refuge, students progress through a series of steps, based on the Three Yanas of Buddhism:

1. Hinayana Level: Students cultivate shinay (tranquility) meditation and learn basic dharma by reading “Dharma Paths,” the book by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche that describes the entire Tibetan Buddhist Path. At this stage, meeting with a Meditation Mentor is helpful.

2. Mahayana Level: After completing “Dharma Paths,” the student learns Compassion Meditation (Tong-len) and studies Bodhicitta (the mind of awakening), considered a critical step in an individual’s dharma development. Bodhicitta emphasizes love and compassion and a healthy sort of selflessness, as a means to combat ego-clinging and the sufferings associated with it. In this level, students are encouraged to read “The Great Path of Awakening,” by Jamgon Kongtrul, as a basic textbook on Bodhicitta.

3. Vajrayana Level: After completing the study of “The Great Path,” students will learn about Mahamudra, the main practice of the Karma Kagyu tradition. This practice consists of special versions of Shinay (shamata in Sanskrit, Tranquility in English) and Lhaktong (vipassana in Sanksrit, Insight in English) that can bring about a profound change in a student’s view, meditation, and activity. This level is pursued in several ways, including the practice of the Mahamudra preliminaries, called Ngondro in Tibetan.


Many students new to Tibetan Buddhism ask whether they need to make lifestyle changes to practice the Buddha’s teachings. It is not required to become a vegetarian or a celibate person to study and practice the dharma; the most important guidelines are to take responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions; to practice altruism; and to integrate the three basic practices (Shinay, Tong-len and Chenrezig) into your daily life.

Thanks again for your interest. We look forward to accompanying you on your journey toward spiritual life!