The Nitartha Institute Buddhist Studies Curriculum presents the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana view through a well-developed progressive series of courses designed as Foundation, Intermediate, and Advanced curriculum studies. Nitartha begins with the study of mind and its relation to objects. In essence, how do we know what we know, and how do we know if this knowledge is correct? These courses provide a foundational understanding of the terms and methods used to support analytical inquiry into how mind engages with its world. They build a well-developed ground on which the intermediate and advanced curricula are built.

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Foundation Curriculum

Mind & Its World I – IV

These four classes can be described in terms of three traditional interlocking and mutually supportive disciplines in the Tibetan tradition. To speak in a broad manner using Western terminology, these could be described as:

  • Phenomenology, which is a description of the world as we experience it, primarily in reference to the objective side of experience. Studies for this aspect of the course derive from the “Collected Topics” (Dudra in Tibetan). It is based on the Abhidharma (“Higher Teachings”) of India.
  • Epistemology, which is an analysis of how we know – a systematic investigation of the types of mind that arise through knowing and experiencing ourselves and the world. This is primarily in reference to the subjective side of experience. Studies for this aspect of the course derive mainly from the “Classifications of Mind” (Lorik in Tibetan) and secondarily from “Classifications of Reasons” (Tarik in Tibetan). It is based on the Pramana (“Valid Cognition”) tradition of India.
  • Ontology, which presents systematic assertions with regard to what is real within the subjective and objective sides of our experience, both ultimately and conventionally, as well as with regard to what is completely unreal and non-existent, such as a permanent self. This aspect of the courses is derived from the Philosophical Systems (Thrumtha) literature for the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika schools.. (Texts on the philosophical systems generally present a range of teachings, not just on ontology, but also on virtuous conduct, the stages of realization on the path, the fruition of the path, and so on.)

As you can see from the descriptions above, these three disciplines of the Collected Topics, Classifications of Mind, and the Tenet Systems are closely related to each other. Thus, Collected Topics describes experience, particularly of the external world. The Classifications of Mind describe the types of mind that have that experience. The Tenet Systems clarify what within our experience is true or not.

Clear Thinking & Debate

This class focuses on teaching students the basic forms of Tibetan style logic and debate, and is conducted in English. The character of debate at Nitartha is that of gentle and precise dharma conversation rather than a rigid and stylistic formulation of concepts. The intent is the ultimate penetration of truth for oneself and others, not mere one-upmanship or display of logical skill.

The class inter-relates strongly with Mind and Its World, especially drawing from the Collected Topics, which is the subject one traditionally begins with in debate. However, we find that students developed greater understanding when they are also studying the Classifications of Mind and Philosophical Systems texts at this stage. Logical reasonings often show up in a wide range of texts, even in tantric texts, so it is extremely useful for students to learn the debate format.

Two forms of debate are used at Nitartha: 1) formal Tibetan-style debate and 2) what we refer to as Indian-style debate that is less formal. We ask students to learn and use both forms of debate through the first two sessions of the curriculum. After that, students can choose to work with one or other or both of the two forms. Whatever the case may be, students will continue to use these forms to probe the class material throughout the Foundation courses and Advanced courses. Open-ended discussion groups are also used to help students explore the material.


BUD 501 Mind & Its World I: Valid Cognition

This course explores the criteria of a valid cognition and its various classifications, based on the teachings of the Pramana tradition, or Buddhist epistemology. We will analyze our consciousness and determine to what degree it is in agreement with its observed object or not; when our mind is direct or not; what the difference is between non-mistaken, non-deceiving, conceptual and non-conceptual types of awareness.

BUD 502 Clear Thinking

This course has two-fold purpose: It presents a detailed treatment of knowable objects in the form of definitions, examples, equivalents and classifications drawn from Collected Topics, the introductory textbook of Buddhist phenomenology or Abhidharma; secondly this material is used to teach methods for thinking clearly about the teachings using the debate typology of the four types of relationships there can be between any two phenomena. We will train in elementary debate skills in a relaxed environment, such as asking for definitions, equivalents and classifications.

BUD 510 Mind and Its World II: Modes of Engagement & Mental Events

This course analyzes the six ways in which mind engages objects, delineating thus the types of conceptual and non-conceptual mind. We will go over the middle part of the Classifications of Mind root text, as well as the final part of Collected Topics root text. The course continues with the presentation of the classification of mind into primary minds and mental events as taught in the tradition of Buddhist psychology expounded by Asanga and Vasubandhu (both ca. 4th century). We will review the final third section of Classifications of Mind root text.

BUD 520 Mind and Its World III: Vaibhashika Philosophical Tradition

This course is an extensive exposition of the ground of Vaibhashika philosophical tradition, based on the expanded version of The Gateway that Reveals the Philosophical Traditions to Fresh Minds root text. This school is valued for their presentation of a contemplative world-view of radical impermanence, without needing to postulate either a personal identity or any principle of divine creation. (The path and result of the Vaibhashika tradition is generally shared with the Sautrāntika tradition and is presented in BUD 530 Mind and Its World IV: Sautrāntika Philosophical Tradition.)

BUD 530 Mind and Its World IV: Sautrantika Philosophical Tradition

This course is an extensive exposition of the Sautrantika philosophical tradition, based on the expanded  revised fourth edition of The Gateway that Reveals the Philosophical Traditions to Fresh Minds root text.  This school is renowned for classifying all knowable objects into specifically and generally characterized phenomena, based on our experience. (The path and result presentation here is generally shared with the Vaibhashika tradition.)

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