Friday, September 16, 2016

Tibet House Delhi launches Masters Program

I've written quite a bit about one of my teachers, Geshe Dorji Damdul. I met him on my first trip to India and have made my way back into his classroom many times since then.

Geshe Dorji Damul at Mahabodhi Temple
Bodhgaya, India 2016.
A former English language interpreter for His Holiness, Geshe Dorji Damdul is fully dedicated to realizing His Holiness' wishes. Geshe la, as his students call him, teaches at Tibet House Delhi, the cultural center of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in India, where Geshe la is also the Director. He also frequently teaches at Deer Park Institute in Bir, India, and more recently outside of India at the request of his international students.

He is becoming an increasingly sought after teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. To meet the needs of students, Geshe la has created a new Masters Course. The Masters Course is being offered through Tibet House, a nonprofit established by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama almost exactly fifty years ago.

Tibet House Delhi in 2015.

Tibet House announced the Masters Course via email newsletter and Facebook on August 20:

There is a growing number of Indian and international students at Tibet House who are showing a keen interest to delve deeper into various Buddhist subjects studied and practiced in the tradition of Nalanda and Tibetan monastic universities.

Keeping them in mind, a new Masters Course is being offered which is in line with that sophisticated tradition.

Geshe la and students. Buddhist Philosophy retreat at Deer Park Institute in Bir,
April 2016. Photo by Deer Park.

Education Program

The announcement indicated "This Masters Course is not a substitute for a formal degree course from a registered university. Rather, this course is being offered to student practitioners who wish to further their knowledge of various Buddhist subjects, in order to deepen their understanding and apply them to their Dharma practice."

All students wishing to accomplish their study goals through the Tibet House Masters Program will first need to complete the Tibet House Masters' Program Advance Level. The first class of students will begin their Advance Level studies in January 2017 and complete the Advance Level in 2020.

Advance Level graduates will be eligible to continue their studies by moving onto the Proficiency Level. The Proficiency Level can be completed in two years.

Since the Advance Level is a prerequisite for the Proficiency Level, I am only covering the Advance Level in this blog post. For information about the Proficiency Level see the Masters Program brochure.

Course Schedule

The tentative schedule has been posted.

There are pre-recorded teachings, readings, and assignments to be completed - along with an application, interview, and a small application fee - before the start of the course in January 2017.

Beginning in January 2017 there will be two semesters per year, through the year 2020. There is an annual three month summer break, and then another break around Christmas.

Classes will be held on Wednesday and Saturday evenings for a total of about 25 - 30 hours of teachings per month. Each class will be two to three hours long. Classes may be held on additional days as well.

Study Topics

The Masters Course makes a thorough sweep of Buddhist study topics.

The Masters Course brochure notes "The study and knowledge of Buddhism is extremely vast and profound. In the monastic tradition, it routinely takes a few decades to properly study all subjects and undertake this journey. This is a wonderful and rare opportunity to commit oneself to such a course, even while being a layperson."

Distance Learning

The Masters Program brochure notes "Anyone who genuinely wants to deepen their study and understanding of Buddhism can apply, however they should have some basic knowledge about Buddhism. Any person residing anywhere across the globe, with a sincere desire to learn, may apply (i.e. participants may complete this course via the online mode)."

Geshe la (and when he is unavailable guest teachers, most likely other Geshes) will teach the Masters Program classes in person at Tibet House Delhi.

Tibet House gompa where Geshe la holds classes. Photo taken in 2014.
The room is about twice as long as what is pictured here. There are more chairs
in the back of the room for students who prefer not to sit on the floor.

Masters Program students are welcomed to attend class in person if/when possible, and if/when not possible students can watch recordings of the class sessions online.

Classes will be taught in English. If a guest teacher speaks in Tibetan then there will be an English language translator.

So it is possible for a student living in the US, for example to complete the Masters Program without traveling to India to attend class.

However, class sessions will be supplemented with group discussions and debate sessions designed to deepen a students' understanding of the material. There will also be opportunities to meet in person with Geshe la.

Students participating online will not be able to participate in these aspects of the Masters Program. However, there will be an online education portal that will allow students to have discussions via designated forums.

Who should apply to the Masters Program?

In the below excerpt from the Masters Program brochure and video Geshe la makes it really clear that he has worked hard to make sure that students overseas and students with family commitments can take advantage of the rare opportunity to join such a program.

"Since there are number of people who are more seriously interested in Buddhist philosophy and at the same time in the midst of busy lives in cities, with other engagements and commitments, this course is designed specifically to accommodate them."

Two Tracks ("Modes")

In the above video Geshe la mentions there are two tracks - an Examination track, and an Assignments track. All students will complete a minimum of three simple assignments per semester.

Students who opt into the Examination track will have regular examinations. Those who opt into the Assignments track will be responsible for completing the assignments, but will not have to participate in examinations.

Students on the Examination track and students on the Assignments track will take the very same classes together, so there is no difference in the teachings students will receive through the Masters Program. The only difference is students in the Examination track will have to put into more effort in order to undertake various examinations. Examination track students must also pay an annual examination fee to cover the costs of administering the examinations. (300 INR per year for monks, nuns, and school/college/university students, and 1200 INR for everyone else.)

A student who first opts into the Examinations track who later changes their mind can switch into the Assignments track. But once a student starts the Assignment track, the student cannot later switch into the Examinations track. This decision does not need to be made at the time of application to the Masters Program, but rather after the student has been admitted to the Masters Program.

Application Process

Prospective students must follow the admissions process laid out by Tibet House:

1.) Complete the application and email it to masterscourse(at) by October 31, 2016.

2.) Pay the non-refundable application fee. For monks, nuns, and school/college/university students the fee is 300 INR. For all others it is 1,200 INR. Instructions regarding how to send the payment are here.

3.) Complete an assessment by listening to and reading teaching materials, complete and submit assignments to Tibet House. This part of the application process is referenced as the Foundational Topics, and will be used to assess the suitability of the applicant for the Masters Program.

It is advised that the applicant complete and submit the first part of the Foundational Topics assignments in October, the second part in November, and the third part by December 11, 2016.

4.) Students who complete and submit the Foundational Topics assignments will be invited for an interview with Geshe la. This interview can take place in person or over Skype sometime between December 12 and 20, 2016.

Masters Program Tuition

Admitted students will need to submit payment for the first year's Masters Course program, including course materials in December before classes begin on January 4, 2017.

Masters Program fees are broken down into a few categories. There is the Course Fee, the (optional) Examination Fee, and the Course Materials Fee.

Since the Masters Program will be completed over a four year period, I multiplied the annual Course Fees by four to learn the total Course Fee each student would need to pay to complete the Masters Program with Tibet House.

I am not sure that the below figures are correct. You would have to verify these total Course Fees with Tibet House.

Four year Masters Program - Assignment track: 18,400 INR
(At today's exchange rate that's roughly $275.)

The above is the Masters Program - Assignment track Course Fee total for students who do not qualify for the discounted rate. For monks, nuns, and school/college/university students if my understanding and math is correct then the Course Fee should be 4,600 INR.

Four year Masters Program - Examination track: 23,200 INR
(At today's exchange rate that's roughly $347.)

The above is the Masters Program - Examination Track Course Fee total for students who do not quality for the discounted rate. For monks, nuns, and school/college/university students if my understanding and math is correct then the Course Fee should be 5,800 INR.

The above Masters Program - Examination track totals include the annual Examination track costs (300 INR for monks, nuns, and school/college/university students, and 1200 INR for all other students.)

Here is a further breakdown of how the Course Fees are spread across the different subject matters and four years of the Masters Program.

In addition to Course Fees, there will be extra charges for course materials. The cost will be nominal and will be charged on a cost basis only.

I have taken a number of classes with Geshe la. The most expensive book I have purchased from Tibet House for use in class is the Tibet House Prayer and Meditation book, and that book was less than $10. All of the other Tibet House course materials I have purchased were considerably less expensive.

Financial Assistance

Geshe la and the staff of Tibet House have worked hard to keep the Masters Program fees very low for all students.

"The above course fees are highly subsidized to be able to allow as many people as possible to avail of the benefits of this course, without regard to their financial means."

"Under very rare situations of financial difficulties, scholarships / financial aid may be considered on a case-to-case and need basis, as decided by the Selection Committee."

An Amazing Opportunity

I hope many people around the world with an interest in studying Buddhism will be able to participate in the Masters Program.

Geshe la has noted this is the first time the Masters Program has been offered: "This being a pilot programme, limitations are bound to be there. Tibet House requests the understanding and co-operation of all participants."

Tibet House hopes to offer the course again, but if you are interested then submit your application to join the first class of Tibet House Masters Program students by the October 31, 2016 application deadline.

If you have additional questions then check out the FAQ. You can also contact Tibet House staff with questions by emailing masterscourse(at)

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