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Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition

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Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition
FounderThubten Yeshe
Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
TypeTibetan Buddhism
HeadquartersPortland, Oregon
United States
President / CEO
Ven. Roger Kunsang

The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) was founded in 1975 by Gelugpa Lamas Thubten Yeshe and Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, who began teaching Tibetan Buddhism to Western students in Nepal. The FPMT has grown to encompass over 138 dharma centers, projects, and services in 34 countries. Lama Yeshe led the organization until his death in 1984, followed by Lama Zopa until his death in 2023. The FPMT is now without a spiritual director; meetings on the organization's structure and future are planned.[1]



The FPMT's international headquarters are in Portland, Oregon, United States. The central office has previously been located at:

As of 2023, the FPMT has 138 centers, projects, and services in 34 countries worldwide, of which about 85 are dharma centers (monasteries and retreat centers often have a public-teaching function, which would raise the count), some 18 are unincorporated "study groups," and the rest a mix of other projects, such as hospices or dharma presses.[2]



The name and structure of the FPMT date to 1975, in the wake of an international teaching tour by Lamas Yeshe and Zopa. However, the two had been teaching Western travelers since at least 1965, when they met Zina Rachevsky, their student and patron, in Darjeeling. In 1969, the three of them founded the Nepal Mahayana Gompa Centre (now Kopan Monastery). Rachevsky died shortly afterwards during a Buddhist retreat.

Lama Yeshe resisted Rachevsky's appeals to teach a "meditation course", on the grounds that in the Sera Monastery tradition in which he was educated, "meditation" would be attempted only after intensive, multi-year study of the Five Topics. However, he gave Lama Zopa permission to lead what became the first of Kopan's meditation courses (then semiannual, now annual) in 1971.[3] Lama Zopa led these courses at least through 1975, and sporadically thereafter.

During the early 1970s, hundreds of Westerners attended teachings at Kopan. Historical descriptions and recollections routinely characterize early Western participants as backpackers on the hippie trail (extended overland tours of Asia), to whom Lama Yeshe's style of discourse especially appealed.

Geoffrey Samuel finds it significant that Lamas Yeshe and Zopa had not yet attracted followings among the Tibetan or Himalayan peoples (Zopa's status as a minor tulku notwithstanding), and that their activities took place independently of any support or direction from the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala. On his reading, their willingness to reach out to Westerners was in large measure the result of a lack of other sources of support. Nevertheless, Samuel sees their cultivation of an international network as having ample precedent in Tibet.[4]

In December 1973, Lama Yeshe ordained fourteen Western monks and nuns under the name of the International Mahayana Institute. Around this time, Lama Yeshe's students began returning to their own countries. The result was the founding of an ever-increasing number of dharma centers in those countries. In his description of the FPMT, Jeffrey Paine emphasizes the charisma, intuition, drive, and organizational ability of Lama Yeshe. Paine asks us to consider how a refugee with neither financial resources nor language skills could manage to create an international network with more than a hundred centers and study groups.[5] David N. Kay makes the following observation:

Lama Yeshe's project of defining and implementing an efficient organizational and administrative structure within the FPMT created the potential for friction at a local level. The organization's affiliated centers had initially been largely autonomous and self-regulating, but towards the late-1970s were increasingly subject to central management and control. [6]

As a result, says Kay (and Samuel's analysis concurs), at the same time that the FPMT was consolidating its structure and practices, several local groups and teachers defected, founding independent networks. Geshe Loden of Australia's Chenrezig Institute left the FPMT in 1979, in order to focus on his own network of centers. More consequentially, Kelsang Gyatso and his students caused the Manjushri Institute, the FPMT's flagship center in England, to sever its FPMT ties. At issue was whether the centers and their students ought to identify primarily with Lama Yeshe, local teachers, the Gelugpa tradition, or Tibetan Buddhism as a whole. The FPMT now asks its lamas to sign a "Geshe Agreement" which makes explicit the organization's expectations.[7] The latter rift widened in the wake of unrelated, post-1996 controversy over Dorje Shugden. Following the policy of the 14th Dalai Lama, the FPMT bans the worship of this deity from its centers.[8] [9]

Lama Yeshe's death in 1984 led to his succession as spiritual director by Lama Zopa. In 1986, a Spanish boy named Tenzin Ösel Hita (a.k.a. Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche, or "Lama Ösel") was identified as the tulku of Lama Yeshe. As he came of age, Hita gave up his robes for a secular life, attending university in Spain, and became relatively inactive in the FPMT. In 2009, Hita was quoted in several media sources as renouncing his role as a tulku—remarks which he later disavowed.[10]

On 3 May 2019, Sera lama and FPMT teacher Dagri Rinpoche was arrested for groping a woman aboard an domestic Indian flight.[11] A few days later, a group of nuns drew attention to additional complaints of groping, sexual harassment, and sexual assault by Dagri Rinpoche over a ten-year period, and called for the FPMT to arrange an independent, third-party investigation. A petition to this effect attracted more than 4000 signatures. The FPMT International Office responded by suspending Dagri Rinpoche from its list of teachers, and commissioning FaithTrust Institute to conduct the requested investigation. Its 19 Sept. 2020 report found the allegations credible. Five (out of eight) FPMT board members resigned amidst controversy over whether to release the report. A “draft” summary report was eventually published—so labeled by the FPMT in anticipation of revisions, but the FaithTrust Institute considered its work complete. Besides abuse, the summary also noted a pattern of "coercive or retaliatory behaviors" aimed at silencing complainants; criticized the FPMT for its lack of any clear mechanism to handle such complaints (pp. 38-39); and criticized statements by Lama Zopa which tended to "undermine" the investigation (pp. 11-13). (Zopa had characterized Dagri Rinpoche as “a very positive, holy being—definitely not an ordinary person," and advised Dagri's students to see only his pure qualities.) [12] The FPMT objected that the FPMT centers where the abuse took place were legally independent; and that the report's criticism of Lama Zopa failed to take into account the core principle of guru devotion.[13] FPMT center leaders and registered teachers (but not Tibetan teachers) are now required to take a "Protection from Abuse" online training course. [14] [15] [16]

On the 2023 death of Lama Zopa, the FPMT board indicated that he would have no direct successor, and that the board would collectively assume his responsibilities, subject to the advice of the Dalai Lama. An "advisory council of teachers" is planned.[17]

Bei, Voulgarakis, and Nault use the FPMT to illustrate Arjun Appadurai's understanding of globalization in terms of (in Appadurai's words) "(a) ethnoscapes, (b) mediascapes, (c) technoscapes, (d) finanscapes, and (e) ideoscapes." The authors accordingly describe the FPMT as "an international network of Gelugpa dharma centers headquartered in Portland, Oregon, but founded by Tibetan and Sherpa monks in India and Nepal (one of whom has apparently reincarnated as a Spaniard), and whose funding comes disproportionately from ethnic Chinese communities in East / Southeast Asia."[18]



The FPMT is headed by a board of directors, with its spiritual director (presently vacant) an ex officio member. The FPMT International Office represents the board's executive function. The president / CEO of the FPMT is currently (2023) Ven. Roger Kunsang, in that office since 2005.[19]

As of 2023, there are 138 FPMT dharma centres, projects, services and study groups in 34 countries. Each affiliated center, project or service is separately incorporated and locally financed. There is no such thing as FPMT "membership" for individuals; rather, membership is held only by organizations (although several of these offer their own, local membership to individuals). In addition to its local board and officers, each FPMT center also has a spiritual program coordinator and in many cases, a resident geshe or teacher (and perhaps other Sangha as well).

The center directors and spiritual program coordinators from various countries meet every few years as the Council for the Preservation for the Mahayana Tradition (CPMT), in order to share experience and deliberate points of mutual concern.

The 14th Dalai Lama is credited with the honorary role of "inspiration and guide".[20]



Students often first encounter the FPMT via short courses and retreats held at the various centers. The prototype of these is Kopan Monastery's annual month-long meditation course, offered since 1971. Many FPMT centers have adopted standardized curricula,[21] whose modules may also be studied online. They range from short introductory courses like "Buddhist Meditation 101," to

  • Discovering Buddhism, a two-year, fourteen-module lamrim course.[22]
  • Living in the Path, a (so far) twenty-module course on practice, drawn from Lama Zopa's talks[23]
  • Exploring Buddhism, a (so far) seven-module course designed to prepare students for the Basic Program (vide infra)[24]

Students desiring more advanced study have a number of options including:

Students who complete any of the seven programs listed above may apply to become FPMT registered teachers.



FPMT maintains a number of charitable projects, including funds to build holy objects; translate Tibetan texts; support monks and nuns (both Tibetan and non-Tibetan); offer medical care, food and other assistance in impoverished regions of Asia; re-establish Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia; and protect animals.[28]

Perhaps the highest-profile FPMT project to date is the Maitreya Project. Originally a planned colossal statue of Maitreya to be built in Bodhgaya and/or Kushinagar (India), the project has been reconceived in the face of fund-raising difficulties and controversy over land acquisition, and now intends to construct a number of relatively modest statues.[29] Jessica Marie Falcone's Battling the Buddha of Love: A Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never Built (Cornell University Press, 2018; based on her Ph.D. dissertation in cultural anthropology for Cornell) is about the controversy, and the meaning of the proposed statue to FPMT participants and Kushinagari protesters.

Also to note is the Sera Je Food Fund offering 3 meals a day to the 2600 monks who are studying at Sera Je Monastery since 1991.[30]



Wisdom Publications, now a well-known publisher of Buddhist books, originated at Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1975 under editor Nicholas Ribush. Its first publication was Lama Yeshe's and Lama Zopa's Wisdom Energy.[31] Under Ribush, the publisher began formal operations in London in 1983 (after several years operating out of the Manjushri Institute), with Jeffrey Hopkins' Meditation on Emptiness (1983) as an early perennial. It moved to Boston in 1989, under director Timothy McNeill. The press offers both academic and popular Buddhist literature from all traditions of Buddhism, as well as translations of classic Buddhist literature. Especially noteworthy are its encyclopedia-style project, the 32-volume Library of Tibetan Classics (developed by Thupten Jinpa, English-language translator for the Dalai Lama); and the Teachings of the Buddha series of translations of the Pali Nikāyas.

Diamant Verlag (from 1984) and éditions Mahayana (from 2020) publish Buddhist books in German and French, respectively.

Since 1995, the FPMT has published a glossy magazine called Mandala (now quarterly).

The Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, which holds copyright to the speeches and writings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa, is one of the FPMT's member organizations. The LYWA archives and transcribes teachings by these and other lamas, and produces edited books for free distribution and for sale. Its director is Nicholas Ribush.

Notable Followers

  • Lillian Too, Malaysian-Chinese author of 80 books on feng shui. She recounts the story of her contact with Lama Zopa and the FPMT in The Buddha Book (Element, 2003) .
  • Daja Wangchuk Meston, American Tibet activist and author of a memoir, Comes the Peace: My Journey to Forgiveness (Free Press, March 6, 2007). Meston grew up as a (white) boy monk at Kopan monastery--his mother having left him to become a Buddhist nun under Lama Yeshe. He took his own life in 2010.
  • Jan Willis, Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University and author of several Buddhist books including her memoir, Dreaming Me: An African American Woman's Spiritual Journey (Riverhead, 2001). Willis was one of the earliest students of Lama Yeshe, who reportedly encouraged her in her academic career.
  • Nick Ribush, an Australian ordained as a monk by Lama Yeshe, and the founder of several FPMT centers and projects.

See also



  1. ^ "Update from the FPMT Inc. Board of Directors: August 24, 2023". 24 August 2023.
  2. ^ "FPMT Centers, Projects and Services". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  3. ^ Jamyang Wangmo, The Lawudo Lama: Stories of Reincarnation from the Mount Everest Region (Wisdom Publications, 2005). p. 241
  4. ^ Geoffrey Samuel, "Tibetan Buddhism as a World Religion: Global Networking and its Consequences," ch. 13 of Tantric Revisionings: New Understandings of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Religion (Motilal Banarsidass, 2005), p. 301 ff.
  5. ^ Jeffrey Paine, Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West (Norton, 2004), ch. 2.
  6. ^ David N. Kay, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), pp. 61-62.
  7. ^ Kay, p. 65
  8. ^ "Collection of Advice Regarding Shugden (Dolgyal)" (n.d., includes statement of FPMT policy), https://fpmt.org/teachers/zopa/advice/shugden/
  9. ^ The Shugden Issue Archived 24 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine - policy statement by the FPMT, accessed 26 July 2012.
  10. ^ Van Biema, David (8 June 2009). "When a 'Chosen' Tibetan Lama Says No Thanks". Time. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  11. ^ Lobsang Wangyal, "Dagri Rinpoche speaks out, claims innocence," Tibet Sun (13 May 2019), https://www.tibetsun.com/news/2019/05/13/dagri-rinpoche-speaks-out-claims-innocence
  12. ^ "Lama Zopa's Advice to Students of Dagri Rinpoche" (14 May 2019), https://fpmt.org/lama-zopa-rinpoche-news-and-advice/advice-from-lama-zopa-rinpoche/lama-zopa-rinpoches-advice-to-students-of-dagri-rinpoche/
  13. ^ FPMT Inc. Concerns Regarding Aspects of FTI’s Draft Summary Report, https://fpmt.app.box.com/s/8re7tem886wvz5pwecm12wvf4ps9e7pq
  14. ^ "Update from FPMT Inc. (13 Nov. 2020), https://fpmt.org/fpmt-community-news/statement/nov-13-2020-update/
  15. ^ Tenpel (Tenzin Peljor, aka Michael Jäckel), "Fact-Finding Results in Response to Allegations of Sexual Misconduct by Dagri Rinpoche" (17 Nov. 2020), https://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2020/11/17/fact-finding-results-in-response-to-multiple-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct-by-dagri-rinpoche/
  16. ^ Emily DeMaioNewton and Karen Jensen, “Buddha Buzz Weekly: Dagri Rinpoche Permanently Removed as FPMT Teacher” (Tricycle, 21 Nov. 2020), https://tricycle.org/article/dagri-rinpoche
  17. ^ "An Update from the FPMT Inc. Board: July 2023". 26 July 2023.
  18. ^ Bei Dawei, Evangelos Voulgarakis, and Derrick M. Nault, introduction to Nault et al. (eds), Experiencing Globalization: Religion in Contemporary Contexts (Anthem Press, 2013), p. 6. The authors are quoting Appadurai, "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy," in Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (University of Minnesota Press, 1996), p. 33.
  19. ^ FPMT Board of Directors https://fpmt.org/fpmt/international-office/board-of-directors/
  20. ^ "Spiritual Guides". FPMT.
  21. ^ "Study". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  22. ^ "Discovering Buddhism". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  23. ^ "Living in the Path". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 2 October 2023.
  24. ^ "Exploring Buddhism". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 2 October 2023.
  25. ^ "FPMT Basic Program". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  26. ^ "FPMT Masters Program". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  27. ^ "Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translator Program". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  28. ^ "FPMT Charitable Projects". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition website. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  29. ^ "Maitreya Projects".
  30. ^ FPMT, Sera Je Food Fund
  31. ^ Ribush, Nicholas (11 October 2008). "Birth of a Buddhist Publishing Company". Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive website. Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  32. ^ De-Tong Ling Retreat Centre Archived 2008-05-09 at the Wayback Machine


  • Cozort, Daniel. "The Making of the Western Lama". In Buddhism in the Modern World (Steven Heine & Charles S. Prebish, eds), Oxford UP: 2003, ch. 9. Focuses on the educational curricula of the FPMT and the New Kadampa Tradition.
  • Croucher, Paul. A History of Buddhism in Australia, 1848-1988. New South Wales UP, 1989. The FPMT is discussed on pp. 89–93, as well as on 112-113.
  • Eddy, Glenys. Western Buddhist Experience: The Journey From Encounter to Commitment in Two Forms of Western Buddhism. Ph.D dissertation for the Dept. of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney. 30 March 2007. Discusses the Vajrayana Institute (an Australian FPMT center) throughout, but especially in chapters 4,5, and 6.
  • Eddy, Glenys. "A Strand of Contemporary Tantra: Its Discourse and Practice in the FPMT". Global Buddhism no. 8, 2007. Extracted from her doctoral dissertation (see above).
  • Halafoff, Anna. "Venerable Robina Courtin: An Unconventional Buddhist?" In Cristina Rocha and Michelle Barker, Buddhism in Australia: Traditions in Change. Routledge, 2011. Courtin, a well-known FPMT nun, founded the Prison Liberation Project.
  • Hulse, Adele. Big Love: The Life and Teachings of Lama Yeshe. Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, 2020. Two-volume biography / oral history by one of Yeshe's students.
  • Kay, David N. Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain. RoutledgeCurzon, 2004. The FPMT is discussed mainly on pp. 53–66, as background to the New Kadampa Tradition.
  • Magee, William. Three Models of Teaching Collected Topics Outside of Tibet. Conference paper presented to the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission of the ROC, 2004. Discusses Magee's experience studying the Collected Topics at the University of Virginia and the Dialectics Institute in Dharamsala, as well as teaching portions of these for Australia's Chenrezig Institute (an FPMT center).
  • Meston, Daja Wangchuk. Comes the Peace: My Journey to Forgiveness. Free Press, 2007. Memoir. Meston, a white American, was raised as a boy monk at Kopan.
  • Moran, Peter. Buddhism Observed: Travelers, Exiles, and Tibetan Dharma in Kathmandu. RoutledgeCurzon, 2004. An anthropological / sociological look at "Western" Buddhist tourists / pilgrims to Boudhanath. Kopan receives periodic mention, but see especially pp. 70–74.
  • Ong, Y.D. Buddhism in Singapore—a Short Narrative History. Skylark Publications, 2005. The Amitabha Buddhist Centre is mentioned briefly, on pp. 175–177.
  • Paine, Jeffrey. Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West. Norton, 2004. Chapter two discusses the role of Lama Yeshe and the FPMT.
  • Samuel, Geoffrey. "Tibetan Buddhism as a World Religion: Global Networking and its Consequences". Chapter 13 of Tantric Revisionings: New Understandings of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2005. pp. 288–316. The FPMT is discussed sporadically, beginning on p. 301, along with other "Western" Tibetan Buddhist groups.
  • Wangmo, Jamyang. The Lawudo Lama: Stories of Reincarnation from the Mount Everest Region. Wisdom Pub., 2005. The second part of the book contains Lama Zopa's reminiscences about his life, including his first meeting with Lama Yeshe (p. 199 ff) and Zina Rachevsky (p. 202), and the first Kopan course (p. 241 ff).
  • Willis, Jan. Dreaming Me: An African American Woman's Spiritual Journey. Riverhead, 2001. Memoir. Willis, now an academic, was one of the earliest students of Lama Yeshe.