Top 10 Buddhist Teachers in America. [elephant journal editor Waylon Lewis for Huffington Post]

Via Waylon Lewis
on Dec 6, 2008
get elephant's newsletter

Want to help the teachers below (and in the full writeup) get featured on the main page of Huffington Post? If we get enough comments, the good folks at HuffPost might just promote this little roundup—which is full of links to the below worthy teachers—to their main page. Since they get more traffic than any other news blog in America, that would be a big thing for Buddhism in America, potentially. Click here to COMMENT on the Huffington Post.

Above, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche with Pema Chodron on the cover of mostly-Buddhist magazine The Shambhala Sun.

Wanna get you some meditation, some peace, some wisdom? Wanna do a weekend program where you learn how to calm and open your mind to…reality? Buddhism–tested over 2,500 years in dozens of diverse cultures–is worth a go. This “non-theistic” (read: it’s up to you) religion comes in dozens of styles–Zen, Theravada, Tibetan–but it’s always, at its root, about learning to be a good, sane, peaceful, compassionate person. Still, finding the right teacher for you is an age-old task–made somewhat easier by online teaching schedules, hundreds of wonderful Buddhist books (why, only a generation ago there were only a few tomes to choose from).

Thanks to murderous Mao (he killed more than Hitler and Stalin) & his loyal Red comrades, Tibetan Buddhism came to the West following the 1959 “liberation.” Given that 50 years have passed, the last generation of born-and-raised-and-trained in Tibet teachers is getting long in the tooth. So get thee to a nunnery or monastery–or an urban meditation center, or a luxurious rural retreat–and dip your toes in enlightenment. The Buddhists won’t mind if you’re just window-to-the-soul shopping…a pioneer (along with Alan Watts and Suzuki Roshi) in transmitting Buddhism to the West, Chogyam Trungpa (author; founder of Naropa University) wanted his best-selling Shambhala book to be sold in every grocery in America, right by the tabloids. Though he warned against “spiritual materialism“–using religion to perfect the Self, and brace up the ego–he wanted the wisdom of Buddhism to be available, and made practical, to Rabbis, Reverends and Heathens alike.

[below, an ad via Genpo Roshi appears on my Facebook profile. Smart marketing meets Dharma—now that’s Crazy Wisdom]

So here’s my Top 10 Buddhist Teachers You Can Study With list. I’ve disqualified charlatans, egomaniacs, promising youngsters who have yet to prove themself…and those who you can’t really study with because they’re too famous to actually study with (Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh), in private meditation retreat all the time (Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche), or rarely in the West (The Karmapa, Khandro Rinpoche). If I’ve forgotten or overlooked anyone, I’ll be happy to add them to the must-check-out list if I get a groundswell of vicious comments.

1. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche ~ he’s young but not too young, experienced, thoroughly Westernized (though exotically Tibetan, heritage-wise), a great teacher and frequently accessible at programs around the US, Europe, Canada, even South America. But because he’s a rising star, you’ve got to make an effort if you want personal training.

2. Pema Chodron ~ though Pema is a best selling, accessible, wise, safe teacher, and Oprah loves her…I nearly disqualified her because she’s no longer frequently accessible. But she’s just too good to overlook. So check out her teaching schedule, and connect with her before she retires or goes into retreat.

3. Sharon Salzberg ~ like Pema, she’s a best-selling author and accessible teacher. While less magnetizing than Pema, she‘s deeply experienced and warm-hearted. With her partners-in-crime Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, she teaches mostly out of the Insight Meditation Centre in Barre, Mass.

4. Ponlop Rinpoche ~ like Mipham Rinpoche and Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche (below), a young, well-trained…

…for the rest, click here. Support my column for the Huffington Post by commenting here (they’ll feature my blog if it gets enough comments)! Be as mean as you like.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


21 Responses to “Top 10 Buddhist Teachers in America. [elephant journal editor Waylon Lewis for Huffington Post]”

  1. admin says:

    Jane Rubinstein Yesterday at 4:54pm
    love it

  2. Miriam Hall says:

    Thanks! Very helpful stuff! To put this in such a public place is wonderful.

  3. Miriam Hall says:

    FYI the Huffington Post link didn’t leave this site…

  4. Elizabeth Ready says:

    Emaho! What a great wealth of teachers and teachings!

    You might be interested to know that Her Eminence Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche — holder of the Nyingma and Kagyu Lineages of Tibetan Buddhism — spends much of her time in the West, including many European and American spots, and has a thriving and growing center called Lotus Garden in Stanley Virginia. Check out the webisite:

  5. Margaret Jones Callahan says:

    Inspired Waylon, and so practical.
    One thing though…Sakyong Mipham rinpoche has crossed the “forty” divide . Perhaps by young, you really mean second generation teachers…those who were born outside Tibet and educated in Neapl/India or the West? Like Dzigar Kontrul, Dzongzar, Ponlop etc?

  6. Susan Taney says:

    Thanks for this article. A great list of teachers for those interested in Buddhism or just mindfulness practices alone.

  7. Just Julie says:

    There is a bit of an oxymoron associated with this list: How to find a teacher that is ‘Big’ enough for you to have heard of and yet you can form a personal relationship with? Tricky bit, that.

    I recommend sitting with this list for a while and letting some of the feedback soak in.

    Don’t go down the Genpo Roshi path; don’t mention it until you know enough to rehabilitate him or confirm the worst, sidestep it completely. I have attended a Big Mind session; it was everything that was advertised. I even see how his presentation is a slight variations of the skandhas and looking for a ‘self.’

    Khandro Rinpoche seems to be in the US enough to qualify as ‘accessible.’ At least as much as Ponlop Rinpoche. These two are at least still accessible enough to manage to schedule an interview with.

    But you don’t ‘gain’ enlightenment by meeting these teachers. All of these teachers will ask a prospective student to practice. No free lunch.

  8. Tony Rondero says:

    Thanks for the list, that is really helpful

  9. Christine McKenna says:

    Naropa University really is a fine choice for meeting a variety of teachers. And you don’t have to be “college age”–I tried Naropa online while working and loved it–could interact with diverse online student community as well as Frank Berliner, Reggie Ray and Judith Simmer-Brown online. It was so good I put my career on hold and attended Naropa in person, earning an MA (mostly among students half my age, but there were other older students as well). Some other fine teachers (some listed above) were “visiting teachers” in the classes when I was there. I don’t know how much has changed since I graduated (2005) but it seems worth mentioning as a possible resource for those exploring teachings and teachers in the Tibetan tradition.

  10. Christine says:

    Timely and thought-provoking! I’ve been looking for a teacher nearby interested in meditation in prison programs and your blog post led me right to her, though I’ve been fathing about on my own for a week! Thank You!

  11. Christine says:

    ps: I’m a mostly Self taught Beginner, practicer for 20 years, but isn’t there room, even in a top 10 article, to remind people that just getting to your local zendo, Tibet Center, cushion, etc is likely just as powerful in the day to day of practice as rubbing metaphorical elbows with the cushion glitterati?

  12. brennan says:

    i hope this positive comment helps. your article helps me

  13. Ellie says:

    Great article, although I would agree that Pema may be pushing it in terms of accessibility. I used to love running into her at restaurants in Santa Fe or Albuquerque-her presence is so peaceful.

  14. Sally says:


  15. Kimberly Doyle says:

    I have been studying with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and find him amazing. His traditon is Bon from Tibet. Many folks from the Shambhala Buddhist Community study with him and some have left Shambhala to be with him. I find his approach, teachings and practices more effective than any others I have received. He has us bring everyday situations to the practice. And every practice I have learned from him works with the physical, subtle energy and the more subtle mind/awareness levels.

  16. […] don’t need Buddhism or Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or Judaism or Scientology to help you see the keys to a life […]

  17. […] ~ Pema Chödrön, teaching on day two of a dathün (her wonderful introduction to Buddhist meditation book, Wisdom of No Escape, was transcribed from a series of her Dathun talks).  […]

  18. […] Sakyong, Mipham Rinpoche—best-selling Buddhist author, marathon runner, avid golfer, head of Shambhala Buddhism, son of Trungpa Rinpoche and my […]

  19. […] Sakyong, Mipham Rinpoche—best-selling Buddhist author, marathon runner, avid golfer, head of Shambhala Buddhism, son of Trungpa Rinpoche and my […]

  20. […] might be changing. The 17th Karmapa, trained by the Dalai Lama and one of the principal heirs and leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, is young, charismatic, and both very much Buddhist and avidly […]

  21. I don’t agree with everything in this piece of content, but you do make some very good points. I’m very interested in this matter and I myself do alot of research as well. Either way it was a well thoughtout and nice read so I figured I would leave you a comment. Feel free to check out my website sometime and let me know what you think.