First Druptas’ Testimonial

Source: Dudjom Tersar Ngondro Instagram Stories

Following below is a page from the Lotus Light Newsletter from 1997 with testimonials from the the first three drupta graduates: Marc Schmitz, Stefan Graves and Marc Nyima Olmstead Lotus Light was an early printed newsletter publication for the Vajrayana Foundation. It was published quarterly and mailed by USPS to everyone on the mailing list, member and non-member alike.

Lotus Light News from the Vajrayana Foundation January 1997 Vol 4 No 1

Drub Nyiy Döjö Gatsal Three-Year Retreat “The Joyful Grove that Provides Both Kinds of Accomplishments”

Drub Nyiy Döjö Gatsal is a three year retreat center in the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, specifically in the Dudjom Tersar Lineage. It was was established by Lama Tharchin Rinpoche in 1992 as part of a far reaching vision to bring the study and practice of the Dharma in its entirety to the West, where he taught and continuously, oversaw many three year retreats, until his Parinirvana in 2013.  JOINING THE NEXT RETREAT The Vajrayana Foundation is now accepting applicants for the next three year  retreat, which will begin after Tibetan New Year in early 2024. If you have been contemplating taking a leap with your practice and if this long-term traditional group retreat setting resonates with you, please write a preliminary letter of intent using the questions asked in the Preliminary Motivation Letter as a guideline and email it to We have begun the process of reviewing applications and look forward to hearing from you.


A Journey of a Ngondro Student

There was a subtle and quiet inner knowing that I needed to go to Pema Osel Ling in California, that slowly grew and became more clear over about three years of an online connection. 
It kept returning over years of slowly doing Ngondro accumulations, studying each day, endless reading and learning, and keeping a connection going as best as I could. Joining in. Integrating. Coming and going.
A strange inner pull to take a sacred pilgrimage, that I could not ignore. A heart pull, a different pull that I could not quite explain. The result of experiences of connection, softening, beauty, blessings, transformation, lineage, prayers, practices and these teachers that appeared before me. I fell in love with the prayers and words. I changed in many ways, and I slowly became stronger.
My whole life had become my practice, as imperfect as that may be at times, but devoted and engaged and transforming.
And then the pull to receive Troma Nagmo empowerment there started one year before going. Another reason to go.
But it would mean returning to a place where I had been 30 years before, and where a profound loss had occurred when my Aunt Anne disappeared as a homeless woman on the streets of San Fransisco around 2000, so resistance was there. Not quite wanting to return there. But still I knew that I had to go. 
I had to walk through my fears as they arose, prepare over time, and gather the support that I needed to make the journey.
It was a decision that took courage, and a walking out of the door of my comfort zone, vulnerable and uncertain, into the world. To fully embrace my journey and its challenges, to allow myself to be supported, to handle the difficulties that arose. And arrive.
Flying in over San Fransisco, warm tears fall in fully facing the loss of my Aunt Anne years ago, but reclaiming my place here in a new way. A new happiness replacing the old loss.
The magic of the crazy, winding road through hills of green redwood trees delighted me, and gave me a feeling of joy and freedom, and the kindness that greeted me was so appreciated. I felt a sense of softening and relief during my brief stay, and all that occured happened so easily and meaningfully.
A first and unexpected encounter with Lama Sonam in the shrine room on Saga Dawa, so suddenly appearing, was quickly and briefly embraced, and the opportunity to offer him a white silk khata scarf to honour him and show my deep gratitude for all that I had learned from him over three years was so profound and precious, and deeply felt. It changed me, and brought me a sense of deeper peace in my heart, a calming, having done something I deeply needed to do. So grateful, so fulfilled. At peace, more restful. Offering my appreciation as a humble Ngondro student. Happy tears shed in the shrine room. Feeling so blessed. Knowing that this was an important moment in my life. A deep happiness.
Jumping in to practice with others in the shrine room, and feeling held and supported by older students and a sangha together. Finding my place as myself, as I am, flaws and all. Entering, learning, showing up. The fullness of the experiences in the shrine room bringing it all alive for me, finally. Deeply felt and enciountered. Meeting new heart friends, learning from them, listening to them, being with it all, and then letting go.
The rewards of a journey taken, very much worthwhile, returning to feel more settled, and a deeper peace in my heart. Right timing, and everything coming together with ease and support. Feeling a new peace that was not there before. A difference in my embodiment and sense of self. A heart connection in the world, and trusting a new path.
The journey continues back into the world and in my return, back to being more alone on my path, but stronger, and knowing that I need to return when I can.

Dedicating my merit to my Aunt Anne, who disappeared in homelessness in California many years ago. May she be blessed and protected by the buddhas and bodhisattvas. May this be so.

Submitted by Sarah Marcus, a participant of the Ngondro Program since 2020.


Lamas and the Sangha is a Powerful Experience

Esther Oswald

by Esther Oswald

As a Ngondro practitioner I highly recommend attending the Vajrayana Foundation’s Ngondro Retreat. Since I started my Ngondro practice at the end of 2019, I have been attending this retreat every year, initially online during the pandemic and last year and this year in person. Whilst participating in this retreat online has certainly great benefits, for me it made a huge difference to attend this retreat in person. Being at POL, connecting with the Lamas and the Sangha is a powerful experience. What comes to mind when I think about my experiences in the Shrine Room is that it is a truly magical place. Practicing in the Shrine Room felt so much more powerful than my practice at home. The blessings of Guru Rinpoche are palpable. If you’ve ever wondered what teachers and practitioners are talking about when they describe their experience of suddenly becoming tearful without knowing why or a specific reason, then all you’d need to do is come to Pema Osel Ling and practice in the Shrine Room! During my time at Pema Osel Ling, I felt such a connection with the Lamas, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, which has truly supercharged my practice again, and provided lots of inspiration and motivation to keep focused on the path. I also greatly benefitted from my personal interview with Tulku Thadral Rinpoche and from connecting with Amy and Ivan again and to tap into their wealth of experience and knowledge, which they (in addition to their wonderful teachings) were always so generous to share with us in between sessions as well, during breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. A big thank you also to Regina and Stefan for their super helpful accumulation sessions. The “less talking, more doing” mantra has definitely been ingrained in my mind stream!

Finally, I would also like to send my heartfelt gratitude to everyone at Pema Osel Ling who organized, participated, helped and shared this experience with me. I always learn so much by just being able to connect, hear about your path and to be able to bombard you with lots of questions.

May all beings benefit!

Esther is currently in our Dudjom Tersar Ngondro Program.



I was able to Create and Maintain a Disciplined Practice

I was in my mid-forties when my husband, our two very spirited children, moved to California from Ohio. It was a difficult move which left me upended on several fronts. During this turbulent time, I was given a book which addressed the meaning of life and the main tenants of Buddhist thought. It was so sensible and logical: there was nothing about, “having to take the teachings on faith”, which I heard many times in my Christian upbringing. Buddhism opened my mind to the vastness and beauty of a reality that I had no idea existed, and yet, was accessible. This gave me a path to follow in a difficult time.

Photo submitted by Kristie

Soon after I found a sangha and a teacher and became dedicated to pursuing the Dharma. As I progress on the path I started Ngondro. What an undertaking! My kids were needing more attention and between them, and a full time job, life was becoming more complicated. Even thought I set aside time in the morning for practice, it was rather hit or miss. Yet, reading the Ngondro liturgy and explanations on how to practice, gave me comfort and confidence in my life, and the hope, that one day I’d figure it out how to get more practice time in.
I was able to attend retreats over the years, which were so inspiring. I had the opportunity to receive teachings from some of the greatest masters alive. This gave me such an appreciation for the wisdom that has been preserved, and the hard work that was done by the lamas and lineage masters, for our benefit.
Then one day I “woke up” to find that I was 68 years old and realized I really had been just fooling around in my practice. Because of a serious situation in my sangha, my practice had become quite disrupted. I found myself a bit lost in the wilderness. Additionally, I had become more involved in the mundane world because of more demands at work. Despondency temporarily overcame me, when I realized by adding up, how much more I had to do to complete my Ngondro.
Soon after that, I went to a weekend teaching at Pema Osel Ling and found out about their Ngondro Program. I had heard a few online teachings from Lama Sonam Rinpoche and about 3 weeks later got to meet him at a Treasure Vase consecration. I was enamored by his joyful and humble presence and thought to myself, “this is the Lama for me.”
Because of Lama Sonam Rinpoche’s perfect teachings, the support of my mentor, and the Ngondro Program staff, and the monthly online accumulation meetings, I was able to create and maintain the disciplined practice I had been hoping for. Finally, at the age of 72, I completed all my accumulations. So, it’s never too late to invest in present and future lifetimes!
One bit of advice – try not to be intimidated by prostrations. 
I was truly astounded by the flexibility and strength I acquired, and not spiritually. As Rinpoche said to a young frustrated student, during on of online Question and Answer sessions, “They’re better than plastic surgery.”

Thank you a million times over to Lama Sonam Rinpoche and the Ngondro Program (Regina, Stefan and Sonam) for sharing the teachings and your support and experience with this wonderful community of Ngondro practitioners that you have created.

Kristie Brady completed her Dudjom Tersar Ngondro just in time to enroll in the 2023 Rushen Retreat with Tulku Thadral Rinpoche given at the Vajrayana Foundation’s retreat center, Pema Osel Ling,  located in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

From from Alone


Though I am far from alone in having what I experience as a meandering and questioning path in life, I cannot understate the benefits of making efforts toward- as Lama Sonam says it- practicing nicely. Ngöndro is transformative and so real, though I am most definitely the least among the many examples of the miracle of experiencing the gifts of the Dudjom Tersar lineage in this life. I strive to never forget that I have so much to learn, and so much to grow on. The difference is that, with steady practice, all of this remains true for me – thinking, feeling, exploring, questioning – within the invitation to devotion, to staying committed to doing what we are taught.

Megan is an active participant in our Ngondro Program. We asked Megan to write a testimonial after reading what she wrote on her Registration.
“I was so touched by her words.” ~Sonam
I’m reinstating my formal engagement with the program after taking a break to think about some things. Thank you, everyone for the opportunity to do so.
You  find out more about The
Vajrayana Foundation Dudjom Ngondro Program here.
We support both the Dudjom Tersar Ngondro and
Dudjom Lingpa’s Troma Ngondro

I feel a profound gratitude in my heart…

When I first heard of the ngondro practice in my twenties, I was very drawn to it, but circumstances and personal obstacles led me to pass an opportunity. Yet, I did make strong aspirations to do ngondro in the future. Exactly ten years later these aspirations ripened and the time was right. Friends pointed me to Pema Osel Ling (POL) and Lama Sonam kindly gave me instructions. Starting with prostrations was difficult and I met some friends on the way, who dropped out of this practice because of these (physical) difficulties. For me, it was the noticing that many short sessions accumulate quickly. Particularly I am so grateful for Dudjom’s Rinpoche’s wisdom to keep the ngondro text pithy, which made it possible to practice it almost daily, even if just very briefly in this so busy and demanding life we are in. I had further the opportunity to bring my ngondro onto pilgrimage to holy sites in India and Nepal, which helped raise inspiration to completing it. There are so many practitioners doing ngondro in this world! It’s good to know how deep and vast this network of devotion spreads! However, on my accumulation journey, it was mostly the times of solo retreat that stand out for me as some of the best experiences I had – ever! Four sessions a day for a month or just a week truly connects one to this practice and to a lineage of blessings. There are also many readings, when added to the practice schedule can nurture an intense and meaningful time of  practice in retreat from our daily routine. I felt the practices come forward and truly embrace me, change me and transform my outlook. I feel a profound gratitude in my heart for all these wise ancestors and current mentors, who encourage us to engage in this method of mind training. There is something deeply encoded in this practice that makes it work for sure, no matter who one is and what one’s circumstances. And it also raises confidence in one’s study of Buddhism, because one has tasted first hand that through one’s efforts, one will find “lifesaving water” – a response to one’s questions and struggles.

May all be auspicious!
Shoho Kuebast
July 7, 2020

From Faith to Devotion

Congratulations to Seth Roberts on the completion of his Ngondro Accumulation.  We asked Seth to share his experience with us. The following is the unfolding and transformation of his life through his Ngondro Practice.

“I felt a great draw to the Vajrayana traditions pretty quickly after starting a daily meditation practice and doing some study and research into Buddhism.  When I learned about the value of doing a ngondro I was immediately interested in undertaking one.  I was very fortunate to have the guidance of someone who is connected to Pema Osel Ling and who had ngondro experience, and so I found the Ngondro Program on the web and reached out.  It wasn’t long after that that I visited Pema Osel Ling and was fortunate to be able to get the lung from Lama Sonam Rinpoche to start the practice.

One of the biggest blessings for me once I started the ngondro was how it realigned my life to put the Dharma into the center of my experience.  Even though I had a regular daily practice before starting the ngondro, I realized that the biggest obstacle for me would be finding the required time each day to complete it. So from the beginning I made a commitment to never miss a day of practice, no matter how brief the session might be, and I made a commitment to organize my time to put it more and more to the center of things.  Making my practice the center of my day pretty quickly began to change how I moved in the rest of my life.  I found myself becoming drawn more and more into study and contemplation of the Buddhadharma and more and more eager and able to apply these teachings into my everyday life.   

I definitely experienced the blessings of the lineage in supporting my practice, and my devotion and commitment as a practitioner have expanded tremendously in undertaking and completing the ngondro. I think part of the transformative power of the ngondro is the sheer size of it.  It is something of a mountain to climb, and it can be intimidating to contemplate. There were many times when it was a challenge to consider how much more I had left to complete.  But there was a commensurate power in the willingness and faith of the dedication to keep going, and just remembering, again and again, to return to the present experience of the practice; just one practice session, one prostration, one mandala and one mantra recitation at a time.  I think the value is there in both finding the fullest possible dedication in each accumulation, and in finding the willingness to continue on through the length of the whole experience.  Both levels of dedication feel enriching and maturing.
So it feels empowering to have embarked on the ngondro and seen it all the way through.  There are so many gifts from this practice.  As a result of the ngondro I feel that in all aspects of my life that my heart is more spacious and open, I connect more deeply to a grounded sense of humility, simplicity and gratitude and I feel that my devotion to this path and to all sentient beings has taken a deep root within me in a way I couldn’t have predicted or understood when I began.  

I also realize that this is literally just the beginning.  But I feel with all my heart that what the ngondro has offered me is an immeasurably valuable gift to try to make meaningful use of this precious human life.

I don’t have any advice for anyone doing the ngondro, but I would like to offer encouragement to continue on with your full faith that it is a meaningful and valuable undertaking.  You can do it!  No matter how much more there is left to complete, each session of practice is filled with blessings.  The further I progressed the more my faith transformed into devotion, and I think that is part of the magic of this beautiful practice.”

Your Dharma friend,
Seth Roberts
Houston, TX
November 2, 2018

A Pure Land in Copper-Colored Woods

April 13, 2018

Though it is said that there are Buddhas and pure lands everywhere, we may not see them due to obscurations and habits. But every now and then – ever so rarely –, due to the kindness of enlightened teachers and the merit of fortunate beings who have a connection with them, pure lands manifest in more apparent forms, so that they can be experienced by people who have the capacity and inclination, rather easily. For some others, it will be a place to learn how to behave, how to love, and how to view phenomena. And perhaps for some others, it will just be an oasis to relax and rejuvenate – but a unique one nonetheless. What a comfort that there are such places on this continent!
One of these rare lands is in the midst of copper-colored woods, like a
hidden valley nestled in a mountainous region . Continue reading…

Practicing Dudjom Tersar Ngondro

Charlette and her son

I first became acquainted with Tibetan Buddhism in 2013 when my son brought me to Pema Osel Ling to visit the Joyful Lotus Stupa Mandala. Six  months later, he invited me to the Vajrayana Foundation Annual Drupchen Retreat, which I attended and a month later,  I took refuge and bodhicitta vows and received the lung for the Dudjom Tersar Ngondro.

Armed with Lama Tharchin Rinpoche’s commentary on the concise Ngondro, I began to practice. I didn’t have a goal of completing the Ngondro and moving on to some other practice. I was looking for understanding. For me, at that point in time, simply reading the Ngondro and then Rinpoche’s explanations of each step in the practice was invaluable. Rinpoche’s commentary had such clarity and simplicity, that I began to understand.

Over the next three years, I attended three Ngondro Retreats at Pemo Osel Ling and continued to practice. Like many Westerners, I am impatient and terrible at keeping track of what I do. My Ngondro advisor, Stefan Graves, gave me great advice, which was to count everything I did.

Overtime, I have become able to do so. I’ve found it keeps me honest in my practice. Each aspect of the accumulations seemed to open me a bit more, and I am intensely grateful.  There were many times I got tired, busy, sick, angry, whatever, but the practice would draw me back eventually, and I developed a discipline based on my growing understanding.
I have been very fortunate to receive other teachings and empowerments over the past four years. They are all incredibly beautiful and powerful.  I now have other practices which I do daily, but I continue to practice the Dujom Tersar Nogondro, including accumulations, because the blessings from it never end.     None of my experiences would have been possible without the lineage lamas, who embody the dharma; who have compassion and work tirelessly practicing, teaching, and preserving the tradition. I remain in awe of such profound commitment and pray that my own commitment continues to grow.  

Enjoy your Ngondro !   
March 2, 2018

Ngondro Conquered Me

We are offering a new addition to the Ngondro web site highlighting people who have finished their Ngondro accumulations.. We invite those who have completed Ngondro  to contribute comments on their experience by sending a paragraph or two to

Pema Chodron has just completed her practice. Starting as a child of a practitioner, growing up in the dharma, she went on to get  married, raise a family with two children and work, all while practicing. It took her 17 years and she just finished. We congratulate Pema Chodron on her completion of the Dudjom Tersar Ngondro!

“Lama Tharchin Rinpoche opened my eyes. He gave his entire life and the ground he walked on to the Dharma, and that devotion inspired my own. Though often separated by time and travel, I owe my life to my lamas and the care and guidance they provide. Thank you for creating this Ngöndro program to help those teachings flourish, support students from afar, and help keep me accountable for my commitments.


I don’t feel worthy to comment on my experience with Ngöndro, and certainly not as if I’ve come to the end of a great road. I’m no trailblazer for having conquered a milestone, and the process itself is entirely humbling… I should rather say that Ngöndro conquered me.

Ngöndro is the most intimate and personally enriching opportunity I’ve experienced. It goes beyond accumulations and you change as you move through the practice. I had my share of frustration or confusion, lack of focus, and physical pain, but it requires commitment, good habit, and a shift of perspective to let Ngöndro shape you. The journey is a crucial part of the destination, and my experience with Ngöndro continues to prepare me for the greater journey ahead.

May all beings benefit!”
January 2, 2018