In 1997, Rangjung Yeshe Institute started offering courses in Buddhist philosophy and Himalayan languages on the premises of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery in Boudha. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, abbot of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, and his brother Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche, sons of the revered meditation master Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, founded the Institute to offer Western students the possibility to immerse themselves in the study of Buddhist philosophy and practice. The Institute was inspired by the monastery’s annual fall seminars that had begun in 1981, organized by a small group of students. The first seminar was attended by about two dozen people who received Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche’s explanations on Dza Patrul Rinpoche’s Self-Liberated Mind. Erik Pema Kunsang served as a translator for this and many of the following seminars.
From its inception, Rangjung Yeshe Institute combined traditional Tibetan Buddhist scholastic training with contemporary academic scholarship to make the Buddha’s teachings accessible to students from all over the world. The first class consisted of 26 students. They studied The Way of the Bodhisattva by Śāntideva and The Gateway to Knowledge by Ju Mipham.
In 2001, as the result of the partnership between Rangjung Yeshe Institute and Kathmandu University, an autonomous public university founded in 1991, the Kathmandu University Centre for Buddhist Studies (KU CBS) was founded at Rangjung Yeshe Institute. Notable support was received from Kathmandu University’s Vice-Chanceller Dr Suresh Raj Sharma and founding member Dr. Bhadra Man Tuladhar. Thanks to this partnership, Rangjung Yeshe Institute began offering a Bachelor’s degree in Buddhist Studies and Himalayan Languages in 2002. Additional programs on the MA and PhD level in Buddhist Studies followed as well as an intensive program to become an oral translator.
The success of the study programs at Rangjung Yeshe Institute led to an expansion of facilities. Construction began in 2007 and finished in 2017, being temporarily slowed down by the 2015 earthquake. The new building houses classrooms, administrative offices, a library, and welcoming spaces for all students, faculty, and staff.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling and of Rangjung Yeshe Institute’s on campus programs for two and a half years. The faculty continued the programs by delivering all courses online during this period. New modes of teaching evolved in the form of teaching online or concurrently on campus and online.
Throughout its history, Rangjung Yeshe Institute has received support from sponsors, including the Khyentse Foundation, the Tsadra Foundation, and private individuals. To date, over three thousand students have taken classes at RYI, with nearly 200 earning degrees. Many of these graduates have gone on to pursue careers or further studies at prestigious academic institutions worldwide, while others have become accomplished translators of Tibetan texts, working for organizations such as “84000-Translating the Word of the Buddha” or the “Khyentse Vision Project.”
Many people contributed to the successful development of Rangjung Yeshe Institute. The institute flourished under the leadership of its first Principal Greg Whiteside, who passed away in 2018. The anthropologist in the field of Nepalese culture, Peter Moran, served as the first Director of Studies from 1998 to 2001, followed in 2001 by Dr. Andreas Doctor, a founding member of the Institute. He was succeeded by Joanne Larson who held the position of Director of Programs from 2010 to 2022. Dr. Philippe Turenne held the position of Principal from 2018 to 2020. Currently, the institute is headed by Chairperson of the Institute’s Board, Khenpo Karma Gyurme, with the support of the Principal Roger Hodgson, and the Senior Management Team.