Demystifying Dharma

By Steven Libowitz   |   January 16, 2020

Bodhi Path Santa Barbara is part of an international organization of Buddhist centers and groups founded by Shamarpa (the 14th Shamar Rinpoche) with the expressed purpose of exploring the methods and wisdom of the timeless teachings of the Buddha in order to better understand and work with our mind and emotions. Shamarpa, along with the Gyalwa Karmapa, was a holder of the Karma Kagyu lineage, one of the major schools of Himalayan Buddhism with direct lineage to Shakyamuni Buddha. Under the spiritual authority of the Karmapa and Shamarpa, Bodhi Path teachers provide instruction in meditation and philosophy, and guidance to learn and practice Buddhism.

For 2020-21, the Santa Barbara center, which has a sizeable sangha studying the teachings with drop-in events on Thursday nights and other times at the center, is switching things up to create a more structured learning environment. The center will be offering an integrated and comprehensive approach to the dharma over a multi-year teaching cycle covering the entire Bodhi Path curriculum. This year’s offerings include eight weekend sessions that will include teachings, meditation, Q&A, practice, discussions, and time to reflect. The seminars will delve into three books over the course of the year, including “The Path to Awakening: by Shamar Rinpoche, “Jewel Ornament of Liberation” by Gampopa, and “Gateway to Knowledge” by Mipham Rinpoche.

According to Dawa Tarchin Phillips, Bodhi Path Santa Barbara’s veteran and much respected resident teacher, the new format isn’t a departure from the curriculum of study developed by the founders for “modern day practitioners to develop a solid foundation of dharma study and practice while participating in modern life with all of its responsibilities.” It’s simply a new structure to provide more clarity and access.

“It will allow people to be aware of their own progression so they have a way to complete the journey with everything they need,” Phillips said. People have the opportunity to participate to whatever extent they wish, with the ability to allocate their own time and resources to go through it at their own pace. Dharma study can be challenging because you may not know where to start, or be aware of when you have received a thorough education. If provides a clearer overview of what you need and why and when.”

The new weekend courses aren’t replacing Bodhi Path’s regular weekly meetings on Thursdays, evenings that are diverse offerings including meditation, group conversations and panel discussions, said Phillips, who will continue to lead about one-third of the weekly gatherings. Also continuing are the dharma book study groups and writing groups. “All of these help strengthen community and ensure that there is an immersive support for the spiritual pursuit on the path,” he said. The weekends are immersions where students can go deeper on specific curriculum topics.

No matter the level of participation, the aim is the same: to help people who might “lack an understanding of the inner forces in their minds and bodies that are influencing their experience of life and what is happening to them, which traditional school systems neglect,” said Phillips, who is also the co-founder and former Director of Education of UCSB’s Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential, President/CEO of Empowerment Holdings, an international leadership training and consulting firm for Mindful Leadership and Awakened Business approaches, and the Executive Director and Founding Board Member of the International Mindful Teachers Association. “The dharma exists so people can develop clarity about the different forces – both internally and externally – and understand the causality of how they are relating to themselves and others and to the physiological world we share. That’s what influences the degree of happiness and freedom and fulfilment in life.”

The cycle gets underway this weekend, January 18-19, with “Hello Awakening: First Steps on The Path to Freedom,” an introduction to Buddha’s teachings and authentic spiritual practice in modern times.

“We have to demystify the dharma for people to be able to understand it and use it. This first class helps to make it not seem so foreign, so things don’t get lost in translation, or get distanced or create a barrier to entry because of the language,” Phillips explained. “It’s the foundational first step toward leading a peaceful life even in times of upheaval.”

The suggested donation for the weekend is $250, with scholarships available of varying amounts. Bodhi Path Santa Barbara is located at 102 West Mission Street, on the northwest corner of Chapala Street. Email, call (805) 284-2704, or visit


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