From the start of our Buddhist studies at Pullahari Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal we have been steeped in both theory and practice of Tibetan Buddhism concurrently.
How is that even possible? The theory, or philosophy, of Buddhism is immense, a vast topic of great profundity. Likewise, Tibetan Buddhist practice is varied and intricately detailed, incorporating formal meditation and informal quotidian practices of all three vehicles of Buddhadharma.
The traditional approach to engaging the Dharma we learned through years living with our teachers at Pullahari and other monasteries in Nepal and India is one that implants the Buddha’s teachings within the practitioner in a vibrant, living, manner, such that the words, meanings, and wisdom of the Buddha become rooted deep within and grow out of our own experiential perspective.
We refer to this approach as “integrative practice.”
In a nutshell, integrative practice bridges the synapses between semantic, intellectual, and experiential understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. A time-honored and highly effective technique, it meets the practitioner right where they are.
Our experience in practicing and teaching this and other traditional gems to modern yogins makes us confident that we as Westerners can integrate Dharma in a thoroughly modern and distinctive way, paradoxically, by hewing to this historic pedagogy, which the Buddha first teaches in the Pali suttas.
So what is this approach about? Something mystical, exotic, or ephemeral?
At heart, integrative practice consists simply of three intersecting components: listening, contemplating, and meditating, the literal translation of its Tibetan name, tö sam gom sum. Each of these elements is exquisitely rich, and takes considerable time to explain with adequate precision. Other posts here explain each of these steps.
The active interplay between these three, however, is where the bulk of the training and practice takes place—and where the integration happens.
All our work is grounded in this approach, which has served as the crucible for cultivating knowledge in traditional Buddhist systems for centuries. While integrative practice is not well known or widely practiced in contemporary Buddhism, we are doing everything we can to see that changes.
Here is a glimpse into what we love about integrative practice:
· It is found across the breadth of the Buddha’s teachings, from the Pali canon (for example, the Canki Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 95), to the Mahayana and Vajrayana.
A technique for integrating Dharma, it is content‑neutral. Thus, it is applicable to any teaching, irrespective of Buddhist tradition.
Deceptively simple in appearance, it is a rich and rewarding practice with the potential to serve a common yet elusive aim—bringing Dharma into everyday life.
Proven effective, it is also flexible and well suited to modern culture and times.
Deeply personal by nature, it is nevertheless easy to teach and practice in groups.
An early fruit of the practice is empowerment—we learn to hone our Dharma practice from within our individual interests, strengths, and weaknesses.
During a time of rapid-fire spread of the Dharma, social upheaval, and dwindling attention spans, this practice prioritizes depth, stability, and purpose applicable to our unique intersections of personal, spiritual, and social contexts.
Moreover, consistency in integrative practice yields a firmly grounded yet spacious orthodoxy, rising out of ancient wisdom, yet welcoming—even requiring—our individual experience to fly.
We invite you to explore other articles on this website and our Dharma talk recordings, to gain insight into integrative practice in its vivid context.