Atisha and Chekawa’s Healing Tree of Compassion: The Supreme Medicine of the Nalanda Tradition

by Joe Loizzo

Over the years since I first encountered Seven Steps for Transforming the Mind, the crown jewel of Tibet’s unique and timeless tradition of compassion training (lo-jong), it has been an unfailing source of guidance and inspiration on my own personal path, a real companion through good times and bad. Given the challenging times in which we live, I’m happy to be able to share some of its vital precepts, formulated by the Nalanda abbot Atisha Dimpamkara Shrijnana (982–1054) and recorded by Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175), along with my own personal reflections. It’s my hope that the pointers I’ve selected from this text will help you go deeper in your practice of radical openness and life-transforming kindness, whether for yourself or others, close, neutral and far.

Precepts in italics, my comments in regular text.

“(This compassion practice) resembles the sun, a diamond, and a medicinal tree—
(It shines on all, cuts the hardest suffering, and is useful in every part).”

Within the Nalanda tradition, compassion is prized and practiced as the ground on which all human progress towards personal freedom and communal happiness stands. Compassion practice is not just for the high minded or troubled. Like the sun it brings vital warmth and light to everyone. Since it is the safest, most powerful tool for facing life’s inevitable hardship and negativity, it is like a diamond blade that cuts through the hardest blocks. And since it is entirely wholesome and endlessly beneficial, any part of this all-inclusive practice, even one precept, can be of life-giving value and life-saving help. So as far as the Tibetan masters like His Holiness the Dalai Lama are concerned, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this simple practice holds the key to all good things for all beings.

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2019: The Year in Review

By Nalanda Institute Editors

  • Compassion-Based Resilience Training in Toronto
    Compassion-Based Resilience Training (CBRT) with Joe Loizzo at X-Hale in Toronto

As the year comes to a close, we’d like to take the time to share with you some highlights of all we’ve accomplished together throughout the year!

Late Winter. We brought in 2019 with a trifecta of inspiring courses and trainings: Yoga, Mind & Spirit Training, Sustainable Happiness Course in Compassion, and Meditation Teacher Training in Compassion.

Spring. In the spring, alongside our Toronto partner X-Hale, we successfully launched our new online Compassion-Based Resilience Training (CBRT) Teacher’s Program, with outreach worldwide; and graduated the NYC and San Francisco cohorts of our Contemplative Psychotherapy Program.

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The Journey to Boundless Leadership Starts with Leading Ourselves

By Elazar Aslan

“That was a terrible meeting,” my client said in exasperation. “Honestly, I think they had their mind made up and nothing I did really mattered. Apparently they’ve had conversations about my project that did not even include me. There’s no way I can win…I really can’t take it anymore. I need to find a way out of here.”

As an executive coach, this is not an uncommon starting point for a conversation. Every day I try to guide my clients to use the challenges of the workplace to strengthen their capacity to go inwards and find a skillful response. Using clarity and self-awareness, we all can grow to avoid the negative consequences of a reactive mind. My clients learn early in our relationship that true leadership is borne from the radical leadership of self.

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Is There a Cure for What Ails America?
A Buddhist Take on Ideological Violence

By Joe Loizzo, MD, PhD

I write this sickened by what has come to feel like a new normal: each week another outbreak of the epidemic of gut-wrenching violence that has been eating away at our body politic, increasingly in recent years. The latest blow: thirty one innocent people killed in El Paso and Dayton—including the people of color, women and Mexican nationals targeted—by two young white men infected with the violent ideologies of white nationalism and toxic masculinity. How can such tragedies happen here and now? How can families back-to-school shopping and couples on date nights be unsafe in twenty-first century America? While the voices of white blindness point the finger at mental illness or video games, mental health professionals, women, gender non-conforming individuals and people of color—for very different reasons—know better. This kind of violence is directed every minute every day at people with black or brown skin, couples of mixed race, all women, the LGBTQA+ community, refugees, immigrants and at those who practice non-Christian faiths such as Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

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Faces, Voices and the Brain-Heart Brake: The Divine Science of Tibet

By Joe Loizzo, MD, PhD

Helen of Troy

Editor’s note: Joe will be teaching a new course this fall in the Sustainable Happiness program. Learn the potent art of role-modeling imagery in the Nalanda tradition to enable deep transformation. More here.


How can a face launch a thousand ships? Why do lullabies quiet an infant’s cries? Must we be mystics to “still our beating hearts”? Over millions of lifetimes, we mammals evolved a range of special neural structures that have equipped us for an increasingly social life. Three of these help resolve a puzzle that has long stumped modern science: Why do archetypal images, prayers and gestures exert a stubborn hold even on scientifically schooled minds? Breakthroughs in the neuroscience of empathy, emotions and our conscious control of the breath have radically changed our view of our nature, helping explain the stubborn power of spiritual imagery, prayers and ritual.

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Student Highlights of the Compassion Year: The Heart of the Contemplative Psychotherapy Program

By Helen Park

Students from a previous year present their Capstone Projects during a year-end celebratory dinner.

The 2018–19 Compassion Year was an inspired and challenging year full of transitions and growth for us all at the Contemplative Psychotherapy Program in New York City. Over the course of the year, our dedicated and altruistic cohort of practitioners, therapists, coaches, educators, healthcare professionals, and artists engaged with the Mahayana teachings of lojong (“mind training”), Shantideva’s fourfold teachings on compassion, Vajrayana visualization practices, as well as contemporary neuropsychology and research. One of the primary goals of this program is to support our students in a process of embodied learning so that they may take these teachings and implement them into their lives and work, and one of the pathways toward this goal is the Capstone Project.

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Announcing the Fellows Program

By Dr. Joe Loizzo

Editor’s update: Our application period has ended. Fellowship recipient(s) will be announced October 2019. Thank you for your interest in our program

These past ten years developing Nalanda Institute with all of you—students, graduates, colleagues and friends—have been years full of discovery, revelations, opportunities, challenges, and unanticipated rewards. In preparing for our tenth annual benefit on June 12th, I’ve had a rare opportunity to take a long exhale with board members, faculty and graduates to look back over all we’ve accomplished together. In that same breath, hindsight showed with fresh perspective who we’ve become as an Institute and community and where our future must take us.

Every day I’m more in awe of how widely and avidly our popular and professional culture is investing in the healing power of contemplative methods of mindfulness, compassion, and embodiment. This welcome development brings not just the strongest possible validation of our mission, programs and community, but also a timely reminder for us to refine our crucial role in an increasingly broad and complex movement.

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Truth or Dare? How About Both!

By Fiona Brandon

2019–2020 San Francisco faculty include Pilar Jennings, Joe Loizzo, Tara Brach, Robert Thurman, Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Diana Fosha, Lama Rod Owens, and Fiona Brandon.

Contemplative Psychotherapy Program students were challenged by visiting faculty Mariana Caplan to, “Think of a time when you rejected a part of yourself thinking it was keeping you from deeper transformation. And see if you can call that part back. And how could you use it to deepen your practice?” What a dare! And what an inroad to the truth about why many of us stay in a state of suffering. Instead of ostracizing parts of ourselves, what if we use them as a way to create profound psychological and spiritual transformation? Is that possible? Absolutely.

The CPP Compassion Year, beginning September 20th, teaches how to use compassion practices, and the analytic wisdom of emptiness, to relate to the parts of ourselves we have deemed unacceptable and how to ultimately extinguish the cycle of stress and trauma these aspects are born from.

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A Conversation Between Joe Loizzo and Emma Seppälä

Emma Seppala and Joe Loizzo

Editor’s Note: Nalanda Institute’s Director, Dr. Joe Loizzo recently sat down with Dr. Emma Seppälä for a conversation about compassion science and their hopes for the future. Dr. Seppälä is the Science Director at The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research at Stanford University. We present a small portion of their conversation here.

Dr. Seppälä is also our Guest of Honor at our 10th Annual Benefit on June 12th. Her talk entitled “Compassion Science: Healing Our Interconnected World”  further explores the topics presented here. Find out more about our forthcoming benefit.


Joe Loizzo: Welcome, Emma, and thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me about your work in the science of compassion. First of all, maybe you could fill us in about how you found your way to your unusual career.

Emma Seppälä: While I was doing my master’s degree at Columbia in East Asian languages in the late 90’s, I took a class with Bob Thurman, and decided to focus on Buddhist Studies. That lead me to the seminar you gave on Science, Spirituality and Healing in the Tibetan tradition, where I remember you urged me to go to a talk at Union Seminary by Richie Davidson and Dan Goleman on meditation research, remember?

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Compassion in Action: A Review of Books

By Joe Loizzo

Emma Seppala

Editor’s Note: In this post Nalanda Institute’s Founder and Director, Dr. Joe Loizzo reviews two books written and edited by Dr. Emma Seppälä, this year’s Guest of Honor at our 10th Annual Benefit (June 12, 2019). As you’ll see, her writing, research, and position as Science Director of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research aligns perfectly with Nalanda Institute’s mission. Read on to find out more about compassion in action.


Review: The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success (HarperOne, 2016), by Emma Seppälä, Ph.D.

For most of the modern age, our scientific view of human nature and our understanding of the social emotion of compassion have been drifting further and further apart. This is no accident. It reflects the widening gulf between modern science and religious ethics that has caused such a troubling divide in human culture and consciousness in our age. Specifically it reflects an intentional distortion of Darwin’s view of human “fitness” to mean that the traditional ethical values of love and compassion conflict with our natural strengths, and that such emotions are in fact sentimental weaknesses. Quietly over the last five decades, biology has begun to heal the modern divide and expose this distortion, helping us rediscover the wisdom in Darwin’s observation that “communities with the greatest number of sympathetic members would flourish best.”

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