The roots of Boulder’s spirituality

Chogyam Trungpa’s 1970s arrival was one of the inciting events

By Tatyana Sharpton Dec 4 2020

Editor’s note: We previously incorrectly stated that Chogyam Trungpa studied under the Dalai Lama. He did not, and we have corrected this.

Boulder’s spiritual heat picked up in the early 1970s when hippies flocked to the area, pulled by its dynamic beauty and an increasing concentration of religious leaders and freethinkers who contributed to its spiritual magnetism.

Chogyam Trungpa

One of the key events dates back to the arrival of Tibetan Buddhist monk Chogyam Trungpa, who moved to the U.S. in 1970. He founded Shambhala International in Boulder (that has gone through some recent turmoil, which we’ll cover in future stories), a worldwide network of urban Buddhist meditation centers, retreat centers, monasteries and other ventures, including Naropa University, before moving to Halifax, Canada in the mid-1980s.

Chogyam, who coined and promoted the term “crazy knowledge,” (the knowledge one gains from finding no answers) also invited a Zen master from Japan to Boulder, who founded the Zenko Iba, or the Zen Archery Dojo, in 1980, which teaches the Japanese martial art of archery.

Allen Ginsberg

Boulder’s open appeal also pulled freethinkers from the East Coast westward, bringing with them the ways of American transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and, ultimately, a crew of beatniks such as Allen Ginsberg who migrated to Boulder and co-founded Naropa Institute’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics with Boulder Beat poet Anne Waldman and others in 1974.

This Tibetan-descended Buddhist flavor has given Boulder a unique undercurrent.

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David Yoder

Boulderite David Yoder, referred to by his daughter, Boulder astrologer Natha Campanella, as “one of the old school ‘mayors’ of Boulder,” recalls that one of the biggest shifts in Boulder’s spiritual culture happened in 1975.

The Boulder College of Massage Therapy opened, started by Lenore Wolfe, and “all these weird interesting counter-culture people started coming in to learn how to give massages,” David remembers, “and then it was Rolfing.” (Rolfing is a form of bodywork that works with the connective tissues, fascia, which surround, to improve body alignment and functioning).

Many of these massage therapists and early Rolfers joined a group, which formed the earliest version of Boulder’s Ridhwan Foundation, learning from a school called the Diamond Approach that combined psychology with spirituality to help inter-personal growth. Naropa University has since acquired the massage school.

Naropa University: Boulder’s iconic hub for contemplative studies

Header Image: Chogyam Trungpa at Naropa University. Image: Collection of Shambhala Archives. Portrait of Chogyam Trungpa also sourced from Collection of Shambhala Archives.