Master of Divinity Degree at Maitripa College

Written by: Leigh Miller Sangster

Maitripa College President Yangsi Rinpoche teaching masters-level students in the Jokhang Meditation Hall.
Photos by: Marc Sakamoto

Starting in 2012, Portland based Maitripa College became one of the few places in the world where a person can earn a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree in Buddhism.

During 2012 Maitripa expanded its MDiv program to a minimum of 72 credits, for the first time meeting the Association of Professional Chaplains’ certification requirement for chaplaincy training. The MDiv degree has traditionally been an important credential for ministry, as well as for employment as a chaplain in hospitals, hospices, prisons, the armed forces and some schools and religious institutions.

Habitat for Humanity

Maitripa President Yangsi Rinpoche, Dean Namdrol Miranda Adams, and continuing education student Barbara Sakamoto, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

Maitripa College is pioneering a Master of Divinity degree with a curriculum integrating scholarship, meditation, service, Buddhist theology, and contemplative care. The degree program cultivates people’s intellectual, spiritual and professional skills, to help them work as agents of positive change.

Maitripa, a non-denominational Buddhist graduate school, is directed by President Yangsi Rinpoche.

In offering an MDiv, Maitripa College is responding to rising needs in our communities. The combination of scholastic and contemplative training help students act ethically and wisely as chaplains. Graduates are prepared for a life of service and leadership, and to fill traditional chaplaincy roles within Buddhist, interfaith, or secular institutions and communities.

Many Maitripa students feel a calling to be of service in the world, and many find immersion in a deep program of study and practice gives them tools to do so sustainably and joyfully, no matter their chosen career.

President Yangsi Rinpoche and Dr. Steven Vannoy co-teach

President Yangsi Rinpoche and Dr. Steven Vannoy co-teach “The Good Heart: Cultivating Patience & Joyous Effort, Reducing Anger & Apathy.”

Buddhist chaplaincy students may find  new doors opened to them, because many hiring organizations are realizing Buddhist chaplains are well equipped to meet the needs of all people, particularly those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”

Pat Enkyo O’Hara, a Soto Zen priest and teacher, in her book “The Arts of Contemplative Care,” writes, “Two streams are converging: a current of recognition that something is missing in the secular, commercial approaches to caretaking, and at the same time, a wave of realization in Buddhist communities that our practices of contemplation, awareness, and presence render us uniquely suited to fill this gap – to provide compassionate caretaking.”

For Buddhist education in America, this is good news.

Maitripa’s MDiv graduates can elect further training through clinical pastoral education (CPE) programs, often offered by hospitals, clinics and hospices, which are increasingly seeking religious diversity.

The college now fully prepares students to win admission to these CPE programs. Two Maitripa MDiv students have completed one year of CPE training, one at Portland Providence Medical Center, and the other at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Ore.

Chuck Latimer, David Langner, Don Polevacik and Domenica Roberts

Community Service class students Chuck Latimer, David Langner, Don Polevacik and Domenica Roberts.

Maitripa joins other significant Buddhist institutions that for several years have offered training programs in hospice and chaplaincy work. These institutions include the chaplaincy training program at Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico, The University of the West and the Institute of Buddhist Studies in California, and Naropa University in Colorado.

In 2012 Harvard Divinity School launched its Buddhist Ministry Initiative, the school’s first formal MDiv program in a non-Christian tradition. Maitripa College is proud to join these ground-breaking programs.

The Maitripa MDiv program is built upon the college’s unique and holistic education, blending traditional Tibetan monastic and contemporary western educational approaches.

The MDiv, and the college’s advanced Master of Arts in Buddhist Studies (MA), offer unparalleled opportunities to study with a stellar faculty. Academic leaders include Yangsi Rinpoche, a Geshe Lharampa (the highest degree conferred by Tibetan monastic universities); Dr. James Blumenthal and Dr. Steven Vannoy, tenured professors at Oregon State University and University of Washington respectively; and Dr. Dan Rubin, in private practice in Portland.

Maitripa College Jokhang Meditation Hall

Venerable Robina Courtin teaching “The Psychology of Tantra” in Maitripa College’s Jokhang Meditation Hall in September, 2012.

Maitripa’s reputation for Buddhist scholarship also attracts luminaries in academia, and traditional dharma teachers, for public programs including ongoing practice groups, lectures, workshops, teachings and symposiums.

These programs give Maitripa’s MDiv, MA, and continuing education students opportunities to build professional and spiritual relationships, while complementing their studies.

Maitripa College is currently accepting applications for the MA and MDiv programs, enrolling in fall 2013. Partial scholarships are available for full-time students who meet qualifying financial need and merit-based standards. Appointments with admissions advisors can be made by emailing

Classes are also open to non-degree, continuing education students. Additional information about Maitripa College can be found online at

About the Author: Leigh Miller Sangster
Leigh Miller Sangster is the director of programs at Maitripa College and a doctoral candidate at Emory University. Her dissertation concerns modern Tibetan cultural sustainability and contemporary art in Lhasa.