About us

Vajrayana Institute is a Buddhist centre aiming to provide a friendly and conducive environment for people of all walks of life to learn about and the teachings of the Buddha and put them into practice. Our aim is to provide the opportunity for people to fully realise their potential, transforming their hearts and minds for the benefit of all beings.

Located in Ashfield, in the inner-west of Sydney we offer a variety of beginner, intermediate and advanced study and meditation classes and workshops. New faces are always welcome so pop in to have a look around, meet the team and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in our student lounge or stupa garden.

Vajrayana Institute is a non-profit incorporated association that is affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), a grouping of over 150 meditation centres worldwide. FPMT was established in the 1970s by Lama Thubten Yeshe and the current spiritual director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Our teachings are in accordance with the philosophy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Lineage of Vajrayana Institute

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Spiritual Guidance

His Holiness the 14th the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso is the head of state and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He was born Lhamo Dhondrub on 6 July 1935, in a small village called Taktser in northeastern Tibet. Born to a peasant family, His Holiness was recognized at the age of two, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama, and thus an incarnation Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion.

Forced into exile in 1959 by the illegal Chinese communist colonization of Tibet, which continues to this day, he has continued to inspire the Tibetan people and also inspires millions of others the world over. Unlike His predecessors who never came to the West, continues His world-wide travels, eloquently speaking in favor of ecumenical understanding, kindness and compassion, respect for the environment and, above all, world peace.

In 1989 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his unwavering advocacy of a non-violent solution to China’s brutal occupation of his country.

Lama Thubten Yeshe

Founder, FPMT

Lama Thubten Yeshe was born in Tibet in 1935. At the age of six, he entered the great Sera Monastic University, Lhasa, where he studied until 1959, when the Chinese invasion of Tibet forced him into exile in India. Lama Yeshe continued to study and meditate in India until 1967, when, with his chief disciple, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, he went to Nepal. Two years later he established Kopan Monastery, near Kathmandu, in order to teach Buddhism to Westerners.

In 1974, the Lamas began making annual teaching tours to the West, and as a result of these travels a worldwide network of Buddhist teaching and meditation centers—the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT)—began to develop.

In 1984, after an intense decade of imparting a wide variety of incredible teachings and establishing one FPMT activity after another, at the age of forty-nine, Lama Yeshe passed away. He was reborn as Ösel Hita Torres in Spain in 1985, recognized as the incarnation of Lama Yeshe by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1986, and, as the monk Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche, began studying for his geshe degree in 1992 at the reconstituted Sera Monastery in South India. Lama’s remarkable story is told in Vicki Mackenzie’s book, Reincarnation: The Boy Lama (Wisdom Publications, 1996).

Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

Spiritual Director, FPMT

Rinpoche was born in Thami, Nepal, in 1946. At the age of three he was recognized as the reincarnation of Sherpa Nyingma yogi, Kunsang Yeshe, the Lawudo Lama. Rinpoche’s Thami home was not far from the Lawudo cave, in the Mount Everest region of Nepal, where his predecessor meditated for the last twenty years of his life. Rinpoche’s own description of his early years may be found in his book, The Door to Satisfaction (Wisdom Publications).

At the age of ten, Rinpoche went to Tibet and studied and meditated at Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s monastery near Pagri, until the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 forced him to forsake Tibet for the safety of Bhutan. Rinpoche then went to the Tibetan refugee camp at Buxa Duar, West Bengal, India, where he met Lama Yeshe, who became his closest teacher.

The Lamas went to Nepal in 1967, and over the next few years built Kopan and Lawudo Monasteries. In 1971 Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave the first of his famous annual lam-rim retreat courses, which continue at Kopan to this day. In 1974, with Lama Yeshe, Rinpoche began traveling the world to teach and establish centers of Dharma.

When Lama Yeshe passed away in 1984, Rinpoche took over as spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), which has continued to flourish under his peerless leadership.

Teachers of Vajrayana Institute

Geshe Ngawang Samten

Resident Teacher at Vajrayana Institute

Geshe-la was born at Panchamari, MP, India. At the age of nine, he entered the Sera Monastic Institute and took the vows of monk ordination with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Geshe-la completed his studies and attained his Geshe degree at the highest level of a Lharampa, the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy. He taught as a lecturer in the Gelug tradition at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath. Since 2003, Geshe-la has been the main resident teacher at VI.

Venerable Thubten Chokyi

Ven Chokyi is the Spiritual Program Coordinator for VI and one of our esteemed teachers. She is also the Director of Liberation Prison Project, a social services project affiliated to FPMT that offers spiritual advice and teachings, as well as books and materials, to people in prison interested in exploring, studying and practising Buddhism. Ven Chokyi is a member of the Women’s Interfaith Network in Sydney.


Alan Marsh

Alan Marsh has been a student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and member of Vajrayana Institute since it began in the early 1980’s, under the directorship of Ven. Roger Kunsang.

During his long association with VI, he’s occupied various positions on the management committee, and was a member of the board of FPMTA for several years.

Alan also established and has maintained the garden at Ashfield after VI moved from Newtown, with the help of several kind volunteers.

Jampa Jaffee

Jampa has been teaching Buddhism for over 20 years. American by birth, he was a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 17 years and studied for over 14 years in India at the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives and the Buddhist School of Dialectics. He spent one year in Thailand, studying and meditating in the Theravada tradition, and in 2005 completed a solitary one-year retreat in Spain. He has been the resident teacher at Buddha House, South Australia and the teaching assistant in the first FPMT Masters Program for Buddhist Studies in Italy.

Voula Zarpani

Voula is our resident translator. She holds a double master’s degree from the Agricultural University of Athens and graduated from the first Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translator Program in Dharamsala, India, in 1995. She has since worked as an interpreter for various Tibetan lamas, in Australia and abroad. From 2011-14, Voula acted as the director of Awakening Vajra Publications. Together with Ian Coghlan, she has co-authored four books, and translated numerous other texts. Read more about Voula here.

Paul Smith: Artist-in-Residence

Paul Smith is an artist and musician living in the beautiful Blue Mountains. He has spent 10 years studying with the master thangka painter, Andy Weber. As well as thangka painting in the traditional style, he also explores other media and cultural influences. Paul’s generative work Serpentine Gesture was selected as Outstanding Entry in the 2015 Culturescape exhibition. Paul has long been associated with Vajrayana Institute and, as artist-in-residence, teaches regularly at the centre on thangka painting.

Executive Committee

Tony Steel

Centre Director

I received the news that my name came out third best for the next Centre Director of VI whilst on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s retreat in the Adelaide Hills in 2005. Unfortunately (fortunately for me), neither of the two favoured candidates could accept the role so I got the job! Every day since then has been a challenge and a privilege. It is a challenge because we are trying to achieve a lot with limited resources but a privilege because it is the most worthwhile thing that I could possibly be doing. The main life experience that I have brought to the role is event management, so it has been particularly pleasing to be involved in developing VI’s conferences and in hosting His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Reyne House

Spiritual Program Coordinator

I felt a connection with the Dharma from my very first encounter.  The concepts challenged and intrigued me so I continued to seek out information through courses and books. The following year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the November course at Kopan led by Venerable Gyatso. It was during this time that I undertook the life changing experience of taking refuge with Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

My enthusiasm for Dharma continued to grow. I attended all the teachings I could and began volunteering at Vajrayana Institute. In 2017, I had the amazing opportunity to serve as the centre manager at Tushita in Dharamsala, India. 

Upon my return to Australia, I was eager to continue supporting Lama Zopa and the FPMT. I saw the ad for SPC at VI and whilst this role would be challenging, I knew that it would allow me the opportunity to continually align the mind with Dharma and support the centres role of compassionately helping others.

Phil Hunt


My first visit to VI was in 1997 against my better judgement. Fortunately the then resident teacher Geshe Dawa proved to me that my better judgement could be improved. Gradually through further visits to VI and through the wider FPMT family I have learned more about the Buddha’s teachings and how they can be implemented in everyday life.

As Secretary, it might be said that I have some reasonably boring things to do, but I am keen to help where I can to repay a little bit to VI for the many benefits I have received already. And working for VI in any capacity is never boring because there are so many benefits to helping a Dharma centre and VI’s teachers, staff, members and volunteers are fabulous!

Ivy Wang


I once saw a Lama in Spain 
without even knowing his name.
From a newsletter here
his photo did appear
And I rushed to reacquaint just the same

Since then VI’s been a second home
Where Buddha’s wisdom seeps into your bones
A place to make friends
learn how the mind bends
And how compassion is more powerful than phones.

Beth Phelan

Life took a serendipitous turn when, back at the end of 2000, I volunteered to fill in at the VI office for a month. Little did I realise that seventeen years later, I’d still be working for VI! Outside of my activities on the Executive Committee I have my dream job as Conference Director creating inspiring conferences that fulfill the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche by helping people develop their positive qualities.  I thrive on the adrenaline rush of producing large events and the satisfaction of knowing that the events are contributing to the greater good and making a difference in thousands of people’s lives. I enjoy adding ‘pizzazz’ to the conference programs which a leading positive psychology researcher once described as “The rock concert of conferences!”

Rob Neill

My journey towards and into Buddhism developed gradually as life’s continual challenges led me to seek solutions. I was born Australian and was fortunate to travel the world widely from my childhood onwards which I did with gusto however I never found the happiness or peace I was seeking. When I first went to VI in 2003 following several difficult years it was a homecoming and a beginning of a journey I hadn’t known was possible. In the years that followed, through engaging in the practices and teachings my life and mind have been profoundly transformed and I am genuinely happier, more content, more peaceful and feel strongly the wish to be more beneficial to all beings. I am particularly pleased to be able to use my professional skills in architecture and building to help VI with some of these issues.

Kristina Mah

I attended the Lam Rim November Course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal in 2014, thinking that I would learn about meditation. It was my first real introduction to the Dharma, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and FPMT. This has led me back to VI in Sydney where I started to attend classes and workshops and volunteer in 2015. The centre feels like another home for me and I have met countless wonderful, eccentric and inspiring people in the VI community. Working for the centre has given me the opportunity to integrate Dharma into my life and make use of some off my professional skills.