Frequently Asked Questions

We put this Q&A together to show you a bit of what life is like at SINI and connect you to the resources that will help you learn more.

How do I pronounce SINI?

Tip: Say it with a smile and say “see knee.”

What is SINI?

SINI is short for Sarnath International Nyingma Institute. Founded as a non-profit in California by Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche and built in Sarnath by his daughter Tsering Gellek, the Institute was inaugurated in December 2013. Since then, it has hosted a diverse array of programs, from workshops with 10 participants to annual ceremonies with over 1000 participants. SINI has welcomed high lamas and revered teachers of all Buddhist schools, and collaborated with renowned scientists, scholars and artists.

Who are SINI’s residents?

Resident monks come from Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India, from small Institutes or big Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. They are learned Khenpos and Lopons, eager to study English or work on the Encyclopedia Project. Many monks come from nomadic and farming families, and have left their home country by walking across the Himalayas.

Resident volunteers come from the U.S., Canada, Colombia, Germany, and Switzerland, bringing to SINI their diverse professional skills and love for Tibetan culture.

Monks and volunteers live and work together. They teach, study, learn, hold ceremonies, share meals and watch movies together. Together they take care of SINI, supported by dedicated local staff.

How is SINI different from other schools and institutes?

SINI explicitly serves as a bridge to bring monastics together with people from different cultures, traditions, professions, and skills to foster learning, growth and human development. SINI also offers a unique learning environment which is rooted in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Building on Tarthang Rinpoche’s unceasing efforts of more than fifty years to preserve the Dharma through its vast publication and distribution efforts, SINI helps to support the flourishing of the Dharma through cultivating it as a living tradition.

What do you mean by ‘Goodness’ in ‘Bridges of Goodness’?

At SINI, we hope to find innovative ways to engage in supporting the heart of the Dharma, transcending cultural differences--to generate the altruistic wish to benefit all beings. This, we believe, will allow us to truly build bridges of goodness that not only unite us geographically and culturally, but also bridge the gap between what is “traditional” and what is “modern.”

Who volunteers at SINI?

We are a small group of 5-10 international volunteers.

Current areas of focus include the SINI online program development, English for Dharma Purposes, and the Global Kagyur Encyclopedia Project .

Do I need to be Buddhist to volunteer at SINI?

You do not have to be Buddhist to be part of the SINI team. However, it is important that volunteers are respectful of the community and the protocols of an environment shared with Tibetan Buddhist monks.

Can I study Buddhism while at SINI?

There is a wealth of resources and many opportunities to self-study, practice, discuss, and engage with Buddhist principles on a day-to-day basis. Volunteers are welcome to join student-led Dharma talks that take place as part of the English for Dharma Purposes Program. Volunteers are also welcome to participate in morning prayers and weekly ceremonies.

What kind of teaching can I do at SINI?

Qualified English teachers (CELTA or equivalent) are welcome to apply for a teaching position in our English for Dharma Purposes program. Experience, especially in the field of English for Specific Purposes, is desirable. English tutors who are able to join remotely are also welcome. Download the application form here

What other volunteer work is available at SINI?

Roles for volunteers include bookkeeping, IT, administration, maintenance, marketing, cooking, gardening, and more. Although experience is required, the most important qualities for a volunteer are willingness to learn and join in where needed. Whole-hearted participation makes a world of difference in a small non-profit setting!

I cannot come to India for a longer period of time. Can I volunteer remotely?

There are several roles that can be filled remotely, such as design, campaigning, and social media, for example. English tutors who are able to join remotely are also welcome.
If you are interested in helping SINI from wherever you are, please reach out to us

What is the schedule at SINI?


6:15-7AM Morning prayers in the temple
7AM Breakfast
12:30-2:30PM Lunch and break
7PM Dinner

We observe four ceremony days per month: New Moon, Full Moon, 10th Day and 25th Day. These ceremonies usually start at 5PM.

What accommodations are at SINI?

Volunteers live on the SINI campus. Rooms are spacious single rooms with a private bathroom, AC, and balcony. At times during busy programs, volunteers may be asked to share rooms with other volunteers or participants.

What is the food like?

Three tasty vegetarian meals are provided each day. The cuisine is a blend of Indian, Tibetan, and Western. Certain diets, such as veganism, can be accommodated. Please note that SINI is meat, alcohol, and smoke-free.

What is English for Dharma Purposes?

English for Dharma Purposes is an English language program designed for monastic students to learn English through a Dharma lens. In small group classes, students learn through a combination of in-class activities, seminars, discussion, debate, and presentations.

Can I join the English for Dharma Purposes program?

Students, generally monks who are above the age of 25 and who have a letter of recommendation from their monastery are eligible to apply to this program.  If you are interested in joining the program as a student, please reach out to us.

What other programs does SINI host?

SINI hosts a diverse array of seminars and workshops in cooperation with other organizations including, universities, institutes, and individuals on topics such as teacher-training for monastics, poetry and prose, and science.

Does SINI offer Dharma Study Programs?

Students enrolled at SINI in the advanced Sutra seminar course rotate teaching every Saturday online. 

SINI also hosts an annual Four Noble Truths Seminar and Pilgrimage. Participants from all over the world join us on campus for a week of classes, practice, and discussions led by resident monks, followed by a week of guided pilgrimage to Bodhgaya, Rajgir, and Nalanda. The program starts a week before the World Peace Ceremony in Bodhgaya.

SINI also hosts the annual Tibet Peace Ceremony, which usually starts right after the Nyingma World Peace Ceremony in Bodhgaya.

Can I study Tibetan at SINI?

Yes, you can! We are very happy that Franziska Oertle, often referred to as ‘the one who cracked the code’ of Tibetan language studies, has joined SINI faculty. Study Colloquial Tibetan with Franziska either in person or online.

Where is SINI?

SINI is located in Sarnath, just 13 km north of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, in India.

How do I prepare to travel to Sarnath?

Since March-October is very hot and humid, and November-February is cold and damp, the kind of clothing you will need will vary a lot!  Warm clothing is essential during the winter months. If you have any specific medication needs, you are advised to bring the amount necessary for the duration of your stay, as equivalents may be difficult to access.

How do I get to SINI?

Sarnath/Varanasi is well-connected by plane, train, and road. If travelling through Delhi or Mumbai, there are several connecting flights to Varanasi each day. SINI is located in Sarnath about 30 minutes from the Varanasi airport and is easily accessible by taxi.

If coming by car, ask your driver to take you to the Sarnath Railway station--a small local railway station. At the station once you have gone through the entrance of the round-about you take a left down a bumpy road, about 500 meters until you see some Tibetan prayer flags and a blue gate. Our Institute is on the right side of the road, across from a white Ashram, in an area known locally as “Shakti-Peet.”

Is it possible to get a tour of the temple?

The murals in the temple depict the life story of the Buddha based on the Lalitavistara Sutra. The Temple Mural Project was led by artist Kaveri Singh and an international group of art students, from Benares Hindu University and from the US, Brazil, Germany. The SINI temple is one of the most beautiful and unusual Tibetan Buddhist Temples in the area, detailing the life of the Buddha through trees drawn from the sutras. (Free Download of an interview with SINI-Director Tsering Gellek about the International Murals Project)

The temple is open during the day (8 am to 4:30 pm) to visitors. We offer guided tours to groups of 10 and more. Please contact to arrange a guided tour.

Do you offer rooms for personal retreats?

Usually all rooms are occupied by residents and participants of our programs. We usually do not have the capacity to host personal retreats. However, you may contact us to see if there is availability. A fee for room and board will apply.

What is the Nyingma Mandala?

The Nyingma Mandala is an international network of over 25 non-profit organizations dedicated to preserving and transmitting Tibet’s living tradition. The roots of the Nyingma Mandala in the West trace back to 1969, when Tarthang Tulku, a highly-trained lama in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, arrived in Berkeley, California and established the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center (TNMC). TNMC is the spiritual center for all the activity that has followed in the decades since.