Apprenticeship establishes a firm base in the Aro lineage.  Image courtesy Carmen Cordelia


The Aro apprenticeship programme exists for Buddhists who wish to develop their practice from general Buddhism into this specific tradition. It is for those who seek the guidance of a Lama in their personal practice – and who are enthusiastic about contributing to the Aro lineage and Sangha.

Central to apprenticeship is relationship with the Lama or Lamas. The Aro Lamas dedicate most of their time to their apprentices – but occasionally teach at public events, in order that others may have access to their lineage. On such occasions they are happy to answer questions and provide general advice.

Apprenticeship is an altogether different mode of interaction. A Lama is a spiritual guide who: knows you personally; follows the details of your life and spiritual development; answers your questions on that basis; and, will devise your individual course of study and practice. The relationship is warm and informal. Apprentices may communicate extensively with their Lamas by email and telephone, and meet them for personal interviews. Apprentices also interact with the Lamas in small groups, at social gatherings, spontaneous teaching occasions, and in the course of project work.

Apprentices are entitled to attend apprentice-only retreats with their Lamas, and often also with other Aro Lamas. Apprentice retreats are less structured than public retreats – but more intensive. They involve a more focussed sense of practice, deeper teachings, and the enjoyment of close friendships within the sangha.

Only apprentices have access to the Aro apprentice web site, which provides a variety of resources for practice and study at the apprentice level.


There are prerequisites to entering apprenticeship which avoid wasting the efforts of candidates, the Lamas, and committed apprentices. Among the prerequisites are:

  • some experience and understanding of Buddhist practice and view;
  • having attended at least one (preferably two or more) Aro public weekend retreats with the Lama or teaching couple of whom you wish to be an apprentice;
  • having read several of the books by Aro Lamas; and
  • a willingness to devote substantial effort both to personal development and to the lineage.

Apprenticeship may be likened to embarking on a monogamous relationship of open-ended duration. It is not suitable for those who are actively pursuing other spiritual paths. Aro Lamas encourage their students to learn from other Buddhist traditions – but because apprenticeship involves substantial effort, other studies must be secondary. Apprenticeship is not a permanent commitment; one may leave on good terms at any point. (By contrast, ordination is a permanent commitment.) Be that as it may – it takes a year at least to develop a good functional rapport with the Lamas, so it is only useful to undertake apprenticeship if you are reasonably confident that it may be a commitment of at least three years duration.

If you are inspired by Aro teachings but are not yet ready for apprenticeship, Aro Membership may be a good option for you.

Apprenticeship or Membership?

Apprenticeship and Membership are superficially similar in that they both involve a one-to-one relationship. The relationships and the nature of the teaching are quite different, however. One or the other may be appropriate for you, depending on your relationship with meditation and Buddhism.

  • You can be a Member without being a Buddhist. You may simply want guidance in your meditation practice. Apprenticeship is not possible without taking refuge as a Buddhist.
  • As an Aro Member, you may be actively investigating other spiritual paths simultaneously. Apprenticeship implies commitment—at least for the time being—to Aro as your spiritual home.
  • Apprentices are typically expected to attend apprentice-only retreats with their Lamas twice a year. If this is infeasible due to geographical or time constraints, Membership may be a better option.
  • Aro mentors will not give advice about life choices or how to resolve personal problems. They may suggest ways to work with emotional difficulties in meditation generally, but will not give feedback about life choices you may make or be considering. Aro Lamas may take interest in any and all aspects of apprentices’ lives. As part of the Lama-apprentice relationship, they may give un-asked-for suggestions about how to live differently. Apprentices must be open to receiving such advice.
  • The relationship with a Lama takes years to build. They must get to know you well-enough personally that they can advise you accurately. Therefore, it only makes sense to begin apprenticeship if you are reasonably confident that the relationship will be of several years’ duration. Membership, on the other hand, is on a month-to-month basis. It is fine to try it out for a few months to see if it is useful to you, and to end it at any time.
  • You can also change mentors at any time. Changing Lamas is uncommon and requires the consent of both the old and new ones.
  • Membership can be a good preparation for apprenticeship. However, for many membership remains the right choice indefinitely. Having been a Member is also not a prerequisite for apprenticeship; you may wish to enter apprenticeship directly.
  • Only Lamas can give the empowerments and teachings necessary for authentic Vajrayana practice. It is possible to engage in a Vajrayana practice after empowerment from a Lama who is not your personal teacher. However, as you go further, a relationship with a Lama is definitely necessary.
  • Apprenticeship makes you a part of a close-knit community. Taking refuge as a Buddhist entails taking refuge in the sangha. Apprentices are often each others’ closest friends, and meet regularly to enjoy each others’ company in non-religious settings.

Qualities of apprentices

Apprenticeship requires the qualities of kindness, openness, enthusiasm, responsibility, and courage.

Kindness: Becoming an apprentice involves not only a close relationship with Lamas, but also with fellow apprentices: a whole family of Vajrayana practitioners who work, play, and practise together in a spirit of friendship, liveliness, humour, and generosity.

Openness: For the Lamas to be useful, apprentices must be receptive to suggestion, advice, and guidance. One need not act on every suggestion, but one should consider suggestions seriously.

Enthusiasm: Apprenticeship requires unbridled enthusiasm for the Aro lineage and a significant commitment of time and energy. It is nevertheless suitable for people with demanding lives: families and careers. The Aro Lamas recognise that those with such commitments may have limited time available for formal practice, and to them recommend the practice of living the view. That is possible for everyone in every moment, even in the midst of child-care or office meetings.

Responsibility: Lamas are not parental figures – even though they assume a pastoral rôle. They are not psychotherapists – even though they probe the psychology of perception. No one can practice on your behalf. Apprentices are responsible for their own development and life-choices – and for their part in creating the joyous atmosphere of the Sangha.

Courage: Apprenticeship can be joyfully bewildering, supportively confrontational, and relaxedly demanding. It can stretch limitations, inspiring the motivation to reach full capacity. A sense of gleeful abandon is needed – alongside the capacity for determined effort. One needs to have the spirit that could contemplate a parachute jump. Fearlessness is not essential. Being open and willing is indispensable.

Application process

If you have questions about the apprenticeship program, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Apprenticeship is a personal relationship with a specific Lama or teaching couple. Each may have a different application process. Consult their individual web page for details.

< Prev   Next >