The American Buddhist landscape is evolving every day. Understand it, and where you fit into it, with Flight of the Swans.

Get a grip on the history, evolution, impact, and sustainability of Buddhism in North America with this, the latest online course from Naropa University, the nation’s leader in contemplative higher education.

Carefully designed for students of Buddhism, meditation, and mindfulness, Flight of the Swans explains the origins and evolution of Buddhism in North America, its traditions of practice and training, and its impact on society. The course also focuses on the development and distinctive qualities of socially engaged Buddhism in response to issues of gender, race, power, and the climate crisis.

Judith Simmer-Brown, Distinguished Professor of Contemplative Religious Studies at Naropa University, is your guide through six weeks of insightful and engaging lectures, supported by guided practice, deep-dive readings, a Q&A recording, and short quizzes.


Over six weeks of academic study and contemplative learning, The Flight of the Swans will enrich your understanding and encourage greater self awareness in your life and practice. You will:

Consider how and why people identify as Buddhist, and how that identity manifests — in lifestyle, practice, community, and ethics

Learn about Japanese Zen’s entry into America, its leading pioneers, and the basics of Zen meditation practice and training

Explore the history, culture, and sustainability of the American Vipassana and Vajrayana traditions, and their influence on the American mainstream

Identify the distinctive qualities of socially engaged Buddhism, beginning with its foundational teachings on relieving suffering and creating social harmony

Learn how North American Buddhists are uniquely addressing climate change, drawing from classical teachings on interdependence

Investigate how American Buddhism will need to further change in order to survive beyond the current generation



Experience Naropa’s University’s renowned contemplative education curriculum. It’s like having a Naropa classroom in the comfort of your home.


18 short lessons over 6 weeks (1 hour per week)


Downloadable transcripts for convenient offline study


A curated selection of weekly readings to expand your understanding


Weekly meditation or contemplation to deepen your experience

Plus, you'll be able to watch the recorded Q&A session with Judith Summer-Brown (livestreamed in 2019). Short weekly quizzes will support your reflection and comprehension of the course material.


Enjoy three short lessons each week, supported by enrichment activities, deep-dive readings , and more.


Talk 1: Welcome to Flight of the Swans

Talk 2: U.S. Buddhists: Who Are They?

Talk 3: What Will Ensure the Future of Buddhism in North America?


Talk 1: A Look at Formative U.S. Zen Communities

Talk 2: What Does the Practice of Zen in the U.S. Look Like?

Talk 3: Zen and the Arts in America


Talk 1: Vipassana and Its Practice in North America

Talk 2: A Look at The Practice — and Growth — of Vipassana in the U.S.

Talk 3: Vipassana’s Influence in U.S. Society


Talk 1: Himalayan Buddhism Takes Root in the U.S.

Talk 2: A Look at the Shape and Practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the U.S

Talk 3: The Impact of Tibetan Buddhism in the U.S.


Talk 1: Contending With Social and Personal Issues Through, and in, U.S. Buddhism

Talk 2: Awakening from Patriarchy and Exclusion in U.S. Buddhism

Talk 3: Contending With Racism and Privilege in U.S. Buddhism


Talk 1: Environmental Activism in U.S. Buddhism

Talk 2: Social Activism and Interreligious Dialogue in U.S. Buddhism — and Its Cultural Impact

Talk 3: Toward a Sustainable, Genuine American Buddhism

Your Instructor

Judith Simmer-Brown
Judith Simmer-Brown

JUDITH SIMMER-BROWN is a founding faculty member at Naropa University, Judith is also Senior Advisor to the Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education. She co-chairs the Contemplative Studies Steering Committee for the American Academy of Religion, and serves on the Board of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies.

Judith is the author of Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism (Shambhala) and editor, with Fran Grace, of Meditation and the Classroom: Contemplative Pedagogy for Religious Studies (SUNY).

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Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.