Engaging Sudden and Gradual Paths

An in-depth exploration of diverse paths to freedom.


An in-depth exploration of diverse paths to freedom

How do we welcome freedom today?

There are many paths to freedom. Some gradually evolve like a growing tree. Others are sudden, like a lightning bolt. Others are empty, like the imprint of a bird in the sky.

This self-paced course explores a diverse range of contemplative paths from Zen, Dzogchen, Daoist, Theravāda, Shambhala, Vajrayāna, Nondual, and other traditions. It is designed for modern practitioners to compare a range of approaches and explore the context of various meditative paths. 

Our inquiry will set forth from our contemporary context, including our socio-political and ecological conditions. Freedom refers not only to individual, but also collective liberation.

We will ask:

  • does the path require effort or effortlessness?
  • is freedom innate or something acquired?
  • are there stages of a long journey or is there a simple shift?
  • how might spiritual paths inform processes of socio-political and ecological transformation?


This is a self-paced, recorded version of a live course led by Gaylon Ferguson and Adam Lobel.

There are 6 modules including recordings of guided meditation, talks, and class discussions. There are general and advanced readings and contemplations.

Self-paced Pathways is $100

Gaylon Ferguson

recently retired as faculty member in both Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado. After studying meditation and Buddhist philosophy with Tibetan master Chögyam Trungpa in the 1970s and 1980s, Ferguson became a Fulbright Fellow to Nigeria and completed a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology at Stanford University. After several years of teaching cultural anthropology at the University of Washington, he became teacher-in-residence at Karmê Chöling Buddhist Retreat Center, through 2005, when he joined the faculty of Naropa University. He is the author of Natural Wakefulness, Natural Bravery, and Welcoming Our True Nature, forthcoming in April 2024.

Adam Lobel

practices at the intersections of ecologies, Buddhist-inspired meditation and philosophy, and political transformation. His ongoing appreciation for those practices join together in the Four Fields.

A father, husband, and practitioner-scholar of philosophy and religion, Adam is an environmental justice activist and ecodharma guide. 

Adam is a professor of ecopsychology, Buddhist and phenomenological psychology, and a Certified Focusing Professional, and lives in Seneca lands, Pittsburgh PA with his family.

Class 1

Paths of Freedom Today

Situating and grounding questions of freedom today. Spiritual, political, and ecological freedom.

Class 2

Mirror: Sudden Paths

Ch'an, Zen, and instantaneous awakening. 3  mirrors: polishing a tile, dust on a mirror

Class 3

 Cosmic Stairway: Developmental Paths

Gradual training, like a growing tree or a stairway. The Great Debate between gradual and sudden in Tibet. Indian Sutra analytical meditation.  

Class 4

Sun Within: Innate Paths

Vajrayāna, Ganges Mahāmudrā, and tantra.


Class 5

Imprint of a Bird in the Sky

Effortless, empty, spontaneous paths like Dzogchen.

Class 6

Runaway Realization and Dragon's Play

The whole way of freedom is freedom. Waking up and growing up.