Ken McLeod

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Ken McLeod (1948- ) is a senior Western translator, author and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. He received traditional training mainly in the Shangpa-Kagyu lineage, through a long association with his principal teacher Kalu Rinpoche, whom he met in 1970. McLeod resides in Los Angeles, CA where he founded Unfettered Mind. He conducts classes, workshops, meditation retreats, individual practice consultations, and teacher training, in America and Canada. He teaches traditional material but is recognized for having developed an innovative, “pragmatic” approach to the practice of Buddhism that integrates the traditional and modern and emphasizes direct experience.

Under Kalu Rinpoche’s guidance McLeod learned the Tibetan language and completed two, traditional three-year retreats (1976-83). In the years that followed, he traveled and worked with Kalu Rinpoche on various projects and became a prominent translator of Buddhist texts. This includes a landmark translation of The Great Path of Awakening by Jamgon Kongtrul, a key text in the teaching of Lojong (the Seven Points of Mind Training).

In 1985 he settled in Los Angeles to run Kalu Rinpoche’s dharma center. He did so until 1990, when he founded his own organization, Unfettered Mind. He teaches strictly traditional material but is recognized (1) for having pioneered a new teacher-student model, based upon ongoing, one-on-one consultations and upon small teaching groups that have a high degree of teacher-student interaction; and (2) for his “pragmatic” approach to teaching, translation and practice.

The intent of “pragmatic Buddhism” is to preserve the essence of the teachings, unchanged, but to make them more directly accessible to the Westerner. It does so by bypassing the Eastern, cultural overlay and using simple, clear language and methods that elicit direct experience in the practitioner. Also, it emphasizes an individualized practice path; with a key element being ongoing practice consults that allow the teacher to shape a path that’s tailored to each practitioner’s specific needs and makeup. (see IDEAS, below) McLeod has made this model available for others to use via the Unfettered Mind website, his teacher development program, and his publications – especially Wake Up To Your Life, which lays out the Buddhist path & practices. His non-traditional commentary on the Heart Sutra, An Arrow to the Heart, presents a way into the material that’s poetic and experiential.

Ken McLeod was born in Yorkshire, England (1948) and raised in Canada. He holds an M.Sc. in Mathematics from the University of British Columbia. In 1970 he met Ven. Kalu Rinpoche at his monastery outside Darjeeling, India and began studying Tibetan Buddhism. Kalu Rinpoche became his principal teacher and thus began a long association between the two. Other significant teachers included: Dezhung Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche, Karmapa XVI, and Kilung Rinpoche.

In the 1970s and 80’s, McLeod received training, plus travelled, translated, and worked on Kalu Rinpoche’s many projects. He was the translator for Kalu Rinpoche’s first two tours of the West (1972 and 1974-5). Also, he translated texts: Writings of Kalu Rinpoche; A Continuous Rain to Benefit Beings; and The Great Path of Awakening by Jamgon Kongtrul, which he published as "The Direct Path to Enlightenment." In 1974, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche offered his own translation of the basic slogans therein, and criticized McLeod's translation of the title; although he liked the translation generally. McLeod publicly accepted the criticism and Shambhala Publications published it in 1987 as The Great Path of Awakening. Trungpa Rinpoche's own book on the slogans included McLeod's translations for comparison. In 1976, he joined Kalu Rinpoche in Central France to help establish and then participate in the first 3-year retreat for Westerners (Kagyu Ling). This was the first of two three-year retreats (1976–83). His fellow retreatants included others who also went on to become senior Western teachers and translators, Sarah Harding, Ingrid McLeod, Richard Barron, Anthony Chapman, Denis Eysseric, and Hugh Thompson. In 1985, at Rinpoche’s request, McLeod translated and published The Chariot for Traveling the Path to Freedom: the Life Story of Kalu Rinpoche. Also in that year, Kalu Rinpoche authorized him to teach, and asked him to be the resident teacher at his Dharma center Kagyu Donga Chuling (KDC) in Los Angeles. McLeod was an interpreter for several other Kagyu teachers, most notably for Jamgon Kontrul III (of Pepung) at the 1990 Kalachakra Empowerment in Toronto.

After several years at KDC, McLeod saw that the traditional, religious center approach wasn’t meeting his students’ needs. So he began evolving a new, nontraditional model based upon regular, one on one practice consultations; small, highly interactive teaching groups & meditation retreats; the notion of the individual practice path; an informal student-teacher relationship; and a “pragmatic” way to present material. These key elements would become the core of his teaching.

In 1990, he left KDC to set up a non-profit organization, Unfettered Mind, as a vehicle for this approach. At the time, the notion of a Buddhist teacher establishing a private practice went against accepted convention. It caused much controversy in 1996 when he presented the idea to the Buddhist Teachers Conference but has since been adopted by many teachers. During the 90’s, McLeod established a corporate consulting business, organized three conferences on Buddhism and Psychotherapy, and developed the curriculum that eventually became his book Wake Up To Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention (2001).

After 15 years, he realized that this model couldn’t accommodate the ways in which Unfettered Mind was growing and evolving. His practice as a business consultant gave him an understanding of how the flaws that characterize organizations and institutions could also be found in Unfettered Mind and most other Buddhist organizations. So in 2005, he went on sabbatical; in 2006, he re-invented Unfettered Mind. In an effort to avoid the structure & hierarchy of most Buddhist institutions, UM is now modeled as a network. In addition to the usual, teacher-driven activities (classes, workshops, retreats), UM is developing a wide range of web-based resources from which a practitioner – local or non local; can find information, guidance and teachings that meet their own individual needs and enable them to shape their own, specific path, outside of the established, institutional framework.

Publications by Ken McLeod


  • Ken McLeod. (2007). An Arrow to the Heart. Victoria BC Canada: Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4251-3377-1.
  • Ken McLeod. (2001). Wake Up To Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention. San Francisco CA: Harper Collins. pp. 480pp. ISBN 978-0-06-251681-7.
  • Kongtrul, Jamgon; Ken McLeod transl. (1987). The Great Path of Awakening: The Classic Guide to Lojong, a Tibetan Buddhist Practice for Cultivating the Heart of Compassion. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala. ISBN 978-1-59030-214-9.
  • Karmapa XV; Ken McLeod, transl. (1975). A Continuous Rain to Benefit Beings. Vancouver: Kagyu Kunkhyab Chuling. pp. 33pp.
  • Kalu Rinpoche; Ken McLeod translation and commentary (1985). The Chariot for Travelling the Path to Freedom: the Life Story of Kalu Rinpoche. Kagyu Dharma. pp. 101pp. ASIN B00071OUPI.
  • Kalu Rinpoche; Ken McLeod transl. (1976). Writings of Kalu Rinpoche. Burnaby BC: Kagyu Kunkhyab Chuling. pp. 77pp.


  • "Something From Nothing". The Best Buddhist Writing 2011. 2011.
  • "Imagine You’re Enlightened". BuddhaDharma. Fall 2007.
  • "Breaking the Habit Habit". Shambhala Sun. January 2005.
  • "You Can't Always Get What You Want". Tricycle Magazine. Summer 2004.
  • "The First Precept: To Kill or Not to Kill". Tricycle. Winter 2003.
  • "Facing Fear". Tricycle. Spring 2002.
  • "Relationship with the Teacher: Wake Up Call". Mandala Magazine. June 2002.


  • "Retreats, Classes, and Q&A Sessions". Unfettered Mind (Podcast). Retrieved 2008-09-14.