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Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lawudo Lama Kunzang Yeshe

Lama Thubten Yeshe

Lama Zopa's Teachers

Lama Tsongkhapa

Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche

This is just a short biography of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. For a longer biography, an autobiography and more information about Lama Zopa Rinpoche and his work, see Lama Zopa Rinpoche's page on the FPMT website.

Rinpoche was born in Thami, Nepal, in 1946. At the age of three he was recognized as the reincarnation of Sherpa Nyingma yogi, Kunsang Yeshe, the Lawudo Lama. Rinpoche’s Thami home was not far from the Lawudo cave, in the Mount Everest region of Nepal, where his predecessor meditated for the last twenty years of his life. Rinpoche’s own description of his early years may be found in his book, The Door to Satisfaction (Wisdom Publications). At the age of ten, Rinpoche went to Tibet and studied and meditated at Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s monastery near Pagri, until the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 forced him to forsake Tibet for the safety of Bhutan.

Rinpoche then went to the Tibetan refugee camp at Buxa Duar, West Bengal, India, where he met Lama Yeshe, who became his closest teacher. The Lamas went to Nepal in 1967, and over the next few years built Kopan and Lawudo Monasteries. In 1971 Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave the first of his famous annual lam-rim retreat courses, which continue at Kopan to this day.

In 1974, with Lama Yeshe, Rinpoche began traveling the world to teach and establish centers of Dharma. When Lama Yeshe passed away in 1984, Rinpoche took over as spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), which has continued to flourish under his peerless leadership. More details of Rinpoche’s life and work may be found on the FPMT Web site.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche Lawudo Retreat Center Nepal Meditation Cave

Lawudo Lama Kunzang Yeshe
The previous incarnation of Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

Here is a short life story of the Lawudo Lama Kunzang Yeshe, whose present incarnation is the holy and venerable Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. The text is based on a biography called "Garland of Devotion" written by Lawudo Lama's attendant Nyowang Chopel at the request of Lama Thubten Yeshe.

The Khumbu valley is about 10 days walk north east of Kathmandu, and it's main village is Namche Bazaar. The country is divided into two main valleys. Lawudo is situated in the Thami valley, which runs north west towards Tibet, and was the home of Lama Kunzang Yeshe, also known as the Lawudo Lama. He was a ngagpa Lama, a layman, having a wife, a son and a daughter. His son was also married, but his daughter Karzang became a nun and took care of him.

The Lawudo Lama had taken many initiations and teachings from the great Lamas of the region. In order to look after his family he would travel on foot to Tibet as many as thirteen times per year to buy provisions which he would trade for food in Karikola village to the south of Namche. The Lawudo Lama had many obstacles to his Dharma practice, but he would always say that these were a help in accomplishing that practice

lawudo lama kunsang yeshe nepal meditaion retreat cave

In Khumbu there are three old monasteries. One of them, situated above Thami is called Dechen Khorlo, and it was below this monastery that Lawudo Lama decided to build his retreat house after returning from a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya. He put together all the necessary provisions and wished to stay in that place for many years in order to follow the advice given to him by his precious Lamas, and to perform the different retreats. After completing the dwelling, however, he looked up to the mountain and saw a large rock that the locals called Horse Body. "If there is a landslide, this rock will fall and hit my retreat house" he thought, so he went up the hill and built a wall to stabilize the rock. As soon as this was finished, however, he became very sick due to the powerful spirit landlord who dwelt in that place, and decided it was better to move elsewhere.

Nearby, on the other side of the river, there was a greatly blessed place of holy beings called the Magnificent Cave of Attainments, which was a stomach-shaped cave known to the local people as Lawudo. The Lawudo Lama went to this place and dug out the earth to find a beautifully shaped cave with various auspicious signs. Therefore he declared that it was a self-created cave given to him by Padmasambhava himself. Such a cave was mentioned in a very secret terma (text) of Padmasambhava. Leaving his wife and family in his old home near Thami, he then moved to the Lawudo cave.

There, the residues of his previous illness returned very strongly. He couldn't move his body or articulate speech and for six months he needed the help of his daughter Karzang to go outside. Eventually, the main sickness was pacified, although he could not walk without experiencing great pain in his feet. Thus he was to spend thirteen years on one seat, without going anywhere, meditating day and night with great energy. He also gave transmissions, commentaries and long-life initiations to his disciples from Khumbu. The Lawudo Lama believed it was his protector that had made him sick so that he had the opportunity to do many Dharma practices.

On the twelfth day of the first month of the Wood-Bird year (March 1945), the Lawudo Lama commented to his attendant Ngowang Chopel that he may have caught a cold. That day there was a landslide and the nearby water spring dried up, along with the tree of the local protector deity.

On the thirteenth day at midnight, Nyowang Chopel heard the sound of many girls crying in front of the Lama's cave. He thought the Lama was scolding his daughter and went to see, but there was no-one there and everything was very quiet. Thus the Buddhist deities of the 'white direction' were showing various signs of sorrow.

On the fourteenth day, the Lama's daughter summoned Nyowang Chopel and he saw that although the Lama was not ill, he was showing the aspect of being tired and would not eat the food offered by his daughter. When offered the food by Nyowang Chopel, however the Lawudo Lama said "I do not need any food, but for the sake of your livelihood to be successful, I shall eat", and he took a bowl of meat soup from the attendant.

Then, asking the date, the Lawudo Lama told Nyowang Chopel, "Good, Jetsun Mila went to the pureland of the Dakinis on the fourteenth, now go out and look at the sky". Nyowang did so and reported that the sky was clear. "And the moon?", asked the Lama. "There is a rainbow around the moon" replied Nyowang Chopel. "Can you hear a sound 'uhr-uhr' like an earthquake?" and Nyowang Chopel listened and reported that he could hear such a sound.

Lawudo Lama then instructed his attendant Nyowang Chopel to close the door of the cave and not let anybody in, not even his own daughter. Getting up suddenly he sat alternately in the three postures of the three Kayas and said many heartfelt prayers. He then said "Our teacher, Shakyamuni, when adopting this posture passed into the sorrowless state" and he lay down in the lion's posture, recited the syllable 'Ah' three times and passed away.

On the fifth day after his passing, a cremation house was built. The sun was shining brightly at the time of offering his holy body to fire, but some snowflakes in the shape of flowers fell. From the southwest, came a white cloud above the mountain tops, and gradually various clouds of rainbow colours gathered there. The sound of thousands of different musics were heard by all present, causing great amazement in their minds and they made prostrations and shed many tears.

Before his death, the ignorant people of Khumbu did not recognize Lawudo Lama as a realized being. He never went to perform rituals in people's homes, but always stayed in his cave meditating. He wore no external signs of a Dharma practitioner, but always wore an old white animal skin coat, long hair and big, round earrings. He used to be always on his seat, and if visitors should come by, he would open his hands in a warm giving attitude and invite them in. He could not write or speak well, but spent all his time meditating. Sometimes people laughed at him, saying "what kind of Lama are you?"

Thus the ignorant people had doubts, but after his death, when they saw and heard the signs with their own eyes and ears, their minds changed and Lawudo Lama became a great object of devotion.

A  Biography of Lama Yeshe

1935 to 1974

Lama Thubten Yeshe was born in Tibet in 1935 not far from Lhasa in the town of Tölung Dechen. Two hours away by horse was the Chi-me Lung Gompa, home for about 100 nuns of the Gelug tradition. It had been a few years since their learned abbess and guru had passed away when Nenung Pawo Rinpoche, a Kagyü lama widely famed for his psychic powers, came by their convent. They approached him and asked, "Where is our guru now?" He answered that in a nearby village there was a boy born at such and such a time, and if they investigated they would discover that he was their incarnated abbess. Following his advice they found the young Lama Yeshe to whom they brought many offerings and gave the name Thondrub Dorje.

Afterwards the nuns would often take the young boy back to their convent to attend the various ceremonies and other religious functions held there. During these visits—which would sometimes last for days at a time—he often stayed in their shrine room and attended services with them. The nuns would also frequently visit him at his parents' home where he was taught the alphabet, grammar and reading by his uncle, Ngawang Norbu, a student geshe from Sera Monastery.

Even though the young boy loved his parents very much, he felt that their existence was full of suffering and did not want to live as they did. From a very early age he expressed the desire to lead a religious life. Whenever a monk would visit their home, he would beg to leave with him and join a monastery. Finally, when he was six years old, he received his parents' permission to join Sera Je, a college at one of the three great Gelug monastic centers located in the vicinity of Lhasa. He was taken there by his uncle, who promised the young boy's mother that he would take good care of him. The nuns offered him robes and the other necessities of life he required at Sera, while the uncle supervised him strictly and made him study very hard.

He stayed at Sera until he was twenty-five years old. There he received spiritual instruction based on the educational traditions brought from India to Tibet over a thousand years ago. From Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the Junior Tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he received teachings on the Lam-rim graded course to enlightenment which outlines the entire sutra path to buddhahood. In addition he received many tantric initiations and discourses from both the Junior Tutor and the Senior Tutor, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, as well as from Drag-ri Dorje-chang Rinpoche, Song Rinpoche, Lhatzün Dorje-chang Rinpoche and many other great gurus and meditation masters.

Such tantric teachings as Lama Yeshe received provide a powerful and speedy path to the attainment of a fully awakened and purified mind, aspects of which are represented by a wide variety of tantric deities. Some of the meditational deities into whose practice Lama Yeshe was initiated were Heruka, Vajrabhairava and Guhyasamaja, representing respectively the compassion, wisdom and skilful means of a fully enlightened being. In addition, he studied the famous six yoga’s of Naropa, following a commentary based on the personal experiences of Je Tsongkhapa.

Lama Thubten Yeshe

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe at Lawudo

Among the other teachers who guided his spiritual development were Geshe Thubten Wangchug Rinpoche, Geshe Lhundrub Sopa Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten and Geshe Ngawang Gedun. At the age of eight he was ordained as a novice monk by the venerable Purchog Jampa Rinpoche. During all this training one of Lama Yeshe's recurring prayers was to be able some day to bring the peaceful benefits of spiritual practice to those beings ignorant of the dharma.

This phase of his education came to an end in 1959. As Lama Yeshe himself has said, "In that year the Chinese kindly told us that it was time to leave Tibet and meet the outside world." Escaping through Bhutan, he eventually reached Northeast India where he met up with many other Tibetan refugees. At the Tibetan settlement camp of Buxaduar he continued his studies from where they had been interrupted. While in Tibet he had already received instruction in prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom), Madhyamika philosophy (the middle way) and logic. In India his education proceeded with courses in the vinaya rules of discipline and the abhidharma system of metaphysics. In addition, the great bodhisattva Tenzin Gyaltsen, the Kunu Lama, gave him teachings on Shantideva's Bodhisattvacat yavatara (Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life) and Atisha's Bodhipathapradipa (Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment). He also attended additional tantric initiations and discourses and, at the age of twenty eight, received full monk's ordination from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche.

One of Lama Yeshe's gurus in both Tibet and Buxaduar was Geshe Rabten, a highly learned practitioner famous for his single-minded concentration and powers of logic. This compassionate guru had a disciple named Thubten Zopa Rinpoche and, at Geshe Rabten's suggestion, Zopa Rinpoche began to receive additional instruction from Lama Yeshe. Zopa Rinpoche was a young boy at the time and the servant caring for him wanted very much to entrust him permanently to Lama Yeshe. Upon consultation with Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, this arrangement was decided upon and so it came to pass that Zopa Rinpoche became the disciple of Lama Yeshe.

Lama Zopa's Teachers

CLICK HERE to go to Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Teachers Page.

Lama Tsongkhapa
1357 - 1419

Lama Tsongkhapa was the founder of the Gelugpa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

This biography was included in the Introduction of Geshe Sonam Rinchen's book The Three Principal Aspects of the Path.

Tsongkhapa was born in 1357 in the Tsongkha valley of Amdo province in northeast Tibet. The miraculous events that occurred at his birth aroused the interest of the master Chöje Döndrup Rinchen (Chos rje Don grub rin chen), who had studied and lived in central Tibet and who founded two monasteries in Amdo after his return there. When Tsongkhapa was three this master gave a gift of livestock to his father and requested that he should be put in charge of Tsongkhapa's education. At the age of seven Tsongkhapa went to live with I Chöje Döndrup Rinchen, from whom he received many teachings and tantric empowerments. Having learned to read and write with great ease, Tsongkhapa both studied and practiced meditation from a very early age. When he was eight years old he received ordination as a novice monk and was given the name Losang Drakpa (Blo bzang grags pa).

At the age of sixteen Tsongkhapa left Amdo to pursue his quest for knowledge in central and southern Tibet, where he studied with more than fifty prominent teachers. Between 1374 and 1376 he concentrated on the Perfection of Wisdom sutras and on the five treatises of Maitreya along with the many commentaries devoted to them. He gained a rigorous intellectual training and a wide knowledge of both sutra and tantra during this period. Tsongkhapa was already determined to combine scholarship with the practice of both sutra and tantra and he continued to receive tantric empowerments from a number of important masters belonging to different traditions.

lama tsongkhapa losang drakpa gelugpa founder lawudo meditation retreat cave

He was dedicated to developing the correct understanding of reality and at this time had a significant experience of entering a profound state of meditation during a ceremony when the assembled monks were reciting a Perfection of Wisdom sutra. He remained deeply absorbed long after the cer emony was over and the other monks had left the hall. From his twenty-second year he began to study intensively the works on valid cognition by Dignaga and Dharmakirti and was deeply impressed and moved by the efficacy of Dharmakirti's system of reasoning.

For the next eleven years Tsongkhapa travelled from one monastic college to another deepening his philosophical knowledge and giving teachings. His main teacher and close friend during this period was the Sakyapa (Sa skya pa) master Rendawa Shönu Lodrö (Red mda' ba gZhon nu Blo gros).

At the age of thirty-three he met with the remarkable Lama Umapa (dBu ma pa), who came to Tsang (gTsang) with the intention of studying with Tsongkhapa. Umapa had had a vision of Manjushri, the embodiment of enlightened wisdom, which had changed his life from that of a simple cowherd. As a result of this vision he took up practices related to Manjushri and eventually experienced Manjushri's constant presence.

Lama Umapa became Tsongkhapa's direct line of communication with Manjushri. They spent periods of retreat together during which Umapa conveyed to Tsongkhapa Manjushri's advice and responses to questions concerning the correct understanding of reality. Eventually Tsongkhapa himself experienced visions of Manjushri, who bestowed empowerments on him and gave him teachings.

During the winter of 1392-1393 in accordance with Manjushri's instructions he stopped teaching and withdrew from other public activities to concentrate on a period of intense meditation. He was joined by a group of eight carefully chosen students. Living austerely, they began practices for purification and the accumulation of merit reciting purificatory mantras, making prostrations and offerings of the mandala many hundred thousand times. Tsongkhapa simultaneously continued to study the most important texts dealing with the nature of reality.

In 1394 he and the others moved to Wölka ('Ol kha) and while they were there they all experienced visions of deities associated with the practices in which they were engaged. In 1395 they decided to break this retreat to refurbish and reconsecrate a famous and venerated statue of the future Buddha Maitreya which had fallen into disrepair. This generated much interest and many craftsmen and benefactors offered their help for the project, which was successfully completed.

For the next three years Tsongkhapa and his companions continued to practice in Lodrak (IHo brag) and then in 1397 they began a final year of retreat again in the Wölka area. In the late spring of 1398 these concerted and extraordinary efforts finally bore fruit. One night Tsongkhapa dreamed that he was present at a gathering of famous Indian masters discussing the subtleties of the Madhyamika view. One of them, who was dark-skinned and tall and whom Tsongkhapa recognized in the dream as Buddhapalita, rose and, holding a volume in his hands, approached Tsongkhapa and joyfully blessed him by touching his head with the book. Tsongkhapa woke as it was getting light and opened his own Tibetan translation of Buddhapalita's commentary at the page which he had been reading the day before. When he reread the passage he at once experienced a seminal insight into the nature of reality, which brought him the understanding that he had been seeking.

Among Tsongkhapa's many beneficial activities four are mentioned in particular. The first was the renovation of the statue of Maitreya and the subsequent great festival he organized during the Tibetan New Year in 1400 at Dzingji ('Dzingji) temple, which housed the statue. The second was an extensive teaching on the code of discipline for the ordained which he, Rendawa and Kyapchok Pel Zangpo (sKyabs mchog dPal bzang po) gave for several months at Namtse Deng (gNam rtse Ideng), thereby revitalizing the tradition of monasticism.

The third deed was his establishment of the Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa in 1409, beginning a tradition that has continued until now of devoting the first two weeks of the Tibetan new year, culminating on the day of the full moon, to prayers for universal well-being. Tsongkhapa donated everything he himself had received from benefactors to support this event and offered ornaments made of gold and precious stones to the famous statue of the Buddha in the main temple in Lhasa.

The fourth deed was the construction of Ganden Monastery (dGa' Idan) near Lhasa. "Ganden" means "The Joyous" and is the Tibetan name given to the pure land of Maitreya. The monastery was completed and consecrated in 1410. In 1415 special halls were built to house selected mandalas. Under Tsongkhapa's guidance skilled craftsmen created these mandalas and images of the relevant deities, which were installed in 1417. All of this was destroyed after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959.

During his last years Tsongkhapa devoted much of his energy to giving extensive teachings. He passed away in 1419. Personally and through his students he made an extremely significant impact on the development of Buddhism in Tibet and his influence extended to Mongolia and China. He wrote prolifically and lucidly on topics connected with both sutra and tantra, and thanks to his clear and elegant style these great works remain illuminating, relevant and accessible to this day.

Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche)

Padmasambhava was the founder of the Nyingma (literally old school) Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

A Short Biography of Guru Padmasambhava

According to tradition, Padmasambhava was incarnated as an eight-year-old child appearing in a lotus blossom floating in Lake Dhanakosha, in the kingdom of Uddiyana traditionally identified with the Swat Valley in present-day Pakistan His special nature was recognized by the local king who married him to one of his daughters, Mandarava. She and Padmasambhava's other main consort, Yeshe Tsogyal, developed into realised practitioners. Many thangkas and paintings show Padmasambhava in between them.

Padmasambhava's ability to memorize and comprehend esoteric texts in a single hearing established his reputation as a master above all others. Knowing that the life force of the wife and son of evil minister was about to end, he constructed an accident which resulted in their death. As a result, Padmasambhava was banished from the court and exiled in a charnel ground. Transiting various heavens and hells, he developed the power to transcend the cycle of birth and death, accomplishing the so-called great transference, otherwise known as Nirvana

His fame became known to Trisong Detsen the 38th king of Tibet (742–797), whose kingdom was beset by evil mountain deities. The king invited Padmasambhava to Tibet where he used his tantric powers to subdue the evil deities he encountered along the way, eventually receiving the Emperor's wife, identified with the dakini Yeshe Tsogya, as a consort. This was in accordance with the tantric principle of not eliminating negative forces but redirecting them to fuel the journey toward spiritual awakening. In Tibet he founded the first monastery in the country, Samye Gompa, initiated the first monks and introduced the people to the practice of Tantric Buddhism

Padmasambhava Guru Rinpoche Founder of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism Pema Jungne

In Bhutan he is associated with the famous Taktshang or "Tiger's Nest" monastery built on a sheer cliff wall about 500m above the floor of Paro valley. He flew there from Tibet on the back of Yeshe Tsogyal, whom he transformed into a flying tigress for the purpose of the trip. Later he travelled to Bumthang district to subdue a powerful deity offended by a local king. Padmasambhava's body imprint can be found in the wall of a cave at nearby Kurje Lhakhang temple.

Padmasambhava also hid a number of religious treasures (termas) in lakes, caves, fields and forests of the Himalayan region to be found and interpreted by future tertons or spiritual treasure-finders. According to Tibetan tradition, the Bardo Thodol (commonly referred to as the Tibetan Book of the Dead) was among these hidden treasures, subsequently discovered by a Tibetan terton, Karma Lingpa.

For a more extensive biography please click on the link below.

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Lawudo Retreat Center is an FPMT Center. For more details visit the FPMT web site

The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition is an international, non-profit organization, founded in 1975 by Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-84), a Tibetan Buddhist monk. The Foundation is devoted to the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and values worldwide through teaching, meditation, and community service. We provide integrated education through which people's minds and hearts can be transformed into their highest potential for the benefit of others, inspired by an attitude of universal responsibility. We are committed to creating harmonious environments and helping all beings develop their full potential of infinite wisdom and compassion. Our organization is based on the Buddhist tradition of Lama Tsong Khapa of Tibet as taught to us by our founder Lama Thubten Yeshe and spiritual director Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition FPMT