Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lama Zopa

Lama Zopa

Remembering a Past Life

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, FPMT’s spiritual director, is the reincarnation of the Sherpa Nyingma yogi Kunsang Yeshe, the Lawudo Lama. Rinpoche was born in 1946 in Thami, not far from the cave Lawudo, in the Mount Everest region of Nepal, where his predecessor meditated for the last twenty years of his life.

From the house where he was born he could look up the mountain side and see Lawudo, where the cave of the late Lawudo Lama was situated. While his predecessor had belonged to the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the Lawudo Lama himself had been a great master of the complete tantric teachings of the Nyingma tradition.

For the last twenty years of his life he had lived in his cave, attended by his wife and two children, and had spent all his time either meditating or giving teachings and spiritual advice to the people of the Solo Khumbu and neighboring regions. His energy on behalf of all beings was inexhaustible and it is said that in his later years he passed completely beyond the need for sleep.

From the time he was able to crawl, Zopa Rinpoche would spend most of his time trying to climb the steep path leading to the cave of this deceased lama. Time and again his family would have to retrieve him forcefully from the precarious route he was intent on traveling and make him return reluctantly to his home.

Finally, when he was old enough to speak, he declared that the cave was his and that he was the incarnation of the Lawudo Lama. He further insisted that his only desire was to lead a life of meditation.

When he was four or five years old, his claim to be an incarnate lama was subjected to public examination by Ngawang Samden, a Nyingma master meditator who lived nearby. When the young boy was repeatedly able to identify possessions belonging to the Lawudo Lama and pass other rigorous tests, he was formally declared to be the rightful incarnation and received the full investiture of the Nyingma tradition. Later he was to receive the tantric initiations of this tradition from the head lama of the Thami Gompa, known affectionately as Gaga (or Grandfather) Lama.

Early Education

Lama Zopa

Young Zopa Rinpoche began his education at Solo Khumbu in the traditional Tibetan manner, with the alphabet. One of the first books he read was the biography of Milarepa, the famous eleventh century poet and meditator. This work sparked in him a great desire to become like Milarepa and study under such a highly realized lama as Marpa, Milarepa’s root guru. He also heard of the Mindrol Ling Monastery in Tibet, the famous centre preserving and transmitting all the Nyingma teachings and initiations, and wanted very much to go there to pursue his spiritual training.

While still a young boy, Zopa Rinpoche was taken on his uncle’s back for a pilgrimage to Tibet. When he arrived north of Sikkim at the Dung-kar Monastery of Domo Geshe Rinpoche, he startled his uncle by declaring that he had no intention of returning home with him. Rather, he wanted to stay at this monastery and devote his life to studying and practicing the dharma. The uncle was very upset because the young Rinpoche was his responsibility, but when the commissioner of the area decided that the child’s wishes should be honored, there was nothing left for him to do but return to Nepal empty-handed.

The monks at Dung-kar had no reason to believe that this young boy from a remote region of Nepal was an incarnate lama, but upon consultation with their guardian dharma protector, his claim was confirmed. From that time onwards his diet was kept free of those foods considered unclean.

He continued to stay at this monastery for several years until he went to Tibet and took getsul ordination in 1958, and continued his studies in Domo Geshe’s monastery in Phagri, Tibet.

His education would have continued at Sera Je in Lhasa, but these plans were also interrupted in 1959. In 1959 Rinpoche escaped from Tibet and continued his studies in Sera Je monastery in Buxa Duar, in the north of India. This is where the Indian Government housed the monks from Sera, Ganden and Drepung Monasteries who wanted to continue their studies, along with monks from the other sects.

It was at Buxa Duar that Rinpoche became the disciple of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche and then of Lama Thubten Yeshe. Frida Bedi then invited him to join her school for incarnate lamas in Dalhousie where they were given the chance to learn English for 6 months. Upon the completion, he returned to Buxa Duar and his studies.

The Western World

Lama Zopa

Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche’s contact with Westerners began in 1965 while they were visiting the Ghoom Monastery in Darjeeling. One day a monk came to their room and said that a friend had come looking for them. It was an American woman, Zina Rachevsky, who had actually come in search of Demo Geshe Rinpoche, but because Zopa Rinpoche had been known as Demo Rinpoche ever since his stay at Dung-kar, she mistakenly believed him to be the lama she had in mind.

From this unusual first meeting a strong friendship grew, and the lamas spent nearly a year teaching at her home before Zina had to leave Darjeeling for Ceylon. She then wrote many letters to His Holiness the Dalai Lama entreating him to permit the lamas to join her. When permission was granted she returned to India and the three of them visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. There Zina was ordained as a novice nun. In 1967 the two lamas and their newly ordained disciple left India, not for Ceylon as originally planned, but for Nepal.

The three at first resided near the Boudhanath Stupa several miles from Kathmandu. After a few years, however, they were able to purchase land at the top of a nearby hill called Kopan. There they founded the Nepal Mahayana Gompa Center in 1969. The main building was constructed in 1971-2, funded almost exclusively by the lamas’ increasing number of Western disciples. When the first meditation course was given there in 1971, it was attended by about twenty students. By the time of the seventh course, held in the autumn of 1974, interest was so great that attendance had to be restricted to 200 meditators, the limit of the local facilities.

Lama Zopa

In December of 1973 Kopan became the home of the International Mahayana Institute, an organization composed of Western monks and nuns. This fledgling sangha, which at present numbers nearly thirty disciples, follows a schedule of work, study and meditational retreat designed to help them fully devote their lives to the dharma. They also publish teachings and translations prepared by the lamas and organize group and individual retreat facilities for interested meditators from all religious denominations.

Kopan is not the only site where the lamas have tried to provide a conducive atmosphere for actualizing the dharma. In 1972 they purchased land in Dharamsala, the North Indian hill station that for many years has been the headquarters of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and since 1971 the site of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. In a house formerly belonging to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, they established Tushita Retreat Center. Here many serious students from the Kopan meditation courses, the Dharamsala Library classes and other centers have come to use the ever-expanding retreat facilities to advance their spiritual practice.

A Connection with “Home”

Lama Zopa

Nor are Westerners the only ones who have benefited from the lamas’ compassion, concern and energy. Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche’s predecessor had been requested by the Tibetan and Sherpa people of Solo Khumbu to build a monastery near the site of his meditation cave. He declined, excusing himself because of old age, but promised to establish such a monastery for these people in his next life.

When Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche returned to Nepal in 1967 he decided to honor this commitment made by the previous Lawudo Lama. At that time he was advised by the late lama Lozang Tsültrim, the abbot of a nearby monastery, “not to have a small mind, but build the new monastery as large as possible.” Donations by interested Westerners and the Tibetan and Sherpa people of the area enabled work to begin on this project in 1971.

In the following year the Mount Everest Center for Buddhist Studies at Lawudo was opened for residence. Attending this center are the incarnations of several great lamas such as Lama Yeshe’s guru, Geshe Ngawang Gedun of Sera. And soon the young incarnation of Lama Lozang Tsültrim himself will attend.

At present there are 50 children receiving a closely supervised monastic education that includes not only traditional Buddhist studies, but classes in Nepali, English, Tibetan, mathematics and art as well. These monks are mostly Sherpas aged five to 19. It is hoped that eventually the Mount Everest Center will be able to accommodate 200 students and provide for both their spiritual and physical well-being.

Lama Zopa

In establishing the Kopan Gompa near Kathmandu, the Tushita Retreat Center in Dharamsala and the Mount Everest Center at Lawudo, the lamas have been very interested in providing students with an interconnected system of facilities to assist their spiritual practice.

Thus when a group of disciples from Australia and Mr. C. T. Shen of the New York-based Institute for the Advanced Study of World Religions invited the lamas to their countries in 1974, this was seen as a perfect opportunity to explore what more could be done to help spiritual seekers.

In 1971 Rinpoche took gelong ordination from His Holiness Ling Rinpoche in Bodh Gaya. By 1975, twelve centers had started. In 1976, the growing worldwide organization was named by Lama Yeshe ‘the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition’ (FPMT). The FPMT is an organization devoted to the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and values worldwide through teaching, meditation and community service.

There are 147 FPMT centers and projects worldwide as of March 2007.

Sources: FPMT (

Autobiography of a Yogi as a Child: In Lama Zopa’s own Words

Growing up

Lama Zopa
I don’t remember what my father looked like. I think he died when my mother was carrying my brother, Sangye, and was a baby. People say that he had a beard and didn’t speak much; they describe him as a placid person who didn’t get upset very easily. I don’t know whether he was ever a monk, but I was told that he was very good at reading texts and doing pujas for other people.

My father was sick for some time before he died. One day after coming came back into the house from working in the field, my mother saw my father sitting quietly by the fireplace. She called to him, “Father, do you want anything?” but he did not reply. His body was upright; it is possible that he was in meditation, but I think my mother didn’t realize this. She went to tell her friends, but they didn’t know what to do. She should have asked a lama, but I think her understanding was quite limited. Her friends must have thought he was dead, so they told her to take the body outside and burn it.

My mother didn’t go to the cremation because it is not the Sherpa custom. I think is possible that my father was not actually dead when he was cremated, that his mind had not yet departed from his body. The people who burned the body told my mother, “He looks so alive. He doesn’t look dead.”

All I remember of my father are the clothes he left in the house. As very small children, my sister, brother and I would all sleep together at night in our father’s chuba, which was lined with animal fur. Sometimes we would say to each other, “This belonged to our father.”

When my father was alive, our family was a little better off than other families. We had many possessions, though according to Western standards of living we were probably only rich in garbage. However, after my father died, because my mother was in debt, our possessions were taken away by force. She had great difficulties, especially after I was born, when many of our animals—dris, goats and sheep—died.

My mother had to take care of all the work in the fields and then go to the forest to collect the firewood, which took many hours. Only my sister could help her. My brother and I just played in the field all day with stones and pieces of wood, coming back home when my mother shouted from the window that our food was ready.

When I was very small my best friend was a boy who could not speak. Every day we would play together. He and I liked to play games involving rituals. Near our house was a large rock with mantras carved into it. I would sit a little way up the rock and pretend that I was giving initiations, while the other boys had to try to take them. I didn’t know any prayers, so I would just make some kind of noise and pretend I was praying. (Actually, think I am still playing like that now.) We also pretended to do pujas. Some boys would imitate the sound of cymbals, while others would be the benefactors. We would mix earth and water on small flat stones and the benefactors would serve this as food to the other boys.

Because there were some rumors going around about my past life and because I had a strong wish to become a monk, when I was three or four years old my mother sent me to one of my uncles, a monk in the local Thami monastery, to learn the alphabet. I was carried there on someone’s back.

I was very naughty at that time and only wanted to play, so I wouldn’t stay in the monastery. My uncle used to teach me the alphabet outside in the courtyard in the sun, and when he went inside to the kitchen to cook our food I ran away to my mother’s house, which was very close to the monastery. I was very small and alone. Like most mountain children, I didn’t walk slowly, but like water falling I ran down to my mother’s house, never stopping to rest along the way. My mother would then scold me and send me back to the monastery. I escaped to my home quite a number of times.

Because of this, my mother sent me with another uncle to Rolwaling, in a much more secluded part of Solu Khumbu. I was carried there on top of the luggage. There is no way I could escape from Rolwaling to my home because you have to cross very steep and very dangerous snow mountains for two days. Sometimes when people were crossing the steep snow slopes, there would be an avalanche and all the people would disappear.

At one point, when I could write Tibetan letters by myself (we didn’t have pens, so we wrote on pieces of paper with charcoal), I wrote to my mother without my uncle knowing about it. I had a sneaky mind, so because I wanted to go home I told my mother that she must write to say that I should come back home. I gave the letter to someone who was traveling to Thami, but a funny thing happened. When he reached my mother’s place, he could not find the letter. He had carried it in his leather shoes, and he must have dropped it when he stopped along the way to shake the snow out of his shoes.

With my uncle teacher I went back and forth between Thami and Rolwaling three or four times. He carried me on his back and gave me food, which he had prepared before we left home. As we walked he passed the cooked meat and other food back to me. Only once was there an avalanche, a small one. The luggage was scattered all over the place and the people fell way down the slope, but they weren’t worried. They were singing songs when they came up to collect their things.

There was a very dangerous mountain with water running down it and rocks, huge and small, constantly falling. The huge rocks would come down wooroodoo! and the small rocks would drop tiiing! There were a lot of different noises. It was terrifying. I don’t know why, but every time we art we would stop and everyone would drink alcohol, the strongest one made from potatoes. The Sherpas make about thirteen different foods from potatoes, which is their main food, and one of the things they make is very strong alcohol. In Solu Khumbu it is the custom that most of the people, including many of the monks, drink alcohol, though there are some who do not drink.

So everybody would drink some alcohol, then generate heat by rubbing their hands together. They were then able to carry their huge loads across, usually two or three square butter tins, plus their food and blanket and things to sell. Just hoping that it would be all right, they crossed, climbing up through the water and rocks to the top. We went back and forth several times, and somehow no rocks fell while we were crossing. However, every time we were resting and drinking after reaching the top of the mountain on the other side, the rocks would come down woorooroo! Many times I thought, “Oh, somebody will be killed.” But every time, the rocks fell right after the last person had crossed. All the way across everybody recited whatever mantras they knew. The main sect in Solu Khumbu is Nyingmapa, so most of the people recited Padmasambhava’s mantra with single-pointed concentration.

I don’t remember what I did during that time, whether I recited any mantras or not, but I do remember that I was carried by my uncle. Of course, as soon as everybody reached the other side, where there was no danger, all the prayers stopped.


The Beginnings…

Lama Zopa

I lived for seven years in Rolwaling. Rolwaling Valley has a river running through it and mountains all around. On one side of the river was a monastery, with a gompa surrounded by other houses in which lived my uncle, then a fully ordained monk, and other married lamas, practitioners who did a lot of retreat but were not monks. There was also a large stupa on some flat ground with a road running through the middle of it.

On the other side of the river was a very nice grassy place where Western trekkers used to camp. In the summertime and in the autumn, tourists would come to Rolwaling—not all the time, just sometimes. Sherpa porters would guide them there and sometimes bring them to my teacher’s house, or sometimes we would go down to see them in their tents. Once or twice I went there to see them.

The bridge crossing the river to that spot was just two tree trunks tied together. You had to walk on that, and it wasn’t very wide. One day I went to give some potatoes to the Westerners in their camp—I don’t remember who they were. My teacher told me not to go, but I think I pushed him; somehow I really wanted to go to give the Westerners the potatoes. So, my teacher put some potatoes in a brass container used for eating rice or drinking chang, the local beer, and off I went, alone.

I walked onto the bridge. The river was quite wide and when I reached the middle of it, in my view the bridge tilted, and I fell into the water. My head came up, then went down again. According to what my teacher told me later, at first I was facing upriver, along by then later down river. I was carried along by the river, with my head coming up from time to time. All the time I was closer and closer to danger, to where river was very, very deep.

One time when my head came up, I saw my teacher running towards the river from the monastery, which was quite far away. There was some flat ground, then a huge mountain with the monastery a little way up it. I saw my teacher running down the mountain to the flat ground, holding up the simple cloth pants he was wearing.

At that time, the thought came into my mind, “Now what people call ‘Lawudo Lama’ is going to die. This is going to end.” I did not have much understanding of Dharma, and I had no idea of emptiness, but this thought just came. There was no fear. If death came now it would be difficult for me, but at that time my mind was completely comfortable. There was no fear at all—just the thought, “What people call ‘Lawudo Lama’ is going to die.”

I was about to reach very deep water where it would have been very difficult for my teacher to catch me, when he finally grabbed me and pulled me out. I was dripping wet. I’m not sure, but I think he said, “I told you not to go!” I think the fact that I fell into the water and dropped everything, the container and the potatoes, must be a shortcoming of not listening to my teacher. I later heard from some people who were watching that one of the Western tourists came with his camera and was taking pictures as I was being carried along by the water.

Lama Zopa

I stayed in Rolwaling seven years, memorizing prayers and reading texts, including all the many hundreds of volumes of the Buddha’s teachings, the Kangyur, and the commentaries by the Indian pandits, the Tengyur. Lay people would ask us to read these as a puja, so my teacher would read all day long. I don’t know how long they took to read—many months, I think. Sometimes I went outside to go to the toilet and would spend a lot of time out there, just hanging around. I didn’t return to the reading very quickly.

After seven years, when I was about ten, I went to Tibet with my two uncles. The reason for our journey was to visit another of my uncles, who was living at Pagri, a major trading center. First we walked from Rolwaling to Thami, then from Thami to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, and finally to Pagri. I have an idea that the journey took us six months, walking every day. Because I was quite small, I didn’t have to carry anything; my uncles carried everything.

I spent seven days at Tashi Lhunpo, the Panchen Lama’s monastery, but from the time we left Solu Khumbu, my heart was set on going to study at the greatest Nyingma monastery in Tibet, Mindoling, because all the Sherpa monasteries are Nyingma. My plan was to go to this monastery and practice. There were many other monasteries along the way, but somehow I had no particular desire to live in them.

Earlier, when I was seven or eight years old, I had read Milarepa’s life-story three or four times, mainly to practice reading the Tibetan letters. Somehow at that time my mind was very clear, and I had a strong desire in my heart to be a really good practitioner by finding an infallible guru like Marpa, just as Milarepa had.

At Tashi Lhunpo I met Gyaltsen, a Sherpa monk who was like a dopdop; he had a black shamtab covered with butter and always carried a long key. He didn’t seem to study or go to pujas, but mainly traveled back and forth between the monastery and the city. My two uncles were there with me, and one other Sherpa man.

We didn’t go to the pujas, but got into the line of monks to get the money when the pujas finished. I think Gyaltsen probably guided us. On the very last night before we were to leave, Gyaltsen insisted that I stay and become his disciple. I don’t think I had any sleep that whole night! I was wondering how I could escape from this because both my uncles agreed that I should stay there and become his disciple. But I had not the slightest desire to become his disciple, couldn’t think of how to escape, of what I could do the next day. Fortunately, the next morning, my uncles finally agreed that I should go with them to Pagri.

My two uncles, my uncle who lived in Pagri, and one of his relatives who was a nun, all went to Lhasa to visit the monasteries and make offerings.

While they were away, I just wandered around Pagri, wearing an old red chuba and an old hat. Somehow I had the karma to become a monk because one day, outside my uncle s house, I met a tall monk who was the manager of one of Demo Geshe’s monasteries. It must be due to some past karma that he immediately asked me, “Do you want to be my student?” and I said, “Yes, okay.” I asked him, “Can you be like Marpa?” and he said, “Yes.”

Because my uncles were away he talked to my uncle’s wife, and she accepted his suggestion. The next day she made a thermos of tea, filled a Bhutanese container made of woven bamboo with round breads (she made very good Tibetan bread, served with a lot of butter) and took me to the monastery where the manager lived, just a few minutes walk from where we were living.

When my uncles returned from Lhasa, they wanted me to go back with them to Solu Khumbu. I said that I wouldn’t go back. My second uncle, the one with whom I spent seven years, was very kind—although at that time, I didn’t know he was being kind. He beat me.

When I rejected the idea of going back, my other uncle—the one who lived in Tibet and was a businessman—brought out a whole set of new robes with brocade, which he had bought in Lhasa, horse decorations everything! He piled everything up and said: “If you go back to Solu Khumbu I will give you all these things; otherwise you won’t get anything.” Somehow I didn’t have much interest in those kind of things at that time. I don’t remember having any strong attraction to the things he was going to give me if I agreed to go to Solu Khumbu.

Because I rejected the idea of going back to Solu Khumbu, my manager went to check with one of the most powerful men in that area, a secretary to one very rich and famous family, great benefactors of Demo Geshe Rinpoche’s monastery. When my manager asked his point of view, the secretary said that I should be sent back to Solu Khumbu.

I then had to go before the district judge. Before the court case I was locked inside a very dark shrine room. The local benefactors actually thought I had been locked inside a cowshed; the ladies who knew me would visit me and push sweets and other things for me to eat into the room through a small hole.

The district judge arrived and I was called in front of him, naked (I don’t know why I was naked—I’ve forgotten that part of the story), and because the shrine room where I was kept was very dark and very, very cold, my whole body was shaking. The judge said that I had the right to make my own decision as to whether to stay or go.

So I spent three years in Pagri, doing pujas in people’s houses every day, and I took getsul ordination there in the monastery of Demo Geshe Rinpoche, who is regarded as an embodiment of Lama Tsongkhapa. I wasn’t a monk before that. I saw many monasteries, but somehow because of my karma, I became a monk only in that Gelugpa monastery.


Going out to the world

Lama Zopa

In March 1959, the Chinese took over Tibet, but because that area is close to India, there was no immediate danger. Later that year I was instructed to do my first retreat, on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, at a nearby monastery called Pema Chöling, a branch of Demo Geshe’s monastery. I didn’t know anything about the meditation; I just recited the prayer and some Migtsemas. I think I finished the retreat, but I don’t know how I did it or what mantras I counted.

At the end of 1959, when the threat of torture was imminent, we decided to escape to India. One day we heard that the Chinese would come to Pema Choling in two days. That same night we very secretly left. We had to cross only one mountain to reach Bhutan.

One night, because it was very wet and we could not see the road clearly, we had a little trouble, sinking into the mud and slipping over. There were nomads at the border. If they had seen us, it would have been difficult to escape because we had heard that some of them were spies, but even though their dogs were barking, the nomads did not come out of their tents.

Eventually we reached India. We went to Buxa Duar, in the north, where the Indian Government housed the monks from Sera, Ganden and Drepung Monasteries who wanted to continue their studies, along with monks from the other sects. All the four sects were put together in that one place. During the time of the British, Buxa was used as a concentration camp, with both Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru being imprisoned there. Where Mahatma Gandhi had been imprisoned became the nunnery, and where Nehru had been imprisoned became Sera Monastery’s prayer hall.

Because there was a branch of Demo Geshe’s monastery in Darjeeling, my plan was to go there. However, the head policeman at Buxa sent all the other monks in my group to Darjeeling, but for some reason stopped me. He said one other monk should stay with me in Buxa. It was because this policeman didn’t allow me to go to Darjeeling that I came to study there at Buxa. I don’t know why he stopped me from going to Darjeeling—it wasn’t because he received a bribe.

At Buxa I, as well as many other monks, caught tuberculosis because of the poor conditions and climate. I was invited to Delhi by the second British nun, who was called Frida Bedi (the first English nun died in Darjeeling). She visited Buxa, where all the monks lived together, and she visited especially all the incarnate lamas. She invited many of the incarnate lamas to a school she had started to teach them English. Hindi was also taught, but I think her main aim was to teach English.

I spent six months in Delhi, and it was at that time that I developed TB. First I caught small pox and had to stay fifteen days in the small pox hospital, which was very far from the school. When I came back, I got TB, and then went to the TB hospital. I cried three days in that hospital. The reason I cried was that there was no opportunity to learn English. At that time I somehow had a great ambition to learn English, so cried for three days and wouldn’t speak to anyone, not even the Indian boys staying in the same ward.

When I went into hospital, I had to change into hospital clothes, pants and a shirt. In the break-times, I would go outside, where I could see the passing traffic through the fence. I would stretch my legs towards the fence, put my English book between my legs, and then I would cry. The Indian boys would gather around and tell me, “Lama, don’t cry. Don’t be upset!” but I didn’t speak to them for three days.

In the old men’s ward I met one very nice Indian man, who agreed to teach me English. I had a book that contained normal conversational English, given to me by Thubten Tsering, His Holiness Ling Rinpoche’s secretary. I liked this book and I used to go to see this Indian man in his bedroom and learn some of the words. Then I got better.

I stayed six months in Delhi then at the end had to do an English examination. They also arranged for us to have an interview with the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He was very, very old and his skin was kind of blue. He was lying down, but on a kind of chair, not on a bed.

I then returned to Buxa to continue to study. I did a little debating, but more like playing. Unfortunately I don’t think I have created much karma to study whole texts. I have received teachings on some of the philosophical texts, so some imprints have been left on my mind.

At that time I think I spent more time learning English, but in a useless way, because I tried to collect and memorize English words the way we learn Tibetan texts. I once thought to learn the whole dictionary by heart. The Tibetan way of learning involves a lot of memorization, so believed that if I memorized a lot of words, it would be okay. I didn’t know that you have to concentrate on the accent and train in speaking. In any case there was no opportunity to practice in Buxa, apart from using a few words if you met some Indian officials. I memorized many, many words from different books, and all the Time magazines. I would forget and then memorize them again, forget and memorize again, forget and memorize again, just as with the Tibetan texts. I spent a lot of time doing this but it was useless; it wasn’t the way to learn English.

At Buxa I was taught by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, whose kindness is responsible for whatever interest in meditation practice I now have. An it is because of the kindness of Geshe Rabten that I recognized my root guru [Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche].

Geshe Rabten taught on emptiness and samatha meditation, and even though I was very small I was interested. I tried to meditate on my bed after the mosquito net had been put down. I used to meditate on the silver cover of my Tibetan tea bowl, even though I didn’t know how. I tried to meditate one-pointedly, but I fell down! I don’t know what happened; my whole body fell completely. It happened several times and eventually I gave up. Anyway, in that house there might have been a small impression from a past life. This is why I have some interest In lam-rim, more than in meditation practice.

Anyway, after this Geshe Rabten was very busy and sent me to another teacher from Kham whose name was Yeshe. From this teacher I received the meditation and visualization on Ganden Lha Gyema, and on the kindness of mother sentient beings from the part of the Prajnaparamita scriptures dealing with that subject. There was no text so the teacher Yeshe had to say it by heart. I hadn’t learned Tibetan writing in Tibet, just studied it myself so that I could read, and so I copied everything down. Then this teacher Yeshe wanted to lead a different life, so he left Buxa to wander around and stay in various places in India.

Source: FPMT: (

How Lama Zopa was recognized

Lama Zopa

To my very dear friends and students,

I heard there is some misunderstanding about how I was recognized, so I just want to give you the details here.

The main disciple of the Lawudo Lama Kunsang Yeshe (who it is said is my previous life) was Ngawang Chopel, he did many retreats during his life and he also followed the Buddha’s example of offering his own body (charity)to the insects and animals for 7 days, this was quite amazing as he completely offered and they ate parts of it and he had to be taken to the hospital.

Later Ngawang Chopel also built a monastery at Maritika near a cave of Guru Rinpoche (considered one of the most holy places of Guru Rinpoche – where it is said He achieved immortality). Ngawang Chopel was with the Lawudo Lama at the time of his death. The Lawudo Lama explained the signs happening in the death process to him as He was dying.

I was born in a very poor family, there was doubt by some if I was the incarnation, mainly on the part of the son of Lama Kunsang Yeshe. When Ngawang Chopel heard this he went immediately to Tibet to consult high Lamas, and all 6 Lamas he consulted confirmed without doubt that I was the incarnation of the Lawudo Lama Kunsang Yeshe.

Two of the six high Lamas were His Holiness Tulshig Rinpoche (one of the teachers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama) and His root guru the great Lama Rongpu Sangye. So at an early age long before going to Tibet and the monastery at Pagri (small branch of Domo Geshe’s main monastery) I was recognized.

Before I left for Tibet, the son of Lama Kunsang Yeshe accepted me as the incarnation and promised to return to me the cave and texts etc belonging to his father after I returned from Tibet.

I was brought into Tibet by two uncles, both were my alphabet teachers. Why did I have two alphabet teachers? The first one was from Thami near Lawudo, he took care of me. When very small (maybe four years old) I was always escaping and running home, so my mother sent me far away to the monastery in Rolwaling, a very isolated place high in the mountains near Tibet, there I was in the care of another uncle Ngawang Gendun, who also taught me the alphabet (Tibetan). I stayed with him in Rolwaling for 7 years, memorizing and reading texts and doing pujas called “shi-trol”.

These two uncles took me to Tibet, in Tibet I stayed with another uncle, he was in the Indian army, then he met a Tibetan lady from Tsang and they married and lived in Pagri, Tibet. Pagri was a very busy place for traders from Bhutan, Kalimpong, Lhasa, etc. The 3 uncles with some other Sherpas left me in the care of my aunty while they went on pilgrimage to Lhasa. They didn’t take me as they thought the journey would be too difficult and I could die, as I was still very young.

After living sometime in Pagri (hanging around), outside my house I met a very tall monk (externally appearing not to know me) and immediately he asked me if I would be his disciple (there must have been very strong karma with him). I answered him immediately “yes”.

Next day in the morning my aunt made a very nice thermos of tea and bread in a bamboo container inside a basket, and took me to the small branch monastery of Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s main monastery about 15 to 20
minutes walk away, where I met the tall monk again – he was the Lopon of this small monastery. The Lopon heard stories of me from people in the village, that I was a Tulku from Lawudo near Thami. So the Lopon for his own benefit asked the oracle of the monastery if this was true.

With much love and prayer,
Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
January 21, 2008

Source: FPMT: (


2 Responses to “Lama Zopa Rinpoche”
  1. sarah says:

    this has really helped to fill in some holes in my own quest to undertsand lama zopa and my own spiritual path, thank you

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