Lama Thubten Yeshe

Lama Thubten Yeshe was born in Tibet in 1935, not far from the town of Tolung Dechen. Two hours away by horse was the Ci-me Lung Gompa, home to 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 that 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 could last for days at a time, he often stayed in the shrine room and attended services with them. The nuns would also frequently visit 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 life was full of suffering and did not want to live as they did. From a very early age he expressed a desire to lead a religious life. Whenever a monk would visit their home, he would beg to leave with him and to join a monastery. Finally, when he was six years old, he received his parents' permission to join Sera Je, a college in one of the great Gelug Monastic centres 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 that he would require at Sera, while his uncle supervised him strictly and made him study very hard.

At the age of eight, he was ordained as a novice monk by Ven. Purchog Jampa Rinpoche. During all of his training, one of Lama Yeshe's recurring prayers was to be able one day to bring the peaceful benefits of spiritual practice to those ignorant of the Dharma.

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 to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he received teachings on the Lam-Rim, graded path to Enlightenment which outlines the entire Sutra path to Buddhahood. In addition, he received many Tantric initiations and discourses from the Junior Tutor and the Senior Tutor, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and from many other great Lamas and meditation masters.

This phase of his education came to an end in 1959. As Lama Yeshe himself said, "In that year the Chinese kindly told us that it was time to leave Tibet and to 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 of Buxadaur, he continued his studies.

One of Lama Yeshe's gurus in both Tibet and Buxadaur was Geshe Rabten, a highly learned practitioner famous for his single-pointed 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 this 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 they were together for the remainder of Lama Yeshe's life.

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa met Zina, their first Western student in Darjeeling in 1965. Later they travelled to Nepal where they lived at Boudhanath near Kathmandu. There, they began to meet many more Western students and established Kopan Monastery.

From these first students, centers of the 'Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition', known as the FPMT began to grow. Today, there are over 155 centers around the world.

Lama Yeshe passed away on March 3rd 1984 after a serious four-month illness. Two valves in his heart were faulty, and it was enlarged to twice its normal size. Lama Yeshe had said of his condition, which was known of as early as 1974, that he was 'alive only through the power of mantra'.

After his passing, his reincarnation was found in the form of a young Spanish boy, Tenzin Osel who has been officially recognized as such by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Lama Yeshe's activities were vast and through his efforts, Dharma has flourished around the world. The activities that he performed were the activities of all holy beings.

For more pictures and a collection of teachings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, check Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive

Life story of Lama Yeshe courtesy of FPMT.org

Kopan Monastery
(Nepal Buddhist Mahayana Center Gompa)

Kopan Monastery is affiliated with FPMT
(Foundation for the preservation of the Mahayana Tradition)