Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche was born in 1946 in the village of Thami in the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal, near Mount Everest. 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, Lawudo Lama had lived in this cave, attended by his wife and two children, and he spent all of his time either meditating or giving teachings and spiritual advice to the people of 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 of sleep.
From the time he was able to crawl, Zopa Rinpoche spent much of his time trying to climb the steep path leading to the cave of this deceased Lama. Time and time again his family would have to retrieve him forcefully from the precarious route he was intent on travelling 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 a Nyingma meditation master who lived nearby. When the young boy was repeatedly able to identify objects belonging to the Lawudo Lama and pass other rigorous tests, he was finally declared the 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 (grandfather) Lama.
Young Zopa Rinpoche began his education in Solo Khumbu in the traditional Tibetan way, 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 to 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 of the Nyingma teachings and initiations, and very much wanted to go there and 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 honoured, there was nothing left for him to do but to return to Nepal empty-handed.
The monks at Dung-kar had no reason to believe that this young boy was an incarnate Lama, but upon consultation with their guardian Dharma Protector, his claim was confirmed. His education would have continued at Sera Je monastery in Lhasa, if it had not been interrupted by the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. Eventually, Zopa Rinpoche found his way to Buxadaur where he first became a disciple of Geshe Rabten and then of Lama Thubten Yeshe.
Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa met Zina, a Russian/American princess and 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.
These Western disciples invited the Lamas to give teachings in their own countries, where contact was made with many more people and from there, the centres of the 'Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition', known as the FPMT began to grow. There are now over 110 centres around the world.
Today, Lama Zopa Rinpoche is the Spiritual Director of these centres and spends his life travelling the world to give teachings, and to spread the Dharma of wisdom, love, compassion and universal responsibility.
Read more about Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche in the book:
The Lawudo Lama - Stories of Reincarnation from the Mount Everest Region - by Jamyang Wongmo, Published by Wisdom Publication/ Boston/USA