Wisdom Energy - Introduction

Basic Buddhist Teachings


160 pages, 6 x 9 inches


ISBN 9781614290018

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ISBN 9781614290469

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The lectures presented in this volume were originally given by Lama Thubten Yeshe and his closest disciple, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, during their tour of the United States in the summer of 1974. Both of these lamas derive from the Mahayana Buddhist traditions transmitted in Tibet, and over the past ten years have had continual contact with Western students interested in the study and practice of the Buddhadharma. It is hoped that by publishing here a representative selection of the talks given by these lamas before Western audiences in a Western environment, those people interested in learning more about the possibilities of spiritual development will gain a clear idea of how the Buddhadharma can be effective in their daily lives.

Lama Thubten Yeshe was born in Tibet in 1935 in the town of Tölung Dechen, not far from Lhasa. Two hours away by horse was the Chi-me Lung Gompa, home for about one hundred nuns of the Gelug tradition. When Nenung Pawo Rinpoche, a Kagyü lama widely famed for his psychic powers, came by the convent, it had been a few years since the learned abbess and guru of Chi-me Lung Gompa had passed away. The nuns approached the lama and asked, “Where is our guru now?” He told them about a boy from a nearby village who upon investigation would prove to be their incarnated abbess. Following this advice, the nuns found the young Lama Yeshe, to whom they brought many offerings and gave the name Thondrub Dorje.

Afterward, the nuns would often bring the young boy to their convent to attend various ceremonies and religious functions. During these visits—which would sometimes last for days at a time—he often stayed in the convent shrine room and attended services with the nuns.The nuns would also frequently visit the boy 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 he 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 the monk to 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 to Sera Je by his uncle, who promised the young boy’s mother that he would take good care of him. At Sera, the nuns offered the boy robes and provided the other necessities of life he required, while the boy’s uncle supervised him strictly and made him study very hard.

The boy, Lama Yeshe, stayed at Sera until he was twenty-five years old. During his years 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 lamrim graded course to enlightenment, which outlines the entire sutra path to buddhahood. In addition, he received many tantric initiations and discourses from both Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche 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. Among the meditational figures into whose practice Lama Yeshe was initiated were such major tantric deities as Avalokiteshvara, Tara, Manjushri, and Vajrayogini, as well as Heruka Chakrasamvara, Vajrabhairava, and Guhyasamaja. In addition, Lama Yeshe studied the famous SixYogas of Naropa, following a commentary based on the personal experiences of Je Tsongkhapa.

Among other teachers who guided Lama Yeshe’s spiritual development were Geshe Thubten Wangchug Rinpoche, Geshe Lhundrub Sopa Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten, and Geshe Ngawang Gedun. At the age of eight, Lama Yeshe 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 someday 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 joined many other Tibetan refugees. At the Tibetan settlement camp of Buxaduar he continued his studies from the point at which 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 Bodhisattvacaryavatara (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. At the age of twenty-eight, Lama Yeshe received full 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 Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche were together from then on.

LamaThubten 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, the site of the cave of the late Lawudo Lama. While the Lawudo Lama’s predecessor had belonged to the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the Lawudo Lama had been a great master of the complete tantric teachings of the Nyingma tradition. For the last twenty years of his life, the Lawudo Lama, attended by his wife and two children, had lived in his cave, and had spent all of his time either meditating or giving teachings and spiritual advice to the people of Solo Khumbu and its neighboring regions. The Lawudo Lama’s 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 much of his time trying to climb the steep path leading to the cave of the deceased lama. Time and again, his family would have to forcefully retrieve him from the precarious route he was intent on traveling and make him return, reluctantly, to his home. Finally, when Zopa Rinpoche was old enough to speak, he declared that the cave was his: 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. The young boy was repeatedly able to identify possessions belonging to the Lawudo Lama and passed other rigorous tests, and he was thus formally declared to be the rightful incarnation, receiving the full investiture of the Nyingma tradition. Later, he would receive the tantric initiations of the Nyingma tradition from the head lama of the Thami Gompa, known affectionately as Gaga (or Grandfather) Lama.

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. At this time he had also heard of the Mindrol Ling Monastery in Tibet, the famous center that preserved and transmitted 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 they arrived at Dungkar Monastery of Domo Geshe Rinpoche, north of Sikkim, Zopa Rinpoche 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. His uncle was very upset, 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 without him.

The monks at Dungkar 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 onward his diet was kept free of those foods considered unclean. His education would have continued at Sera Je in Lhasa, but these plans were interrupted in 1959. Eventually he found his way to Buxaduar, where he first became the disciple of Geshe Rabten and then of Lama Yeshe.

Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche’s contact with Westerners began in 1965 while they were visiting Ghoom Monastery in Darjeeling. One day a monk came to their room and said that a friend had come looking for them. Zina Rachevsky, an American woman, had actually come in search of Domo Geshe Rinpoche, but because Zopa Rinpoche had been known as Domo Rinpoche ever since his stay at Dungkar, 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, they were able to purchase land at the top of a nearby hill called Kopan. There they founded the Nepal Mahayana Gompa Centre in 1969. The main building was constructed in 1971–72, 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 two hundred meditators, due to the limited local facilities.

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 strived 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 Centre. Many serious students from the Kopan meditation courses, the Dharamsala library classes, and other centers have come to use these ever expanding retreat facilities to advance their spiritual practice.

Nor are Westerners the only ones who have benefited from the lamas’ compassion, concern, and energy. The Tibetan and Sherpa people of Solo Khumbu had requested the Lawudo Lama 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 LamaThubten Zopa Rinpoche returned to Nepal in 1967, he decided to honor this commitment made by his predecessor.

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 from interested Westerners and the Tibetan and Sherpa people of the area enabled work to begin on this project in 1971. The Mount Everest Centre for Buddhist Studies at Lawudo was opened for residence the following year. 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 fifty children, mostly Sherpas aged five to nineteen, receiving a closely supervised monastic education that includes not only traditional Buddhist studies, but classes in Nepali, English, Tibetan, mathematics, and art as well. It is hoped that eventually the Mount Everest Centre will be able to accommodate two hundred students and provide for both their spiritual and physical well-being.

In establishing the Kopan Gompa near Kathmandu, the Tushita Retreat Centre in Dharamsala, and the Mount Everest Centre at Lawudo, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa 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 them to their respective countries in 1974, this was seen as a perfect opportunity to explore what more could be done to help spiritual seekers.

The visit to the United States took place in July and August of 1974. No prior plans or itinerary had been drawn up, but at Mr. Shen’s suggestion the lamas, accompanied by an American nun disciple, Lobsang Yeshe Dolma (Maryjane Mathews), decided to travel around the country to see how the Dharma was being taught in the West. First, they visited Geshe Wangyal at the North American Lamaist Buddhist Monastery in Freewood Acres, New Jersey (now located in Washington, New Jersey), and saw many students who lived in the New York area. From there they went to the University of Wisconsin to visit Geshe Sopa, a great lama who had been one of Lama Yeshe’s gurus at Sera Je. The next stop was Nashville, Indiana, where Mrs. Louie-Bob Wood, a former Kopan student, had been giving Bible Dharma classes to a large group of local citizens. There, the lamas gave many lectures (chapter 1), interviewed over seventy people, and established the Bodhicitta Centre for Developing Human Potential.

At this point in their journey, Lama Zopa Rinpoche returned to Wisconsin for an intensive study of Madhyamika philosophy with Geshe Sopa. Lama Yeshe traveled on to Boulder, Colorado, at the invitation of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and there held many personal interviews and gave a talk (chapter 2) at the Naropa Institute.

Lama Yeshe then continued to San Francisco and Berkeley, where, in addition to giving public and private lectures (chapter 3), he visited Tarthang Tulku of the Nyingma Institute, Lama Kunga of Ewam Choden Centre, and His Holiness the SakyaTrizin, the visiting head of the Sakya tradition. After this, he went on to Seattle for a meeting with Dezhung Rinpoche, founder of the Sakya Monastery in Seattle, and more teachings and meetings with old and new students.

Both lamas then returned to New York City, where they spoke at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University (chapter 5) and met Geshe Lobsang Tarchin and Mrs. Dorje Uthok. In nearby Fairlawn, New Jersey, Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave a weekend meditation course (chapter 6), mainly for past students who had studied in India and Nepal, modeled on the month-long courses given at Kopan. On the second day Lama Yeshe gave a concluding lecture on integrating the practice of Dharma into everyday life (chapter 7).

The lamas then proceeded to Australia, where they founded the Chenrezig Institute in Eudlo, Queensland, and then on to New Zealand. Such visits to the West allow past and future Dharma students to meet the living tradition of the Buddhadharma in their own native countries.

This present book, a selection of the first American tour lectures, came about as the result of Lama Yeshe’s desire to provide a Western audience with an easily accessible presentation of the basic Mahayana teachings. To this end, the lectures were taped and later transcribed, edited, rewritten, and then arranged in a manner suitable for publication. The final draft was then checked by the lamas to minimize any distortion that may have occurred. The indulgence of the reader and the compassion of the lamas are requested in excusing whatever errors or deficiencies still remain.

Anyone who has ever had the fortunate opportunity to listen to Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche can attest to the power, humor, and directness with which they communicate the meanings lying behind and beyond mere words. Unfortunately, it is not possible to reproduce their verbal style in a printed form that would be easily intelligible to anyone not already accustomed to hearing the lamas in person. An edited version such as this—which strives for a uniform clarity of expression while preserving a taste of the lamas’ spontaneous responses to their varying audiences— must inevitably lack much of the magical glow and forcefulness of the original presentation. If, however, the Dharma wisdom of the lamas reaches a wider audience through such a publication, then any sacrifice of style will have been worthwhile.

The organization of the tour, the taping and transcription of the lectures—which were given by the lamas in English—and the many other tasks involved in preparing this volume were undertaken voluntarily by many devoted students of the lamas. Grateful acknowledgment is paid to all these tireless workers, with sincerest thanks for their invaluable contributions.

Finally, to Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche go wishes for a long life. May they continue their good work of spreading the light of Dharma to all those in need of spiritual guidance. As a result of these wishes may every being enjoy the fruit of mental and physical comfort and happiness, and may peace among all people be established throughout the length and breadth of this planet.


Jonathan Landaw


How to cite this document:
© Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Wisdom Energy (Wisdom Publications, 2012)

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