The Lawudo Lama
In the land of Nepal's famous Sherpa guides, the Lawudo Lama, Kunzang Yeshe (1865-1946), a revered lay yogi of the Nyingma tradition, was a beacon of inspiration due to his spiritual attainments. His life provides fascinating insights into the culture of the people who live in the shadow of the world's highest mountain. His reincarnation, the Gelugpa monk Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, is now well known as a Buddhist teacher in the West and as the spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT).
Lama Zopa's first-person account of his life provides an intriguing window into the dramatic changes modernity has brought the Everest region. Taken together, the stories in the Lawudo Lama offers an unprecedented glimpse into a century of traditions and change in the Himalayan world.
"This fascinating book will greatly interest anyone who has traveled in the Himalayas and will inspire those who wish to live a deeply spiritual life. Where else can you find a story where the characters travel from life to life, continuing to teach, guide, and support each other? The Lawudo Lama will stretch your mind and move your heart." Lorne Ladner.
"In some ways, the present volume is three books in one. First, it is an introduction to Sherpa culture and geography--a rare treat in itself. Second, it is a biography of Lama Kunzang Yeshe, the first Lawudo Lama, which takes into account both his outer and inner life. Third, it is an autobiography of Kunzang Yeshe's reincarnation (tulku) in the form of Thubten Zopa Rinpoche ("Lama Zopa"), who was born into a Sherpa family in Nepal and today is the spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). [...] This volume is filled with touching and amazing stories of Tibetan and Nepalese yogis, who have dedicated their whole life to realizing enlightenment and serving the spiritual awakening of others. One gets a good sense of how great one's dedication to the Dharma must be to break through the karmic bonds of conventional life but also that even a lay practitioner can attain a high level of realization. Most importantly, this book offers one wonderful reassurance that great masters and teachings do still exist and are available to anyone who is serious about Dharma practice. "
-- reviewed by Georg Feuerstein, author of The Yoga Tradition and Yoga For Dummies, for Traditional Yoga Studies Interactive
"I have no doubt that readers of this book will find here encouraging evidence that, even in this day and age, where there is real faith, good motivation, and a great deal of hard work, the Dharma will flourish and grow"
--from the foreword by the Dalai Lama
"This fascinating book provides a unique - earthy yet mystical - insider's view of Himalayan life in general and of Sherpa life in particular. Will be very interesting to anyone who has travelled in the Himalayas and greatly inspiring to anyone who wishes to live a deeply spiritual life. Where else can one find a story in which the characters travel from life to life, continuing to teach, guide and support each other--it will stretch your mind and move your heart."
--Lorne Ladner, author of The Lost Art of Compassion
"Religious biographies form a central part of Tibetan literature, and such accounts are now becoming important for Western Buddhists as well. The Lawudo Lama succeeds in combining the traditional style with a modern narrative and in illuminating the life stories through their context in the traditions of the Khumbu region of Nepal."
--Franz-Karl Ehrhard, Professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich
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
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.