The Lawudo Lama by Jamyang Wangmo

Jamyang Wangmo (Helly Pelaez Bozzi). The Lawudo Lama: Stories of Reincarnation from the Mount Everest Region. Foreword by H. H. the Dalai Lama. Boston, Mass.: Wisdom Publications, 2005. Paperback, xxxix + 434 pages.

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, 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).

Kunzang Yeshe was born in 1865 and early on received spiritual teaching, and when still in his teens resolved to become a bodhisattva in this life after being given the empowerment of the Self-Created and Self-Luminous Primordial Purity from the renowned Kagyu master Chökyi Lodro. As was Sherpa custom, he lived a householder life but Dharma practice was never far from his mind, and he sought out instructions and initiations from many different lamas. By profession he was a trader and thus had occasion to visit Tibet many times every year. After a long pilgrimage with Artsa Lama, Kunzang Yeshe decided the time had come for him to go on a long retreat. After a series of obstacles, he discovered in 1916 the Lawudo cave where he stayed almost continuously until his death in 1946. He died in the conscious way of a fully realized master of Yoga. Shortly before his passing, Kunzang Yeshe had confided in a fellow yogi that his work would be continue by his reincarnation, who was already two or three months old. He mentioned Thubten Zopa’s parents and their village by name but asked him to keep this information secret until the right time had come.

As soon as Thubten Zopa could speak, he expressed that he wanted to go “home” to Lawudo. When the late Kunzang Yeshe’s disciples showed him their lama’s personal ritual implements, he correctly identified them. He also easily recognized students and relatives of the first Lawudo Lama. Only the family members of Kunzang Yeshe had difficulty with formally accepting the boy as the legitimate reincarnation of the Lawudo Lama. While it is unusual for a reincarnation to be born shortly before the demise of the original incarnation, there are other examples in the history of Himalayan Buddhism.

Thubten Zopa, who was born in December 1945, was eager to learn the Dharma, though the precocious boy seems to have been a bit of a challenge for his educators, as is not unheard of with young tulkus. He took novice vows in 1959 and in the same year escaped to India. Four years later, he met his life-long teacher Lama Thubten Yeshe. He was reluctant to meet him and even was reluctant to receive teachings from him at first. But, under Lama Thubten Yeshe’s guidance, Thubten Zopa gradually transformed his body-mind and in 1979 took full monastic vows.

Thubten Zopa (“Lama Zopa”), the second Lawudo Lama, met his first Westerners when still a young child. Then in the late 1960s, he came into contact with spiritual seekers from America and soon realized that he would have a role to play in the dissemination of Buddhism in the Western hemisphere. In 1975, his teacher founded the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), which he has directed since Lama Yeshe’s death in 1984. He has taught large numbers of Western students and continues to do the good work of the Lawudo Lama.

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 and 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.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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